Eight Ivy League championship titles over the past 10 seasons, the first win at the NCAA championship level for the conference, and 2018 Coach of the Year are only a few of the many accolades that the head of the Yale volleyball team boasts.
The Bulldogs did not know that a storm was coming when head coach Erin Appleman stepped into the position in 2003. With her 300th career win under her belt after defeating Brown last Saturday, Appleman holds the best record of any Ivy program over the last 15 seasons. Prior to Yale, she served as an assistant coach at Penn State for eight years, winning the Big Ten championship five times and coaching them to five Final Four appearances. Attending San Diego State for only two years after transferring from the United States International University, she sits on the leaderboard with 3,144 career assists and earned Most Valuable Player in 1989, and also served as the 1990 captain.
“It’s been a tremendous 15 years and I couldn’t have asked for a better friend or mentor for this ride,” assistant coach Kevin Laseau said regarding Appleman’s milestone. “I lucked out getting this job, and I think what she’s done over [the] years has been phenomenal. I’m glad that the 300 wins brings [her accomplishments] to light, let’s everybody acknowledge it and congratulate her for it.”
In 2004, just one short year after her first season as an Eli, Appleman led the Bulldogs to their first NCAA championship appearance and defeated Albany in the cardinal round. Despite falling to Minnesota in the second round, Yale’s win over the Great Danes marked the first time that an Ivy team had ever won a national championship match — a feat that Appleman would again accomplish in 2008 against Ohio.
During her tenure, Appleman has coached six Ivy League Players of the Year, seven Ivy League Rookies of the Year, two Ivy League Defensive Players of the Year and countless First and Second-Team All-Ivy selections. In 2004, she was named the AVCA East Regional Coach of the Year, and she led the Bulldogs to a 0.795 winning percentage upon entering the 2019 season.
Still, Appleman said her achievements are far from her mind at this point during the season.
“I don’t really get caught up in any of that,” Appleman said. “I didn’t even know [about the 300th career win] until [I was told] after the match. “I honestly don’t know what our record is — I only know that we have one loss and cannot lose again. It’s an exciting accomplishment, but so much of that has happened because of the people that I’ve surrounded myself with.”
Despite Appleman’s inclination to brush off her 300th win milestone, her players and fellow coaches recognized this moment as a tribute to her overall success not only as a leader but also as a strategist.
Laseau joined the coaching staff one year after Appleman, in 2004. Laseau also acts as the team’s recruiting coordinator and social media manager. Additionally, he helped create PrepVolleyball.com in 2003, the only junior volleyball website.
“I came [to Yale] thinking I knew just about all you need to know about volleyball, and I was wrong,” Laseau said. “She just had so much great experience … She has a good idea about what the team as a group needs or is thinking, or their frame of mind. She’s always said that it does no good to get on a team after they play poorly because nobody’s listening. That’s a different instinct than a lot of coaches have.”
Captain and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 said Laseau and Appleman’s personalities balance each other out on the court. Appleman intentionally hired coaches who would balance out the seriousness she brings to the court, Simqu told the News.
Simqu also said this seriousness, which players said is Appleman’s distinct personality, allows the head coach to be direct and straightforward with her athletes.
“What’s awesome about Erin is that she’s very on it,” Simqu said. “Regardless [if you’re a starter or on the bench], she’s always very honest with you and very open to communication. She is able to maintain a level of composure that I think is important especially for a head coaching position.”
All except for one Ivy League championship title have come under Appleman’s regime.
When Appleman initially came on as head coach, she had to “teach [the team] how to win.” Her strengths include her ability to scout other teams in order to pick out their weaknesses, and then play strategically in response, Simqu told the News. A dedicated and in-the-moment type of coach, Appleman prefers to play the game, rather than memorize the scoreboard.
“Every week [of practice] is what can we be better at this week — that’s how I look at things,” Appleman said. “It’s nice to get wins but at the same time, for me, it’s always about quality. It’s about performing to the level that represents Yale, that represents the program.”
Appleman cited her assistant coaches, Tom Beckett, who hired her, and the administration for the team’s joint success.
At the end of the day, however, she said she feels grateful for recruiting opportunities and stated that “the players have obviously been the reason you get the wins and losses.”
“Hopefully, you know, I can get another 300 eventually,” Appleman said. “It’s really a combination of so many people. It’s attached to my name but honestly it’s not about me at all — it’s about all the people that have been there with me.”
The Yale volleyball team has not experienced a losing season since 2001.
Margaret Hedeman | email@example.com