In 2019, the Yale varsity volleyball team managed to secure its third consecutive Ivy League championship title. After a year of altered practices due to COVID-19, the team is ready to get back on its feet in the fall.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 fall athletic season, the Bulldogs managed to snag the 2019 Ivy title after a win against the Princeton Tigers 16–25, 25–22, 18–25, 25–21, 17–15 in the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Last fall, the team was able to focus on individual skills and team building during a season of altered practices and new routines. The spring semester saw fewer students on campus, but team members continued practicing for their next season.
“I’m excited to get back to my teammates, and I miss all the people that I haven’t seen in a while,” team captain and outside hitter Ellis DeJardin ’22 told the News in April. “Mostly, I just miss being with them and having that extra outlet as a kind of break from school and grinding. We get to focus on a different kind of grind, one that works with teamwork and competition … I’m looking forward to that.”
Before their comeback Ivy League championship win in 2019, the Bulldogs had a challenging year. The Elis began the season in Indiana and California, competing in two three-game tournaments. Their first victory was against Howard 3-0 in California, and they also performed well against other teams, forcing the USC Trojans into five sets before losing 15-11 in the final set.
After their Howard win, the team defeated Stony Brook, Army and Sacred Heart before playing Ivy opponents. The Elis defeated Brown, Harvard, Dartmouth and Penn before a loss against the Princeton Tigers 3-0, followed by a win against Cornell.
“We still have to focus on ourselves, and we have to continue to get better,” Appleman told the News in a 2019 interview. “Part of playing everybody twice is that [they] are going to be better the second time you play them.”
In the second half of the regular season, the team lost to Harvard 3-1. But in the last regular season game the Bulldogs defeated Princeton at home and snagged their 11th consecutive Ivy title, and 10th under head coach Erin Appleman.
Now co-champions, Princeton and Yale faced off for the NCAA tournament bid. The Bulldogs narrowly lost against the Tigers 23–25, 25–21, 26–24, 25–15 giving Princeton their eighth shot at the NCAA tournament, where they have not won a game in. Yale has done so twice.
During the fall 2020 semester, 11 of the team’s 14 players were on campus, with one recovering from an injury. No students in the fall were on leave and sophomores were the only class not on campus. Appleman previously noted in an interview with the News that she decreased the time commitment of the team due to the odd year, allowing students to focus on their academics.
While Yale was in Phase 0 of the Ivy League’s plan for the resumption of athletic activities, the team was able to workout and do bodyweight work individually. During Phase I, the team went to the gym in two different groups to practice. These were non-contact practices and team members were required to social distance and wear masks.
“So there’s no net, no ball [and] we were still just doing conditioning, doing blocking movements, defensive movements,” setter Renee Shultz ’23 said. “Even just that small amount of time was just great to … get to play together again, especially with the new first years.”
The dynamic was very different in the spring, with only four team members in New Haven. The Elis on campus have been working on conditioning and modified drills to stay in shape. Team members noted that they have also been meeting via Zoom and working to stay in touch despite the distance. DeJardin told the News that she hopes to plan team bonding events for the team to get to know each other and meet the first year students in the fall. Students on a leave of absence noted how difficult it was to not be involved, but how they were trying to make the most of the distance by meeting virtually and staying in touch.
“We just have to make the most out of the online situation,” libero Maile Somera ’24 told the News.
The team has not received information about a fall season, yet. During a phone interview with the News, Appleman said that she is “anxiously awaiting” information about the upcoming season and is “hopeful” for a safe fall. She said she hopes students and athletes get vaccinated to facilitate a return back to normal proceedings.
Five students on the volleyball team have taken at least one semester of leave.