Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Setter Frances Arnautou ’20 sports the number 23 on her Yale volleyball jersey for one reason: LeBron James.

Her obsession with the NBA superstar is hard to overstate: Arnautou calls on his example to inform how she approaches competition and challenge on and off the court. She pairs her major athletic contributions to the Elis — including a career assist count that now surpasses 1,500 — with involvement in the Communication and Consent Educators program and The Unorthojocks, Yale’s athlete a cappella group.

“I’ve drawn inspiration from him as a person and athlete,” Arnautou said. “The mentality about giving your all to the game, being a gym rat, putting everything you have into preparation and process. At that point, you can leave any match and be pleased with the outcome.”

A San Francisco native, Arnautou is one of the Bay Area’s lone LeBron fans. In February 2014, after James’ game-winning three-pointer propelled the Miami Heat to a win over the Golden State Warriors and ignited an uproar of jeers from the home crowd, he embraced Arnautou, sporting a white Heat jersey, in a hug that soon went viral. Since then, they have exchanged nods and waves when James plays at Oakland’s Oracle Arena.

Her vehement support for the King translates to her attitude on the volleyball court. Arnautou’s ferocity allowed her to make an immediate impact when she joined the program in 2016 as she led the Bulldogs with 540 assists and 7.30 assists per set as a first year.

“We talk a lot about being aggressive as a player in terms of attacking every ball and focusing on every rep,” captain and libero Kate Swanson ’19 said. “I think she does this very well — she goes for it, and her competitive nature is contagious.”

Now a junior, Arnautou has led the Elis in assists and assists per set for three consecutive seasons. Less than halfway through the Ancient Eight schedule, Arnautou has already accumulated 507 assists, and this weekend’s games against Dartmouth and Harvard will likely see her surpass the 540 assists she contributed in each of her first two years. Arnautou, alongside Swanson and outside hitter Gray Malias ’19, leads the team with 49 sets played in 2018, a testament to her consistency.

Last weekend’s wins at Columbia and Cornell boosted the Elis to the top of the Ivy League leaderboard, and Arnautou proved to be key in both victories. Tallying a combined 70 assists in both games, Arnautou also led the team with 10 digs against Columbia. Against Cornell on Saturday, she added 19 digs and a career-high seven kills on a 0.667 hitting percentage.

Arnautou’s decision to be more aggressive at the net, she said, opened up the rest of the offense. And her sustained commitment to hustle and detail translated to an immediate impact on the Bulldogs’ defense.

“Defense is really important to what we do as a team,” Arnautou said. “Having a relentless mentality and wanting to get every single ball up is something I try to do every game.”

Named a top-50 setter ace by Prep Volleyball at University High School, Arnautou has always benefitted from attention to detail, perhaps because of LeBron James’s influence, but also because of her emphasis on improvement. Her coaches at Absolute Volleyball Club equipped her with the skills she needed to be a setter, and her development accelerated from there. Always looking to build upon her performance, Arnautou possesses a competitive energy that drives her growth, according to Swanson.

Arnautou also participated in training camps with USA Volleyball, where she met outside hitter Kathryn Attar ’21, and played on its U.S. Women’s Junior National Training Team.

She chose Yale because it allowed her to be a multifaceted student. In some of her first days on campus, Arnautou joined The Unorthojocks and even writes music. Her impression of the CCE workshop for first years inspired her to apply to the group in spring 2017. Complementing the hours she spends playing volleyball with music and consent education is integral to Arnautou’s identity.

As Arnautou becomes one of the Elis’ top veterans, younger teammates like fellow setter Renee Shultz ’22 have recognized her adept leadership skills.

“I really look up to her as a leader and a great friend,” Shultz said. “I know I can always turn to her with questions and that she will always be motivating me, as well as everyone else on our team, to continue to get better and work hard each and every day.”

Arnautou’s 10.35 assists per set in 14 matches rank second among all players in the Ivy League.

William McCormack  | william.mccormack@yale.edu