Disney character, marvelous, conscientious, one in a million.

These are the words that players and coaches use to describe Yale volleyball’s libero Kate Swanson ’19. Of course, they could also say high school all-American, top-rated recruit and crucial contributor to describe the sophomore who has started 27 of the first 30 games of her collegiate career and led the Bulldogs in both digs and service aces last season.

In her second season as a starter, Swanson has grown more confident in her role as a libero, a defensive specialist in volleyball who is not subject to volleyball’s rotation rules and often directs the blockers and hitters. Initially thrust into the starting lineup under unexpected circumstances a year ago, the 5-foot-8 sophomore has become a young veteran who will play a key role in Yale’s mission to bring home an Ivy League championship this year.

“Last year when she was given the starting spot, she was a little tentative as a freshman, and now she’s walked in and this is her role,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “She knows what’s expected. She passes really well, which helps our offense tremendously. She’s still working on some things defensively in order to fit my style of play. She works really hard and tries to get better every day.”

After coming off the bench in her first three games last season, Swanson took over as libero when now-captain Tori Shepherd ’17 went down with an injury early in the fall and missed the rest of the year. Swanson, a Rancho Santa Fe, California native, finished the season with 3.76 digs per set and 21 service aces — both team-leading marks.

Shepherd has continued to battle injury, missing the first six games of the 2016 season and putting all the focus on Swanson in the back court once again. Appleman said she has tremendous confidence in Swanson’s ability to direct the team, and so far she has delivered, tallying 3.50 digs per set and a team-leading eight service aces, but more importantly providing the vocal leadership needed on the court with Shepherd on the bench.

“After being thrust into a starting role very quickly, she got comfortable in a hurry,” assistant coach Kevin Laseau said. “So this year, she has no problem directing traffic on the floor. She’s got a year of experience under her belt.”

Laseau added that Swanson is a quick learner, and that coaches never have to explain things to her in depth. He said that this year Swanson picks up on volleyball concepts with just “a head nod, a gesture [or] one word.”

Although Shepherd is set to return from injury soon, it seems unlikely that Swanson’s role will diminish. Shepherd noted that Swanson’s positive attitude has been crucial on the court and suggested that they will both play frequently once she returns.

“I’m very excited to have both of us playing next to each other in the back row soon,” Shepherd said.

Both Appleman and Laseau also highlighted Swanson’s character as an important addition to their program. Appleman noted that while recruiting Swanson, she was amazed by the number of people who went out of their way to tell her just how “marvelous” a person Swanson is.

Laseau likened her to a “Disney character,” because “she’s that nice.”

“She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Appleman said. “She’s really special. She’s someone who I would hope my daughters turn out similar to. She’s one in a million.”

Swanson’s attitude naturally played a role in Appleman’s decision to recruit her, but her recruiting profile coming out of high school was equally as notable. Swanson was one of 24 players named to the Under Armour All-American First Team in 2014, and Appleman described her as having the most impressive high school volleyball resume “of any Yale volleyball recruit” on her Yale athletics bio.

The highly recruited Swanson picked Yale, which won five straight Ivy League championships between 2010 and 2014, because of the tight-knit volleyball community and the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities while still competing as a Division-I athlete.

When not at practice, Swanson is a co-editor of the Y Fashion House’s blog, which launched this past April.

“The amount of extracurricular activities offered at Yale and the ability to try them while still being on the volleyball team is something I currently admire about Yale, and it is why I chose it,” Swanson said. “The balance between academics and athletics, to me, is an incredible opportunity.”

Swanson and the Bulldogs, 5–1 to start the season, head to Texas this weekend to match up with Rice on Friday and Houston and Texas A&M Corpus Christi on Saturday.