YaleAthletics

Spearheaded by hungry fourth-year veterans who have upheld a winning culture in the squad, the Yale women’s volleyball team is poised to end a two-year title drought and reclaim the Ivy League trophy.

From 2010 to 2014, the Elis established a dynasty, winning the conference title for five consecutive years. Captain and setter Kelsey Crawford ’18 and outside hitters Kaitlyn Gibbons ’18 and Megan Rasmussen ’18 claimed their first Ivy League titles as members of the 2014 team that brought home the most recent league crown for the Bulldogs.

The team came close to extending its title reign in 2015 and 2016, but placed third and second in the league those seasons respectively, while Princeton claimed back-to-back conference championships. This fall, the Elis lead the Ancient Eight with a 7–1 record, a game better than Princeton and Harvard.

“We go in every year wanting to win, but having won [the Ivy League Championship] and knowing this is our final year makes us [seniors] want it even more,” Crawford said. “We want to push our team harder because we want the rest of them to experience a title as well.”

As the sole Bulldogs with championship experience, Crawford, Gibbons and Rasmussen have embraced a veteran mentorship role. This fall, they have made a concerted effort to maximize the team’s potential and strengthen team chemistry by setting examples through strong work ethic and an emphasis on team values.

After tasting victory during their first year at Yale, Crawford, Gibbons and Rasmussen have noted that the sense of urgency to win this year is especially strong and is something that they have worked to instill throughout the rest of the roster.

“We have a very special group of girls that are extremely hungry for the win,” Gibbons said. “The talent on our team runs very deep and we have full confidence that any six players put on the court can and will rise to the occasion.”

Crawford has crucial experience on a championship roster. The captain was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2014 and also earned Second-Team All-Ivy honors, leading the league in assists per set. She ranked fifth in the conference in assists as a sophomore, a season shortened by injury. This season, the captain ranks second on the team in assists and leads the squad in hitting percentage.

Gibbons also contributed to the 2014 title team, earning Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors that October. In her past two seasons, Gibbons has been a versatile contributor, ranking fourth on the team in digs per set as a sophomore and fourth in kills per set last season. Fellow senior outside hitter Rasmussen was another significant contributor last season, appearing in 22 matches.

“There is technically one captain,” associate head coach Kevin Laseau said. “But all the seniors are all part of captainship and all have a leadership role to play. Those three have done a good job of reinforcing core values of the program and leading by example.”

According to Crawford, the three seniors have made a concerted effort this season to uphold a winning mindset within the Bulldogs squad to prepare them for making a title run. In particular, they have implemented mandatory team lifting in the weight room in order to ensure the Elis stay in peak physical condition.

As well as ensuring that the team stays ready for competition outside of practice, setting a positive tone in terms of effort within practice has also been a focal point for the three seniors. Under veteran leadership, the Bulldogs have paid specific attention to practicing intensely at game speed in order to stay prepared for actual competition within the Ancient Eight.

“Something that [the upper levels] have taught the younger ones is that every second is important,” Rasmussen said. “Whether you’re in a lift, in a practice, or watching film, every second can be used to make you, and thus the team, better.”

The team’s enthusiasm in practice sessions could be one of many reasons the Bulldogs have enjoyed such strong contributions from younger players. Two rookie Elis have earned Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors this season: Outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21 has secured the honor twice and libero Yurika Boyd ’21 won it for her performance this past weekend.

According to middle blocker Shreya Dixit ’19, the seniors are consistent leaders who bring high levels of excitement and enthusiasm to practice sessions.

“They have this hunger that drives the rest of the team to getting that ring again,” Dixit said. “They have spent a lot of time creating a culture that will help us reach our goal.”

The Bulldogs will travel to Princeton on Friday for a crucial matchup at 7 p.m.

Jimmy Chen | jimmy.chen@yale.edu