For the second time in three seasons, the volleyball team will begin its schedule with just one senior on the roster, captain Haley Wessels ’13. The 2010 team was captained by its only senior, Kelly Ozurovich ’11, and finished in a tie with Penn as Ivy League champions. Like that team, this year’s squad will likely be in the mix for the conference title despite its lack of returning seniors.

“We’re still really growing,” head coach Erin Appleman said about the Bulldogs. “There’s a lot of talent on this team, but we’re still going through some growing parts of it. I’ve had other teams that have been more match-ready at this point in the season, but I think this group has the potential to be really good.”

After winning a second straight conference title last season, the Bulldogs begin play as the team to beat in the Ancient Eight. Last year’s group finished 18–8 overall, including a stellar 12–2 mark in Ivy League play. It followed up the conference championship with a trip to the NCAA tournament, where the Elis lost 3–0 to a University of Southern California team that finished the season ranked No. 5 in the nation.

Last year’s team only started one senior, captain Taylor Cramm ’12, and freshmen and sophomores largely carried the group. As a result, the Bulldogs are returning the strongest squad in the Ivy League. Setter Kendall Polan ’14 will lead the Yale attack a year after being named Ivy League Player of the Year and an honorable mention All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. She finished the season first in the league in assists, with 10.69 per set, and fifth in aces, with .29 per set.

“Kendall is a very good motivator,” outside hitter Erica Reetz ’14 said. “She’s very good at sensing where we are during the match. She really helps us prepare ourselves for our matches and makes sure that we’re staying competitive.”

Mollie Rogers ’15 will be on the receiving end of the majority of Polan’s assists. The reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year was sensational in her first Ivy campaign, finishing sixth in the league in kills, with a team-high 287. Rogers stepped up when it counted most, playing her best match of the season in an Ivy Leaue title-clinching win over Harvard on Nov. 11. In that match, she recorded 17 kills in 33 attempts to lead the Bulldogs.

“Mollie is the kind of person that just goes out there and plays hard and doesn’t stop,” Wessels said. “I think she will do the same thing this year.”

Second Team All-Ivy selection Reetz, McHaney Carter ’14 and Maddie Rudnick ’15 will also play big roles for the Bulldogs as they attempt to win their fourth Ivy League title in five years.

But Yale will have one major hole to fill: Allie Frappier ‘15, a Second-Team All-Ivy pick last year, has left the team due to an injury. Outside hitters Gabby Bird-Vogel ‘15 and Karlee Fuller ‘16 will need to step up and fill the offensive void created by Frappier’s departure.

The Bulldogs bring in a freshman class composed of five players. Included in the group, which was named to the High Honorable Mention category by, is Jesse Ebner from Portola Valley, Calif., Karlee Fuller from Olivenhain, Calif., Kelly Johnson from Palos Verdes, Calif., Maya Midzik from Brookline, Mass. and Christine Wu from Naperville, Ill. Appleman said that she expects a few of the freshmen to receive significant playing time this weekend.

Reetz, Wessels and Appleman all said that this year’s team arrived to preseason in great physical condition.

“I think this year, in general, we came back in the best shape that we have ever came back in for preseason,” Appleman said. “I was really pleased with that. They must have worked out over the summer. They all jumped a couple inches higher and look in great shape.”

Like last year, Princeton will likely be the Bulldogs’ toughest opponents. The Tigers finished last year 11–3 and will be led by outside hitter Lydia Rudnick, the most formidable offensive threat in the league. However, Rudnick’s former partner in crime, Cathryn Quinn, has graduated and will leave the Tigers with a huge offensive hole to fill. The pair combined for almost 47 percent of Princeton’s kills last year, with Quinn accountable for one of every four Tiger kills.

The Elis have won two straight Ivy titles, but have no NCAA wins to show for those championships. Although expectations are high for an extremely talented group to take the next step, Reetz said that the Bulldogs are going to take it one game at a time.

“A new season is a new team and success is defined differently for each team,” Reetz said. “But we are all really competitive and we have our sights set extremely high.”

The Bulldogs kick off the season Friday night at 7 p.m. when they take on Texas A&M in the John J. Lee Ampitheater.