Combined, the six freshmen on the women’s volleyball team are 35 feet, eight inches tall. That’s taller than the Lakers’ starting lineup last season, longer than a giant anaconda, and long enough to wrap around the Statue of Liberty’s waist — not to mention intimidate opponents.
And as if their towering height were not daunting enough, the Class of 2009 is arguably one of the most talented recruiting classes in Eli history. Among the dazzling array of accolades the six new Bulldogs earned in high school are four state championships, three all-state awards, and a high school All-American nod.
Yale’s ability to attract such notable players is largely a result of the Elis’ recent success. When head coach Erin Appleman arrived in 2003, she found a mediocre team whose winning percentage over the past two years had hovered around .500. In just two seasons, she guided the Bulldogs to an Ivy League title and an NCAA Tournament appearance, and this year’s rookies were excited to join Yale on its upswing.
“I knew that the program was strong before coming,” said middle blocker Kristin Wilk ’09. “And I was hoping that it would be on an upward slope because of momentum being carried over from last year’s Ivy championship and because of the new, very experienced coach. I feel that we have a lot of potential this year to do very well.”
Wilk and outside hitter Courtney Hall have teamed up to form a dynamic freshman duo which has seen a considerable amount of playing time this season. Both have appeared in more than 20 games for the Elis. Hall’s 61 digs for the season put her third on the team in that category while Wilk leads the Bulldogs with .83 blocks per game.
“Courtney’s an all-around good ball-handler, which is always good to have in the back row,” said libero Anja Perlebach ’07. “Wilk is a very powerful middle. She’s a very dynamic middle-hitter.”
Jacqueline Coe ’09 and Allison Kaptur ’09 round out the rookie middle blockers. Though the two have seen limited playing time so far this season, they make their time on the court count. Combined, they have appeared in six games, totalling 11 blocks, five digs and nine kills.
“I’d say a very good factor of our freshman class is that all of them would be able to step in and play if needed,” said Perlebach. “They’re all at a high enough level to play, which adds a lot of depth to our team.”
The Elis also picked up setter Ally Mendenhall ’09. A high school All-American her senior year, Mendenhall has averaged 10.41 assists per game in her seven games played this season. Though sharing the same position as All-Ivy setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 may limit her time this year, she has the potential to be a major factor in the future.
Defensive specialist Kristin Smith ’09 adds a different aspect to the freshman class. While the other rookies are racking up the kills and assists, Smith — who led her high school team to three state championships — is often on the floor, fighting for every possible dig. Smith, however, may also have a tough time cracking the lineup this year, with Perlebach and defensive specialist Maribeth Martens ’08 already leading the Bulldogs’ defensive efforts.
Overall, the new Elis are keen to prove that last season’s success was not a fluke for Yale. The freshmen hope their energy and talent will help the Bulldogs maintain the high level of play they have become accustomed to the last two years.
“One thing I think the upperclassmen might not realize is that the freshmen expect to win,” said Kaptur. “We know that [last season] was really exciting, but for me, at least, it sounds strange when people call it a ‘miracle’ or ‘magical’ season. I expect us to perform at that level all the time.”
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