The more things change for the Yale volleyball team, the more things stay the same.
The Bulldogs’ (3–0, 0–0 Ivy) season-opening tournament, the Yale Invitational, showcased a heralded first-year class and a set of returning players with new roles and positions, but observers could hardly pick up on this inexperience by observing the on-court action. Over the course of three nonconference matchups against Delaware (0–6, 0–0 Colonial), the University of Rhode Island (2–4, 0–0 Atlantic 10) and Clemson (4–3, 0–0 Atlantic Coast) at John J. Lee Amphitheater, the multifaceted Elis were rarely flustered en route to an undefeated start, extending their home winning streak to 21 games while dropping just one set.
“It was a lot [to play three games in two days],” head coach Erin Appleman said. “I think we’re starting to become a much more mature team, able to handle anything that happens. I think one thing this weekend showed me is that we’re very deep. We have many people that can come in and do things at any given moment, so our lineup could switch all year.”
To Appleman’s point, four different players notched at least six kills apiece in each of Yale’s wins against Delaware and Rhode Island, and most of the firepower came from youth — the only notable upperclassmen contributors on offense throughout the weekend were outside hitters Kelley Wirth ’19 and Gray Malias ’19.
First-year outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21 led the team with seven kills in her college debut against Delaware, a 3–0 sweep on Friday night, and committed just one attacking error. She also registered 2.90 digs per set and two solo blocks over the course of the tournament to earn a spot on the all-tournament team.
Attar was not alone as a rookie contributor, though, as middle blockers Destiny Daniel ’21 and Chiara Spain ’21 also burst onto the scene with significant playing time in their collegiate debuts. Spain led the team in blocks with a narrow edge over Daniel, and both showed composure in their first Division I tests.
Appleman said she was pleased, but not surprised, by the poise the first years exhibited in their first matches.
“I thought all the freshmen that got in played really, really well,” she said. “They’ve all had really tough club seasons — they all come from good clubs — so they’ve played in big-time matches before.”
The Elis’ opening match against Delaware featured competitive play during the beginning of the first set, where the two teams reached seven ties before either earned 10 points. However, thanks to a five-point serving run by Malias, the Bulldogs secured a commanding lead, ultimately capturing a 25–18 victory.
The Bulldogs trailed just twice throughout the following two sets, overpowering the Blue Hens with aggressive serving and consistency on defense.
“We need to play consistent all the time,” Wirth said. “That’s what’s going to get us through the matches — let the other teams make the errors, and if we control ourselves, then good things will happen.”
Wirth’s confidence and on-court presence signaled a notable expansion of her role on the team as a leader, and the junior justified that distinction with her play. She recorded 34 kills across the three games while committing just six miscues for a 0.389 hitting percentage, capping off her weekend with Most Valuable Player honors.
Her steadiness and dependability were most crucial on Saturday morning, when the Blue woke up for a 10 a.m. match against what proved to be its most challenging opponent, a Rhode Island squad led by middle blocker Marie Gillcrist.
Although Gillcrist collected 13 kills throughout the course of the match, Wirth led both teams with 16 kills of her own, the most by any Yale player in any game this weekend. The Elis dropped the third set against the Rams, their first set defeat of the weekend, but eventually finished off URI in a fourth-set nail-biter, winning 28–26.
In their last match of the weekend, the Bulldogs swept the Tigers in nearly symmetrical fashion, taking straight sets by 25–21, 25–20 and 25–20 scorelines. Captain and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 came off the bench when Yale fell behind early in the first set and sparked a four-point rally on her serve. The Tigers continued to stick with the hosts, but a domineering block from Attar and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 and a sneaky second-touch tip from Crawford created breathing room for the first-frame victory.
Attar once again demonstrated her two-way versatility throughout the match, notching nine kills and five digs, and Wirth fittingly sealed the match with her 12th kill of the night after Clemson saved two match points.
Spain attributed the team’s success to effective mental and physical preparation in the preseason.
“I think that we maintained good energy throughout the weekend,” she said. “We had a game Friday night, and it was tough and a quick turnaround to come back Saturday morning, [but] I think that we did a good job of resetting and forgetting about the game … and focusing on the next one instead.”
Yale will next fly out to California for a three-game slate at the Santa Barbara Tournament starting on Friday.
Contact Steven Rome at email@example.com and Ellen Margaret Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org .