As students prepare for reading week on Friday, the volleyball team will be in Los Angeles, Calif. facing the No. 7 ranked USC Trojans in a first round match of the NCAA tournament. Because the winner of the Ivy League title gets an automatic bid to the tournament, the Bulldogs (18–6, 12–2 Ivy) have known that they would be participating since they clinched the conference championship two weeks ago. But hearing about the matchup with USC (25–4) on Friday night was still exciting.
For most of the players, the trip will be a bit of a homecoming — seven of the team’s 12 players are from California. Captain Taylor Cramm ’12 said that the team looks forward to the chance to play on the West Coast.
“Most of us are from out there, so it will be great to have a group of fans waiting for us and cheering us on as we take on USC,” Cramm said in an interview with Yale athletics. “Being able to play in the NCAA tournament in front of our friends and family is the cherry on top of an incredible year.”
In much the same way that the NCAA basketball tournament is announced, the team was informed of the match by watching a selection show on ESPNU.
“We were all together … watching the show,” Cramm said. “We were all really excited when we saw our name on the board and that the match was against USC.”
Friday’s match will prove no easy task for the Bulldogs. The Trojans have been one of the best teams in the country throughout the season. USC has nine wins over ranked opponents and has won 20 of its last 21 matches and 24 of its last 26 after a 1–2 start to the season. USC leads the Pac-12 in a number of statistical categories including hitting percentage, assists and kills.
But the Trojans have some weaknesses that play to Yale’s strengths. They are not nearly as strong defensively as they are offensively, ranking in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in both digs and blocks. Yale is a strong offensive team with multiple weapons and should be able to exploit USC’s defensive deficiencies.
“We are going to go out there and play as hard as we can,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “They’re going to be taller, they’re going to jump higher but hopefully we can compete with good effort and smart volleyball.”
In addition to taking on a tough team, the Bulldogs will be entering a more hostile environment than they are used to. On average nearly 1550 people attended USC home matches this season and 5385 showed up for the Trojans’ rivalry match with UCLA. However, Appleman said the Bulldogs will have at least 100 fans supporting them, and the team thrives in front of large crowds.
Taking charge for the Bulldogs will be newly crowned Ivy League Player of the Year Kendall Polan ’14. Polan plays setter for the Bulldogs and led the league with 10.84 assists per set this year. She was fifth in the conference in service aces with .29 per set.
A trio of outside hitters will also be important for the Bulldogs. Freshmen Mollie Rogers ’15 and Allie Frappier ’15 have been sensational all season, and Rogers took home Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors for her efforts. Both players finished in the top ten in the conference in kills per set with 3.23 and 3.07 respectively. Erica Reetz ’14 also had a strong year offensively for the Bulldogs and finished third on the team with 181 total kills.
The trip to Los Angeles will mark Yale’s third appearance in the tournament since 2004, when the program made its first ever showing in the national tournament. That season, the Elis topped Albany 3–1 in their first round match, which was played in New Haven. They then proceeded to lose 3–0 in the second round to a Minnesota squad that went on to the championship match.
The Bulldogs returned to the tournament in 2008. That team also won a first round match with a 3–2 win over Ohio University but fell 3–0 to the eventual champions Penn State in the second round.
“It was a lot of fun but also intimidating as a freshman,” Cramm said. “[Against Penn State] we played against girls who went on to the national team and the Olympics. It was a great experience.”
The match will take place at 10 p.m. EST.