Take one look at Yale volleyball’s Instagram profile, and you might just find yourself wanting to be on the team. From photos of the entire team donning Halloween attire for a midweek practice to videos of Elis rattling off as many types of candy or dog breeds as they can in 10 seconds, it is no surprise that @yalevolleyball boasts 1,855 followers interested in keeping up with the team’s day-to-day antics.
The Elis credit their social media success to associate head coach Kevin Laseau, whose cheerful banter can often be heard in the background of these videos. Laseau is on the verge of completing his 14th year at Yale, a span in which he has helped lead Yale to seven Ivy League titles. Now, he is just two matches away from adding another championship to his resume. While hard work and careful preparation have been critical in leading the Elis to so many titles, both Laseau and head coach Erin Appleman believe that the road to success is impossible without having fun along the way.
“We have five core values, and [having] fun is one of them,” Appleman said. “If you put a lot of time and energy into this, you have to be enjoying it.”
Laseau has been imperative to that fun. Captain and outside hitter Kelsey Crawford ’18 said that alongside his technical expertise, Laseau brings a “fun but focused attitude” to practice and games that helps the team keep its passion for the game.
Laseau grew up in Muncie, Indiana, a town that he describes as “really, really big on volleyball.” He attended Ball State, the hometown school. Ball State’s men’s volleyball program was one of the first men’s collegiate programs to be established in 1970, and despite his small stature — standing at just 5-foot-5-inches — Laseau earned an opportunity to play for the historic program as a defensive specialist.
Although Laseau received limited playing time at Ball State, nothing could abate his love for the game.
“It was such a unique sport with its own culture, and I’ve always thought that volleyball is so dynamic,” Laseau said. “It’s a real game of rhythm in terms of the sets and the things that are going on. I just fell in love with the dynamic nature of it.”
After graduating from Ball State, Laseau coached for the now nationally renowned Munciana Volleyball Club, leading its 16-open team to a national championship in 1997. During his postgraduate years as a club coach, Laseau also worked with several Junior Olympic teams, and coached at a number of camps for Division I programs in the midwest. In 2004, after spending years balancing coaching and his work as an editor for various publishing and advertising firms, Laseau ultimately took a leap of faith and turned to coaching full time.
Laseau joined the Yale staff just a year after Appleman took over as the head coach. According to Laseau, he and Appleman share a similar coaching philosophy — one that is reminiscent of what Laseau learned as a player.
“We value passing and defense,” Laseau said. “If you can keep the ball off the floor, then you’re going to beat the other team. I hate the cliché that ‘defense wins championships’ because like any cliché, that’s one-third of the picture. But defense is really, really important.”
Off the court, the pair’s friendship and shared outlook on the game has also contributed to their success recruiting top talent. In a process that is often stressful and overwhelming for potential recruits, Laseau believes that communicating with these athletes in a friendly and personable manner helps to build more authentic relationships.
Part of both Appleman and Laseau’s recruiting strategies is to unmask and endorse the coaches’ and teams’ fun-loving and easygoing dynamic, and to let their results on the court speak to the prestige of Yale’s program.
“I do a lot of letter-writing to recruits, and I rarely actually write about volleyball,” Laseau said. “I try to make it fun because I figure that these people in high school are getting all these letters from people and they’re probably pretty boring. So I write about things like who ate too much bread before the match, or who tripped and fell on the bus … you have to make it interesting so that people read what you want to say.”
But when it comes to volleyball, Laseau puts his enthusiasm on full display during matches, pumping his fist after key defensive saves.
According to Appleman, her players do not only recognize the benefit Laseau’s volleyball knowledge brings to the team but also value his refreshing sense of humor. Middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 echoed her head coach’s sentiments.
“[Laseau] is an amazing and hilarious coach,” Simqu said. “He cares immensely for our team and really can cheer anyone up with one of his many ridiculous punch lines and jokes.”
As Yale closes in on its seventh Ivy League title in the last 10 years, Laseau’s positive energy will keep the team fired up ahead of its final two matches of the conference season.
The Bulldogs face Columbia and Cornell this weekend. A weekend sweep would clinch the Ancient Eight crown.
Ruiyan Wang contributed reporting.
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