Despite a geographic rivalry, two freshmen on the Yale volleyball team have overcome a divided past and made their presence felt on the court.
Setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 and outside hitter Kaitlyn Gibbons ’18 have won the last four Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors, even with an important question hanging in the balance: Which is better, Northern California or Southern California?
Because 10 of the 15 varsity players hail from California — including Crawford and Gibbons, who are from Sunnyvale and Yorba Linda, respectively — the two freshmen described it as a divisive issue.
“There’s a big NorCal-SoCal rivalry. We always argue about which is better, but we have to agree to disagree. The one thing we can agree on is that California is the best,” Crawford said.
Joking aside, the power that the two Californians have on the court is formidable. The team (6-6, 2-1 Ivy) heads to Pennsylvania this weekend just one game back of league leader Princeton, and a large part of that success goes to Crawford and Gibbons.
Gibbons is fourth on the team with two kills per set, while Crawford is second in the Ivy League in assists per game.
“I think it’s amazing [that the freshmen have won four straight Rookie of the Week awards],” captain Mollie Rogers ’15 said. “It’s so exciting every week to see one of their names on that article … It gives [them] a lot of confidence and [they] can go into the next week with a little more in [their] pocket.”
Since both hail from California, they have known each other since even before their Yale days. According to Gibbons, the California elite volleyball circuit is small enough that the majority of players recognizes, if not know, each other.
“Everyone starts really young, and you see each other at tournaments every weekend,” Gibbons said.
Although Crawford and Gibbons grew up almost 400 miles apart, the two actually met at a tournament in Las Vegas during their senior year in high school. The Yale coaches suggested the girls meet, even though their clubs did not play each other.
It was the year before, however, when both players officially committed to Yale. Both cited the strength of the volleyball team — which had won the first two of its four consecutive Ivy League titles at the time of their visits — as a driving force in their decisions.
Part of what makes the volleyball team so good, Crawford and Gibbons explained, is the competitive practices.
“The lineup changes every game because there’s no set rotation,” Crawford said. “Not knowing makes us more competitive in practice. We have to earn our spot every week, it’s not handed to us at all.”
With this system in place, each team member is given an equal chance to earn playing time. Crawford and Gibbons explained that high-tempo play from all four freshmen challenges players in all class years to improve each day.
“I would definitely say [2018 is] a strong class,” Rogers said. “All of them are competing really well at the collegiate level. They’ve done a great job coming in and fitting seamlessly into the team. This class has done a great job so far staying composed and getting used to the new environment.”
Crawford said that because the team holds itself to high expectations, the Bulldogs perform “at a consistently high level.”
“Especially since we’ve been the top dog, our opponents are always trying to play the best they can,” Gibbons added. “We make sure we take every game seriously.”
According to Crawford, the transition between club and Division I varsity volleyball was overwhelming. She added that attempting to manage her time and balance the demanding volleyball schedule, which includes double-practice days, had a learning curve.
But those hours spent at practice have off-court benefits too.
Gibbons explained that the team chemistry lends itself to better play on the court, citing it as a critical factor in her and Crawford’s success. According to both Gibbons and Crawford, the team eats dinner together every night.
“Also, usually we eat breakfast and lunch with at least one person from the team,” Gibbons said. “It’s a very tight team. Our personalities go really well together. We make it work.”
Crawford agreed, saying that the team was eventually able to overcome the Northern California-Southern California divide.
“We put our differences aside,” she said.
The Bulldogs kick off their road trip to the Quaker State on Friday against Penn at 7:00 p.m.