With the NCAA tournament drawing near, the Yale volleyball team will look to its esteemed head coach, Erin Appleman, to lead it to the promised land. But as they put the finishing touches on another successful regular season, the Elis (19–4, 13–1 Ivy) can step back and appreciate what they have already accomplished.
Last Friday at Princeton, Appleman secured her 200th career win in a 3–1 victory over the Tigers. For Appleman, it was just another in a long line of distinctions she has achieved in her 10 years at Yale. When asked how she planned to celebrate her milestone victory, Appleman responded that she would simply ask the team for her 201st win.
“I don’t care about the number of wins I get,” Appleman said, pointing out that coaches can control win-loss records with scheduling. “It’s all about preparing for the next opponent. That being said, I wouldn’t mind to be at 204 or 205 [wins] at the end of this year. I guess it’s a big milestone, but I never think about it.”
Appleman is one of the most decorated volleyball coaches in Yale history.
She has led the team to six Ivy League titles, including the last four in a row. Last season, she coached the Elis to a 14–0 conference record, just the second undefeated volleyball season in Ivy League history.
“She’s one of the main reasons I chose to come to Yale,” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said of Appleman. “I knew that, playing under such great coach, I’d become a better player. I’m just so happy I was able to be a part of the legacy she’s made for Yale.”
The three seniors on the squad have particularly benefited from Appleman’s guidance: outside hitter Erica Reetz ’14, middle blocker McHaney Carter ’14 and captain Kendall Polan ’14. The three veterans on the team are the only current Yale athletes on campus who boast four straight Ivy titles.
“Being a part of Yale volleyball has been the best part of my Yale experience,” Reetz said. “Not a lot of people can say that they’ve won four Ivy championship rings.”
Despite dominating their conference yet again this year, the Elis have gone through some adversity.
Because of injury, the team has had to move on without middle blocker Jesse Ebner ’16, who leads the conference in hitting percentage and is second on the team in points per set. Then on Nov. 2, the squad saw its 23-game conference winning streak broken when it fell at Harvard in five sets.
“It definitely pointed out some weaknesses of ours,” Appleman said of the loss to the Crimson. “It’s hard to say to the players ‘Oh, we’re weak in this area,’ when we’re winning all the time. Hopefully, we learned from the loss and we can go further in the NCAA tournament.”
Appleman has led the Elis to the second round of the NCAA tournament twice. In 2004, the Bulldogs beat Albany 3–1 before being swept by No. 4 Minnesota. The Gophers would go all the way to the national championship match before falling to No. 2 Stanford. In 2008, Yale scored a narrow 3–2 victory against Ohio in the first round before falling to the eventual national champion, No. 1 Penn State.
Earlier this year, the Elis matched up against three national contenders — No. 8 Stanford, No. 5 Missouri and No. 2 Penn State — as part of an intense preseason scheduled by Appleman and her assistant coaches. Despite going 0–3 against the bunch, Yale was very competitive. Against Missouri, the Elis scored the match’s largest margin of victory in a set when they took the second set 25–15. The largest margin of victory for Missouri was six.
Reetz said the team will look to its performance in those preseason matchups as it approaches the NCAA tournament.
“It’s important for us to be able to look back on those matches and say, ‘Hey, we competed with them,’” Reetz said. “It makes it a lot less scary looking at who we might be facing in the NCAA tournament.”
The Elis will now travel to New York to play Stony Brook on Tuesday in its last regular season matchup with a chance to secure Appleman’s fourth 20-win season. The team will not find out who it is matched up against in the first round of the NCAA tournament until Dec. 1, but Reetz says the team will be plenty busy in the coming weeks.
“This isn’t just about waiting around to find out who we play next,” Reetz said. “It’s about taking this opportunity to get better as individuals and as a team so that we can be at our best when we get to the NCAA tournament. Our match with Stony will be another stepping stone in getting better as a team.”
Yale takes on Stony Brook (16–16, 9–5 AEC) next Tuesday at 5 p.m.