As the Yale volleyball team gears up for its biggest game of the season this coming Friday against Penn, the Bulldogs will rely on their defense to stop the Quakers’ attack.

That defense is centered around libero Kelly Ozurovich ’11, who is having one of the most remarkable seasons in Yale volleyball history. Ozurovich is averaging 5.69 digs per set this season, placing her at the top of the Ivy League and fifth in all of Division I in digs per set.

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“Playing defense is one of the hardest things to do in volleyball, and Kelly does it well,” said outside hitter Cat Dailey ’10. “More often than not, it’s a perfect day from her.”

This season, Ozurovich became a member of Yale’s top-10 all-time career digs list. Her defense has been a major reason the Elis (16-2, 6-1 Ivy) have a shot at defending their conference championship.

“Kelly’s defense is great,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “She’s quick on her feet, and she makes a lot of big plays for us.”

Ozurovich’s volleyball roots extend all the way back to the beaches of Los Angeles.

“I first started playing volleyball on the beach with my family,” Ozurovich said. “My dad picked up beach volleyball in college and has been playing ever since, and now it’s become a family activity. In the summer my family will go down with my cousins and my aunt and uncle and play at the beach a lot.”

The libero has been hooked on the sport ever since. She also enjoys the camaraderie with her teammates, she said.

“I like volleyball because it’s a team sport, and we have a lot of team chemistry on and off the court,” she said. “It’s a fast-paced and competitive game that’s fun to play in the gym and on the beach with friends.”

Off the court, Ozurovich enjoys spending time with friends and family, wakeboarding during the summer and spending time on the lake or at the beach. She is close with her family, especially her sister, she said. A political science major, Ozurovich is considering attending law school.

“Kelly is a phenomenal player,” said outside hitter Alexis Crusey ’10, who is Ozurovich’s roommate.

While it may not be easy to balance everything, Ozurovich said she thinks it is worthwhile to play volleyball at Yale.

“At Yale, it’s difficult to balance both academics and athletics, but it’s definitely manageable,” she said. “I don’t think that volleyball has limited my experiences at Yale. I think it’s heightened them. I wouldn’t trade my experiences during volleyball for anything.”

Nevertheless, being one of the best defensive volleyball players in the nation and a member of the defending Ivy League Champions takes hard work.

The team practices four times a week, lifts twice a week and plays a pair of games every weekend, according to Ozurovich.

“It’s a rigorous schedule and at times tiring, but I enjoy it and it pays off when we win,” she said.

And the Bulldogs’ hard work has paid off as the Elis sit in second place in the Ivy League, one game behind Penn. With a rematch against the Quakers this Friday, the Bulldogs have a chance to avenge their Oct. 10 five-set loss to Penn. Moreover, a win over the Quakers will also move the Elis in a tie for first place, putting them back on track to defend their title.

“We are all on the same page with our goals, and we are all striving for the same thing, an Ivy League championship,” Ozurovich said.