Over the past five years, the Yale volleyball team has been a model of consistency and success, winning the Ivy League title each season. But for outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17, the past few seasons have been a bit more tumultuous.
Steinberg excelled for the Bulldogs as a freshman, but she seriously injured herself during the 2014 preseason and missed every game last year. Now, as a junior, Steinberg looks to regain her form and take on a major role on the team, both on and off the court.
In 2013, Steinberg put together an impressive rookie campaign that saw her rewarded with a spot on the All-Ivy second team. She finished sixth in hitting percentage and eighth in kills among all Ivy League players while winning multiple conference Player and Rookie of the Week awards.
“Brittani came in freshman year and straight off the bat was a huge player for us,” middle blocker Lucy Tashman ’17 said. “She definitely stepped up.”
Middle blocker Claire Feeley ’16 agreed, saying that Steinberg was a big part of the team as a freshman.
“Brittani was a really big part of our team [as a freshman],” middle blocker Claire Feeley ’16 said. “She’s not really the type of person to be tentative; she was willing to go in there and be her best coming in freshman year.”
Last September, however, Steinberg was warming up with the rest of the team for a preseason game against Villanova when she crossed with another player, diving for the same ball. As Steinberg’s right hand collided with her teammate’s arm, she felt two of her fingers being jammed back into her hand.
Later, Steinberg discovered that she had broken two bones in her hand and would need surgery to heal the injury.
“I have two metal plates in my hand and some screws,” Steinberg said as she pointed to a quarter-sized scar on her right hand. “[I] don’t set off metal detectors, though.”
Steinberg’s injury left her out of commission for the remainder of the season, stranding her on the sidelines while her teammates fought their way to an Ivy League crown and an NCAA Tournament berth.
Despite her injury, Steinberg remained an integral part of the team dynamic and community last year by attending practices and games, keeping score during drills and preparing to rejoin the Bulldogs on the court once healthy.
Amid the physical therapy and visits to Yale Health that consumed Steinberg’s two months of recovery, she found that there was also a certain benefit in observing the game from a new perspective on the sidelines.
“You see the game in a whole different realm,” Steinberg said. “I think that is really helping me this season and will help me in the future, because there are so many things that I couldn’t see before because I had so much tunnel vision being on the court.”
Steinberg’s teammates agree that her play this season has surpassed the already high level of her freshman year.
“Her blocking has certainly improved,” Feeley said. “She seems like a very similar player in a good way … she’s worked on technique but hasn’t declined at all from her injury.”
Steinberg particularly excelled in last Friday’s victory over Albany. The junior recorded 13 kills and 10 digs in Yale’s 3–1 win, finishing second and third on the team in those two categories. She also recorded eight kills in the Elis’ 3–2 loss to Rice on Sept. 5.
While her exact role on the team has not yet been determined, Steinberg’s leadership and versatility will no doubt serve the Bulldogs well. Injuries and a lack of depth hurt Yale in Steinberg’s absence last season, and her return along with the emergence of a talented freshman class should help to stave off similar issues in 2015.
For now, Steinberg is just glad to be back on the court.
“I am really happy about this team,” she said. “I think we are all working so hard, and every single practice is so competitive.”
Yale heads out west this weekend for the San Francisco Challenge, where it will face the University of San Francisco, North Dakota State and Cal State Fullerton.