After defeating Harvard before Thanksgiving break to secure the tournament bid, the Yale volleyball team (18–7, 12–2 Ivy) will play in the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year, taking on the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats.
Arizona is hosting the first two rounds of the tournament for the first time since 2002, and Brigham Young University and Seton Hall will also play at the McKale Center tonight. The two winners of the first round will face off tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.
The Wildcats (23–9, 12–8 Pac-12) finished third in the top-ranked Pacific-12 conference this season. Ten of the 12 teams in their conference are headed to the NCAA tournament, including powerhouses like Stanford, Washington and the University of Southern California.
“The Pac-12 is one of the top conferences in the country, so they play at a very, very high level,” setter Kelly Johnson ’16 said. “But I think we’ve really grown as a team this year, and I think we can give them a run for their money.”
Head coach Erin Appleman noted that the Wildcats have five seniors on their roster, most of whom have played in the NCAA tournament for the past three years.
Captain and outside hitter Madi Kingdon is ranked fourth in the nation, averaging 5.21 kills per set. She just rounded out the regular season with her eighth consecutive double-double, notching 15 kills and 19 digs against Arizona State.
“Madi Kingdon is a fabulous player and she’s surrounded by great other players,” Appleman said.
However, outside hitter and captain Mollie Rogers’s ’15 10 double-doubles and 4.30 kill per set average will pose a major threat to the Wildcats’ defense. Meanwhile, setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 has Arizona setter Penina Snuka beat with 10.95 to 10.84 assists per set this season. Liberos Maddie Rudnick ’15 and Ronni Lewis are roughly equal matches for each other, averaging 4.14 and 4.16 digs per set, respectively.
Rogers believes that Arizona’s biggest weakness is that they are not familiar with the Bulldogs’ style of play.
“They haven’t seen us play all season, and although they have film on us, none of our games [is] broadcast on TV or anything,” Rogers said. “They haven’t had an ability to follow us for the season.”
The Bulldogs flew into Tucson on Tuesday and have spent Wednesday and Thursday morning practicing at the match site. Traveling cross-country to play poses difficulties for the team academically since they will not be able to hear the last lectures of the semester before finals. Additionally, advancing further in the tournament bracket would entail even more traveling — to Seattle for the regional playoffs, and, ultimately, Oklahoma City for the championship match.
The Elis, however, are prepared for the challenges that traveling brings, according to Appleman.
“We knew before Thanksgiving we were going to be going somewhere. I think they’re just excited to be going and excited to be representing Yale. We’re very honored,” Appleman said.
In the past two years, the Bulldogs have played in the NCAA preliminary round at Penn State. As such, they are looking forward to making it out to Arizona, according to Johnson. Last year, the Bulldogs fell 3–1 to Utah in the first round. In 2012, Yale put up a tough fight against Bowling Green University in the first round, but lost 3–2.
Nevertheless, Johnson said that the team is excited to get out of the northeast, get some sunshine and play a great Pac-12 team this year.
The last time the Elis traveled cross-country for the NCAA tournament was in 2011, when they flew out to play No. 1 seed USC.
The Bulldogs will take on the Wildcats at 8:30 p.m. tonight.