When the Yale women’s volleyball program returned to Division I status in 1986 after seven years as a club organization, Peg Scofield seized an opportunity she consciously avoided only seven years earlier.
“I had the chance to play at Yale coming out of high school, but I got wind that it was dropping its program to club status the next year,” Scofield said. “At the time, my aspirations for volleyball were more than what Yale could offer.”
Scofield instead attended Rutgers University, where she was a four-time all-Atlantic 10 player for the Scarlet Knights. After graduation, she began coaching in high school while pursuing a masters degree at Southern Connecticut State University.
At the same time, Yale was searching for a coach to revitalize its program. Scofield had turned down a chance to play volleyball at Yale, but when she got a second chance to be a part of Yale volleyball, Scofield jumped at the opportunity.
“They took a chance on a 25-year-old coach at a time when my oldest player on the floor was 24,” she said. “Coaching was a natural transition, but I didn’t think I would be in it for 17 years. I definitely feel a strong loyalty to this program because it was something I helped to build.”
Now in her 17th year at Yale, Scofield earned her 300th career victory as the Bulldogs’ head coach when the Elis defeated Fairfield University 3-1 Oct. 1.
Despite her early athletic success, Scofield’s volleyball career almost never took off.
“I was almost cut from my JV volleyball team because I was so tall and gangly,” Scofield said. “But then I ended up being chosen that summer for a junior national team because of my athletic ability and got to work with some of the best coaches in the world. I took that one summer’s worth of training and brought it back to high school.”
At Westhill High School in Stamford, Scofield was a three-sport athlete, starring in basketball and winning a state championship in the high jump. But because of her specialized training — she spent each high school summer with the national team — she particularly excelled in volleyball.
In 1999 Scofield was named to the Connecticut Volleyball Hall of Fame, and she was the first female athlete at her high school to have her number retired.
For Scofield, establishing her credibility with her players was not a problem.
“[Scofield’s] experience playing and really knowing the game translates to coaching because she understands game situations and helps with her knowledge of game techniques,” deep setter Alison Lungstrum ’04 said. “She works well with people our age and we have a good rapport with her on a personal level.”
For her first few years as head coach, Scofield instead devoted much of her energy to building the Bulldogs into an Ivy League competitor. Attracting recruits proved challenging, and the team practiced on the fifth floor of the Paine Whitney Gym, only stepping into the John J. Lee Amphitheater for matches.
“It was an incredibly minor sport here at the time,” Scofield said. “I’m a good recruiter and I already knew where to recruit, but having a couple of strong early years helped with that.”
Even with a strong squad, Scofield struggled to move the Bulldogs out of their fifth-floor practice court.
“We ended up moving down from the fifth floor into the amphitheater for practice as well,” Scofield said. “It’s nice to see more of a philosophy of equality here.”
Coaching at Yale fit perfectly with Scofield’s aversion to scholarships.
“I felt like I was bought as a player,” Scofield said. “I was getting an education, but not the same one as other students. Unless you’re winning a national title at Stanford and graduating with an engineering degree, you’re probably going to feel like you’re missing out on something.”
Because Yale does not offer any athletic scholarships, Scofield used her recruiting skills to attract those players who want more than four years of varsity volleyball out of their college education.
“We run a class program,” Scofield said. “It’s well structured, and we have a strong reputation in the volleyball world of people happy with their experience here. Players don’t get short-changed in any way, and it’s not a burden on them because they don’t feel like they have to play volleyball for four years to get an education.”
After 17 years at Yale, Scofield’s best moments as a coach have come from the accomplishments of her players rather than her personal successes as a coach.
“Some players are special, and watching them play well together and seeing how much they enjoyed it on the court — those are the types of moments that stand out,” she said.
With two children to care for and a recently rehabilitated knee, Scofield’s volleyball playing career has slowed slightly, but not enough to prevent Scofield from playing in the U.S. Open Nationals the past two years to keep her competitive fire burning.
Even with her hands-on role as a coach, Scofield longs for the days when she could be back at the net.
“I love the game so much,” she said. “When I coach, one of the hardest things is being on the bench. I just want to get out there. When I was playing, I loved each moment — the winning, the losing, the bruising. I still have that passion.”
That passion helped Scofield to her 300th win as coach of a program she once spurned as a player.