The Yale women’s volleyball team hopes to take flight in this weekend’s opening tournament in Indiana as the Bulldogs are set to match up against three Power Five teams from the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences.

The Bulldogs (0–0, 0–0 Ivy) open their season this Friday against a slew of tough competitors at the Hoosier Invitational tournament hosted by Indiana (3–1, 0–0 Big Ten). On midday Friday, the team opens up play against Oklahoma (1–2, 0–0 Big 12) followed by an evening match against Oregon State (2–0, 0–0 Pac 12) that same day. On Saturday, the Elis face off with Indiana on the Hoosier’s home court, Wilkinson Hall, which recently opened for its inaugural season.

“There was a great opportunity that came up, and we get to play three Power Five schools,” head coach Erin Appleman said. “The travel is relatively easy in the fact that it’s just going to Indiana, but the competition there is going to be incredible for us. It’s a great test of where we are, and we have a lot of returners that have played a lot. So, not only do we have a lot of depth, but there’s a lot of experience on the court. I’m excited to play against some of the best teams in the country.”

The Elis, who went 19–5 overall and 13–1 in conference play last season to claim the Ivy League championship, are revving up for another title campaign, starting with a series of away games in Bloomington. The squad’s opening games against premier competition are sure to test the two-time defending Ancient Eight champs and prepare them for their upcoming conference slate.

This season, the Bulldogs will seek to grow as a team with room for rookies to step up and fill big shoes. Recently voted second in the Ivy League preseason poll behind last year’s runner-up Princeton, the Bulldogs return just three of their five All-Ivy selections from last season — graduating conference Defensive Player of the Year and libero Kate Swanson ’19 and first-team All-Ivy outside hitter Kelly Wirth ’19.

However, the Elis do return last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year Frances Arnatou ’20, who is predicted to remain a dominant force in the league as a setter. Yale also brings back Ancient Eight Rookie of the Year and outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 in addition to second-team All-Ivy middle blocker Samantha Bray ’22.

This deep roster has been hard at work preparing for their opening weekend on the road, but due to an abnormal calendar year, the team has had only eight to 10 days of practice, according to Appleman. However, their efforts have been focused despite limited gym time at Payne Whitney Gymnasium.

“[The] team’s been preparing with film, practice, and lots of reps,” captain and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 said. “We’ve been focusing on certain things that we want to accomplish at the tournament that will help us not only in League play but success in Indiana as well. I think the team has been working extremely hard in preparation, and I think we can take on many of the challenges that the Indiana tournament presents us with.”

The Elis will look to showcase their depth against the trio of Power Five schools. Outside hitters Kathryn Attar ’21, who won Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2017, and Tristin Kott ’20 — a previous second-team All-Ivy selection — will also be returning this year.

The Elis’ roster also brings in five new names: outside hitters Bonnie Bostic ’23, Amelia Browne ’23 and Tiffany Pedersen-Henry ’23, libero Maile Somera ’23 and middle hitter Zoie Stewart ’23. The newcomers are expected to add depth and talent to the team and comprise one of the best incoming recruiting classes in the country, according to PrepVolleyball.

“We’ve had to quickly narrow focus into a starting lineup and see where that takes us,” Appleman said. “I feel like our team is extremely deep; we have a ton of talent in the gym — making my job much tougher.”

The opening match against the Sooners will test the Bulldogs early on. Last season, this Big 12 foe finished 17–11 overall and 9–7 in league, tying for third in the conference with Iowa State and trailing just behind No. 3 Texas and No. 16 Baylor. Oklahoma enters just its second season under head coach Lindsey Gray-Walton.

On Friday evening, Oregon State will prove to be a more vulnerable opponent. The Beavers finished last in the Pac-12 last year with an overall record of 11–21 and a 1–19 mark in conference play. Sunday’s opponent, Indiana, finished last season towards the bottom of the Big 10 with a near-.500 record and 7–13 league finish.

The matches mark the first of three tournaments — two away tournaments and one home invitational —  for the Elis this season before they accelerate into conference play at the end of September.

“We are hoping to solidify our communication skills, grow as a new team, leave everything out on the court and win!” outside hitter McKenzie Cooke ’21 said.

The Bulldogs battle Oklahoma on Friday at 12 p.m. EST in Wilkinson Hall before taking on the Beavers at 5 p.m. later that evening.

Margaret Hedeman | margaret.hedeman@yale.edu 

Cate Sawkins | cate.sawkins@yale.edu