VOLLEYBALL: Bulldogs strive for success as they open season
The Yale volleyball team, which has won three Ivy League championships over the past five years, soon returns to the court.
This year, the Yale volleyball team (0–0, 0–0 Ivy) looks to exceed expectations and clinch its fourth Ivy League championship in six years.
Last season, the Bulldogs were third in the conference standings with a 16–7 overall record. This year’s Ivy League preseason poll also projects the same position for the squad in 2022, placing the Elis behind Brown and Princeton. Despite this, the team will look to combine grit, skill and newly-gained experience to demonstrate its ability to stand atop the Ivy League.
Libero Maile Somera ’24, a key pillar of the Eli defense and last year’s dig leader with 378, is especially looking forward to growing with her team.
“We are really excited to return the majority of our starting lineup from last year and build on our team chemistry and existing athleticism,” Somera said. “We have been working hard every day to challenge one another and raise the level of play in the gym. Every day we push ourselves to get better and are excited to test ourselves against a new opponent. We are playing great together and are excited to chase an Ivy title this season.”
The Elis will open their nonconference schedule with a two-week road stint, in which they will participate in two tournaments. This weekend, the squad will travel south to Tallahassee, Florida, to play its first games of the year in the Seminole Volleyball Invitational. The week after, they will head to New York to play in the Syracuse Tournament.
The squad will square off against formidable opponents, including some it has never faced before. The Bulldogs’ first match-up of the Seminole Invitational will be against Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (0–4, 0–0 SWAC) on Friday, Sept. 2 at noon. Though the Rattlers have had a tough start to their season, they are the reigning champions of their conference and are expected to make a strong first impression on the Elis.
The Blue and White will open their Saturday with a game against James Madison University (3–0, 0–0 CAA), which was ranked third in the Colonial Athletic Association last year. Having just swept their competition at home in the JMU Invitational, the Dukes will come to Florida with serious momentum. The Elis will then face Florida State (3–1, 0–0 ACC), a skillful squad that consistently ranks among the top in the Power Five ACC and is a popular contender for its division title.
However, the Bulldogs will also look to show off their own grit and competence against their southern rivals. With only three members of the class of 2022 leaving the roster last year, the majority of the team will return to the court this season. This also means that, unlike last year, most Elis will have played at least one match at the collegiate level heading into 2022. The Blue and White will look to combine this experience with extensive preparation to maximize their potential and reach new heights.
“I am really proud of the way [the players] have been practicing thus far,” Yale volleyball head coach Erin Appleman told the News on Monday. “I am excited to see where this team can go. We just ended preseason and have been working extremely hard for the past week during our training. There has been this really nice bond and mixing of players. Last year, we had a whole bunch of new people because of COVID-19. This year, it’s just a few and they’ve been really welcomed into the team. The team is practicing with good intensity right now.”
This year’s squad, which consists of 19 players, possesses both a solid veteran core and significant depth in all its positions. Outside hitters Bonnie Bostic ’24, Mila Yarich ’25 and Tiffany Pedersen-Henry ’23 were the top-three hitters last year in terms of kills, and provide valuable power to the Eli offense.
Yale also excels in other areas of the court. Carly Diehl ’25, a 2021 All-Ivy honorable mention, is a skillful playmaker who led the team in assists and was second in digs last year. She will look to return as the team’s main setter in 2022. Middle blockers Fatima Samb ’25, Sam Bray ’23 and Audrey Leak ’24 will support the team’s defensive efforts with their strong blocking ability. Additionally, the Bulldogs, who led the league in aces last year with 159, will look to dominate from the serving line.
Three talented first years will also look to make major contributions in their collegiate debuts. The towering presence and defensive ability of Chidera Chukwumerije ’26, a 6-foot-2-inch middle blocker from Atlanta, Georgia, will prove to be a major threat to opponents. Two Floridians, 5-foot-11 outside hitter Isabella Mendoza ’26 and 6-foot-1-inch opposite hitter Lauren Kellen ’26, will add further dynamism to the Bulldogs’ explosive offense.
“The energy of the team is super competitive and driven all the time,” Yarich said. “We value unity and as a team have been bonding great. Everyone is extremely supportive of one another in the gym and especially off the court.”
A seasoned squad will help with the expanded Ivy postseason. In the past, only the two teams with the best records in the regular season would have been eligible to advance to the postseason, where the division title would be determined by a five-set matchup. This year, this system will be replaced by a four-team tournament hosted by the top seed. Though the new format is reflected in the 2022 schedule, details on the tournament have yet to be publicly disclosed.
Leading the Bulldogs in their quest for the postseason will be new captain Renee Shultz ’23, a prominent team leader on and off the court. The six-foot setter from Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, has appeared in 144 sets for the Elis and was elected following a team vote.
“It is really an honor to be named captain for this season,” Shultz said. “I appreciate the faith my teammates and coaches have in me to lead this team, and I am excited to put in the work and see results. This is definitely a special team with a lot of potential, so I am really honored to put in the work and make the most of my final season.”
Last year, the Bulldogs had a 6–3 away record.