Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Coaching turnover is nothing new in college athletics. Every season brings hordes of fresh faces into the limelight of Division I athletics as coaches, just like their players, attempt to prove their mettle on the big stage.

Starting tomorrow, the Yale volleyball team will experience its share of this phenomenon as the Bulldogs host three teams led by first-time head coaches in the upcoming Yale Invitational. While the Elis head into their opening weekend of play under the supervision of 14-year veteran head coach Erin Appleman, Delaware, Rhode Island and Clemson will all be coached by rookies.

“All three teams have new coaches, which to me means that everyone has a new opportunity,” Appleman said. “Everyone is fighting for playing spots on all their teams, so they’re going to be very, very competitive games.”

This level of competition will allow Appleman to test different lineups, configurations and strategies for the Ancient Eight season. While she is otherwise a dedicated proponent of the adage “take it one game at a time” — the phrase captain and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 used to describe the team’s mindset for the season — the coach admitted that she is keeping the attributes of Ivy League teams at the forefront of her mind as she plans for this weekend’s action.

“For me the preseason is about preparing for the Ivy League schedule,” Appleman said. “Of course we want to win, but I look at it as … ‘How does this relate to conference?’ If [a nonconference opponent] has a really good middle, [and] someone in our conference has a really good middle, how do we respond to that?”

In its season opener, Yale will face Delaware, the highest-ranked program according to RPI. Rookie coach Sara Matthews scheduled an ambitious first weekend of games for her debut at the West Virginia Invitational last weekend, and the Mud Hens dropped all three of their games. On Aug. 25, they fell in straight sets to No. 5 Penn State, which the Elis will face on Sept. 15.

In an interview with Delaware Athletics, Matthews expressed disappointment in her squad’s inconsistent effort at the tournament.

“The results are not what we wanted, but we learned a lot about our team and what we need to work on,” Matthews said. “We know our effort level has to be better for the duration of a match and not just in moments.”

One of the most challenging aspects of the Ivy League schedule is that games are played on back-to-back nights. This Saturday, the 2017 Bulldogs will have their first crack at this demanding schedule when they take on Rhode Island at 10 a.m. and then return to the court at night for a 7 p.m. date with Clemson.

The double-header will provide Appleman the opportunity to explore her team’s depth, which figures to be a major strength this season. Other than outside hitter Brittani Steinberg ’17, nearly all major contributors from last year are returning, and a highly-rated first-year class will vie for playing time immediately.

“I expect to play a lot of different lineups and try to get a feel of what is potentially going to be our true lineup,” Appleman said. “I think a lot of people will get the opportunity to play this weekend.”

Both Rhode Island and Clemson are up-and-coming teams. The Rams improved their conference standing in five consecutive seasons, culminating in a 12–2 record in the Atlantic 10 in 2016. The promotion of former associate head coach Steve Santonastaso following the retirement of Rhode Island’s previous head coach has maintained a sense of stability in the program, which looks to continue its upward trend.

The Rams have more to prove, however, after being swept three times to start the season and posting a lowly 0.054 hitting percentage against several teams boasting top-80 RPI rankings.

Clemson, on the other hand, endured a trying season last year in the unforgiving Atlantic Coastal Conference. The Tigers finished dead last in the 15-team conference with just one league victory to their name. However, an encouraging start to the 2017 campaign could signal greener pastures ahead for the team from South Carolina.

Clemson began its season by sweeping three games en route to a Big Orange Bash victory. Junior outside hitter Kailey Harvell was named tournament MVP, while Illinois transfer Kaylin Korte made an immediate impact from the left side as well with an all-tournament team performance. Although the Tigers stumbled in their fourth matchup, a sweep at the hands at Kennesaw State, they will look to bounce back against the Elis.

“We’ve been really focusing on doing our best to better the ball when it’s on our side of the court and having more control of what happens when the ball is with us,” oustide hitter Tristin Kott ’20 said. “That puts us in a better position to prepare for the opponent.”

Yale dropped just two sets in three matches against Albany, Iona and Rutgers at the Yale Invitational last season to walk away with a tournament sweep.

Won Jungwon.jung@yale.edu | @won_jung_ 

Steven Romesteven.rome@yale.edu | @srome97