Last Friday, the Yale women’s volleyball team beat Harvard at home to win its third straight match. The win was a team effort: Outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20 and middle blocker Shreya Dixit ’19 had 11 and eight kills, respectively, while middle blocker Kate Aitkenhead ’19 contributed six block assists. However, the team’s two setters, Franny Arnautou ’20 and Kelsey Crawford ’18, who were on the court together during Friday night’s sets, played key roles in the Bulldogs’ victory.
Instead of playing their usual 6–2 rotation, which includes only one player listed as a setter, the Elis switched it up in their most recent match and had Arnautou setting while Crawford played back-row defensive specialist.
According to Crawford, this unique formation could have led to confusion and a decrease in overall performance for some teams. But for Yale, it resulted in a necessary win over a conference opponent.
“A setter is essentially the quarterback of a [volleyball] team,” Arnautou said. “Being able to have two on the court at the same time and still have the team being able to play cohesively is huge.”
For the past two years, Crawford had been Yale’s primary setter. Although outside hitter Kelly Johnson ’16 took over when Crawford missed part of last year’s season, the team had not recruited another setter until Arnautou.
Despite being from nearby California cities — Crawford is from Sunnyvale in Santa Clara County and Arnautou is from San Francisco — the two setters had never met prior to Arnautou’s commitment to Yale. However, they have quickly become close teammates and friends, and their similarities do not end with their Bay Area backgrounds. Crawford cited their comparable playing styles as one reason for the team’s success when both women are playing.
“Our personalities are very similar on the court,” Crawford said. “We’re both very much leaders and very involved; we both have fast-tempoed setting styles, although I do think Fran is a little more of a risk-taker than I am, which brings something new to the team.”
According to Crawford, the entire team has adapted well to not only having two different setters but the formation change to have them both on the court simultaneously.
By playing defensive specialist during Friday’s game, Crawford was able to not only see her own team’s offense from a new perspective but also give Arnautou advice during the game when she noticed certain cues from the other team or from Yale’s own hitters.
“Seeing her composure in setting up offense helps a lot, especially since she knows Yale volleyball so well,” Arnautou said. “Even this summer when we worked out, [Kelsey] was helpful on giving me tips for how to set up certain hitters and really connect to each one of our teammates.”
Although Arnautou and Crawford said they could not comment on future lineups, they were excited about the possibility of continuing to play together on the court.
Arnautou and Crawford have shared court time this season setting for the Bulldogs. Since they typically sub in for one another, it was a new experience for them to be on the court together during a game.
“[It was] sort of funny at first being in the same huddle as Kelsey,” Arnautou said. “It was honestly so fun to look over and see her right there.”
Crawford agreed that getting to play alongside her teammate was a highlight of the Harvard game.
Arnautou and Crawford said they were grateful for the patience of their teammates in allowing this unique situation to be a positive change for the Elis.
“They both have great court personalities in different ways, so it was a fun dynamic to have both of them on the court at the same time,” captain Tori Shepherd ’17 said. “They definitely personify the depth that we have on the team this year.”
Yale volleyball continues its season with a game against Penn on Friday.
Correction, Oct. 12: A previous version of this article misstated Crawford’s replacement while she missed part of the 2015 season.