As a setter for the Bulldogs, Kelly Johnson ’16 has been instrumental in the team’s success over the past two years as Ivy League champions. In 2012, she was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year, earned first team All-Ivy honors and finished second on the team in assists, kills and total points. She was again awarded first-team All-Ivy recognition in 2013 and was named Ivy League Player of the Week twice. The News sat down with Johnson to discuss her hopes for the rest of the season and to get the inside scoop on Yale volleyball.
Q: You guys just played Harvard a few weeks ago, and it was a really, really close loss. Are you doing anything differently to prepare for the next match against them?
A: Right now, we’re just focused on Cornell. We have Cornell and Columbia this weekend. Harvard’s not for a couple more weekends and when Harvard’s our next game we’ll focus on them. But for right now, we have a lot of great competition in front of us, so we’re going to focus on that before we move on to what we have to do to beat Harvard.
Q: How excited are you guys to be back after the [five week long] road stretch?
A: So excited. It was really tough with all the travel. It’s going to be so great to be back on the home court and now it’s our volleyball parents’ weekend so all of our parents are going to be here, so we’re all really excited.
Q: As the four-time Ivy League defending champions, does that put a lot of extra pressure on the team this season?
A: It’s nice to have the confidence of four Ivy League championships, but I personally think it makes us work harder because we know people will be gunning for us when we go out on the court. We don’t talk about it, we don’t use it as an excuse for playing poorly. I think it motivates us to keep that tradition up and keep working to become the best team that we can [be].
Q: Does the team have any special pre-game rituals?
A: We have a dance party before every game. No matter where we are, home or away, we bring speakers and we have a dance party. It gets us really pumped up and we get weird and dance, and it kind of just loosens us up and gets us ready to go.
Q: What does the team do to stay calm?
A: We really try to focus on [what] we call “Yale Volleyball” and it’s how we play our game. Other teams are going to do crazy stuff. They’re going to have different rotations and plays and the only thing that we can control is what’s on our side of the court, not the other team, not the fans. When things are getting a little crazy or out of system, we just try to come together in the middle and talk to each other and figure out what we need to do to keep it in our control rather than letting other things dictate how the game is going to be played.
Q: You’ve played for the Bulldogs for three years now. Has the team changed a lot since you were a freshman?
A: The team changes every year. It’s really great though because our coach does a great job recruiting girls who are very similar, so although there are different girls on the team we’re all still so close. Those 15 girls are 15 of my best friends … and it’s just an unbelievable team dynamic that I’ve never experienced before in all of my middle school, high school and club years. Even though there are different people, it’s still a really great environment to be in and have a great group of friends.
Q: What is your most memorable game?
A: I think it was my freshman year when we won the Ivy League championship at Princeton. We swept them in three games and it was the first time I had ever won any type of championship. That moment with my team was just something that I will never forget. It was so unbelievable … When I was a freshman the other girls on the team were so supportive and so awesome to play with that it just made it even better to win a championship with them.
Q: Now, as an upperclassman, do you try to help out the new freshmen?
A: Absolutely. We have a really good dynamic on our team where we try to include the freshmen and sophomores as much as possible. We don’t do freshmen hazing. I think that’s what really makes us such a great team because we have such a good dynamic in that we all see each other as equals. It’s not that the upperclassmen have more authority than the freshmen. I think that just equalizes us and makes us a better team for it … We all work so well together and we’re able to communicate freely without worrying about who is playing what position or what year they are. The fact that we’re all just such good friends makes it even better.