Head volleyball coach Erin Appleman is closing in on a decade of dynastic success.
Since her first season as head coach in 2003, Appleman has quietly built the volleyball team into an Ivy League powerhouse and accomplished feats that no other coach in Yale volleyball history can match. The program has won four of its five Ancient Eight titles under Appleman’s direction and has 98 conferences wins, the most of any Ivy team over the past nine seasons. Team captain Haley Wessels ’13 said Appleman’s competitive nature has fueled the team’s success during Wessels’ time at Yale.
“Erin is the kind of woman that’s very competitive,” Wessels said. “She has instilled that in all of us. She has that want-to-win attitude and we go out there every day with that same attitude from her.”
During her first two seasons in New Haven, Appleman revitalized Yale volleyball and raised the bar for Ivy League teams on the national stage.
But things were not always so rosy for Yale volleyball. When Appleman took over the position from Peg Scofield, she was only the fourth head coach in the program’s history. Despite the long coaching tenures, Yale had not finished above third in the regular season standings since 1996, nor had the team won a league title since 1978. Although she was initially impressed with the team’s talent level, Appleman said she thought it needed a spark.
“I thought we had some good athletes that just needed organization,” she said. “They just needed a little more discipline in order to be successful. They wanted to feel like their time was being put to good use so I think they were eager and desired to be successful.”
It did not take Appleman much time to turn things around. In 2004, just her second season at the team’s helm, the Bulldogs reversed their fortunes in dramatic fashion. Not only did they win their first conference title in 26 years, but they also became the first Ivy League squad ever to win an NCAA tournament match when they defeated Albany 3–1 in the first round.
Winning was nothing new for Appleman, who worked as an assistant coach under Russ Rose at Penn State for eight seasons before coming to Yale. During her time with the Nittany Lions, who consistently field one of the top squads in the nation, Appleman coached in five Final Fours and won a national title in 1999. Appleman said she draws inspiration from Rose.
“There are a lot of things [in our program] that come from coach Rose,” she said. “He’s one of the best out there right now, and we do a lot of the things he does because he does it right.”
Yale’s success did not stop after the 2004 breakthrough. The Elis won the Ivy League crown in three of the past four seasons. In 2008, most likely the greatest Yale volleyball season of all time, the team won 13 of 14 Ivy League contests and another first-round NCAA tournament match against Ohio University. Three players from the team were named First Team All-Ivy, while outside hitter Cat Dailey ’10 was named the conference player of the year.
Dailey is just one product of Appleman’s ability to lure elite talent to Yale. During her tenure, Yale players have been named to a postseason Ivy League All-Star team on 35 separate occasions, a conference high. Three current players interviewed cited recruiting as one of Appleman’s greatest strengths as a coach. Setter Kelly Johnson ’16, a recent recruit, said Appleman’s recruiting style set her apart from other college coaches.
“When I went on my recruiting trip, the way she recruited was so pleasurable,” Johnson said. “She wasn’t the coach that was pressuring you so much that it made you nervous or unconfident about your decision. She made you feel good about yourself as a player.”
This approach led to a few major hauls for the program. Since 2003, two Bulldogs, Dailey and Kendall Polan ’14, earned the Ivy Player of the Year award while three, Alexis Crusey ’10, Polan and Mollie Rogers ’15, earned Ivy Rookie of the Year honors. Despite Johnson’s praise, Appleman added that when it comes to recruiting, Yale tends to sell itself.
“I’m very fortunate to work at such a prestigious and incredible university,” she said. “I just kind of point that out to players. You have a chance to do it all here. You can win in the classroom and on the court.”
This season, Yale will head into the Ivy schedule as favorites to win the team’s third title in a row. The Elis have a losing 3–5 record now, but the team has faced some difficult competition from outside the Ivy League.
But regardless of how high the team manages to climb under Appleman in the future, Yale fans have no need to fear losing her to a larger, more established program.
“I have had offers throughout the years,” Appleman said. “But I’ve really enjoyed working at Yale. I love the student-athletes and I like what Yale offers for me. In many ways, it’s a dream come true.”