The last time the Yale volleyball team took the court at John J. Lee Amphitheater, it left with mixed emotions. After capturing a share of the Ivy League title, the Bulldogs lost to Princeton in a one-game playoff that sent the Tigers to the NCAA tournament.
But with head coach Erin Appleman entering her 16th season with the team and a 167–43 Ivy League record, the Bulldogs have high hopes for 2018. Returning five All-Ivy honorees and welcoming five new first years to the squad, Yale will kick off its season at home this weekend, hosting the Battle for Connecticut against Fairfield, Central Connecticut State and Quinnipiac.
“Our practices have been super competitive, and I’m excited to see us respond to opponents in official matches starting this weekend,” setter Franny Arnautou ’20 said. “Our off-the-court chemistry grows stronger each day, and the first years have been a joy to get to know.”
Captained by last year’s Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year, libero Kate Swanson ’19, the Elis will look to capitalize on both experience and talent in their quest to defend the Ancient Eight title.
In 2017, Yale went 16–8 overall and 10–4 in conference, notching double-digit conference wins for the 13th time in the last 15 years.
“Coming off of a championship season, it is very important to recognize that we are a new team,” outside hitter Kelley Wirth ’19 said. “We have new players and new talent that completely changes the dynamic of our team. Our focus this season isn’t on the championship, it is on working hard in the gym and leaving it all on the court.”
The Bulldogs will benefit from a deep roster of veterans, with several considered among the best in the Ancient Eight. Swanson and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Kathryn Attar ’21 earned spots on the conference first team. Yale also returns Arnautou, who led the Elis and ranked sixth in the conference for assists in 2017. On the defensive line, libero Yurika Boyd ’21 recorded 27 digs against Brown last season, and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 registered 74 blocks for the year.
The Elis’ rookie players will also be formidable assets on the court. For the 10th consecutive year, Yale’s incoming class received High Honorable Mention from prepvolleyball.com. The new additions to the team include two national medalists: Sam Bray ’22 and Ellis DeJardin ’22.
“We’ve had a couple team meetings so far, and we’ve been working really hard to establish team identity and personality,” outside hitter DeJardin said. “Aside from the obvious goals of doing well in preseason, season and postseason, our team wants to be super gritty, inclusive and hardworking.”
In their first match of the season, the Bulldogs will battle Fairfield, the three-time defending Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions. The Stags were picked by the media to win their league again this year, even after graduating their two best players. Megan Theiller served as team captain for an astounding three seasons, while Skyler Day won MAAC Player of the Year each of the last two years.
Unlike the Bulldogs, Fairfield already has four games under its belt after competing in the Tropical Smoothie Invitational and facing Sacred Heart last Wednesday. But a lack of game experience this season does not mean that Yale is expecting to start slowly on Friday night.
“Our team has been working extremely hard and can’t wait to get onto the court Friday night to start off our season,” Swanson said. “We are hyped and ready to get after it.”
The next day, the Elis will take on Central Connecticut State, a team eager to bounce back from a shaky start to its season. Despite several early losses, the Blue Devils remain a worthy opponent with weapons across their roster and coming off a second-place finish in the Northeast Conference last season.
Central Connecticut State has received considerable individual offensive production from junior outside hitter Gala Galabova, who boasts the NEC’s top hitting percentage.
“They’re one of the best teams they’ve had in recent years, and they’re pretty athletic,” Appleman said of Central Connecticut State.
Following the matchup against Fairfield, Yale will face Quinnipiac in the evening. Since their season opener at the Army Invitational, the Bobcats have fallen to four disappointing losses, including a 3–0 defeat against UConn. Quinnipiac struggled to establish itself as a winning team throughout the 2017 season as well, finishing with an overall record of 10–22.
Mindful of both the challenges and opportunities this season, setter Renee Schultz ’22 said she was looking forward to seeing the team grow closer and competing hard throughout the season.
Opening weekend starts against Fairfield this Friday at 7 p.m. in John J. Lee Amphitheater. The Bulldogs went 8–3 for home games last season, and Yale is 7–2 in the opening weekend for the last three years.
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