Lukas Flippo

On Nov. 16, 2019, deafening cheers echoed through the John J. Lee Amphitheater as the Yale volleyball team clinched its third straight Ivy League championship, barely edging out Princeton 3–2. The four women of the class of 2020, however, had been paving the road since their first year on campus.

Since arriving at Yale, setter Frances Arnautou ’20, right side hitter Rebekah Nemeth ’20, outside hitter Tristin Kott ’20 and middle blocker Izzy Simqu ’20 have garnered a multitude of accomplishments and accolades, including six All-Ivy honors, one Player of the Year and one trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2018.

Among all the accolades and wins, the final game the class of 2020 played on their home court — when they clinched their third consecutive Ivy title — stands out.

“Inexplicable. Astounding,” assistant coach Kevin Laseau said. “I’ve been here 15 years, and that ranks as one of the most dramatic finishes we’ve ever had. I literally didn’t know what to do with myself afterward. I think I ran around screaming? As to what I saw from the sidelines, I saw composure and resilience from our gang. We just kept coming back. They’d win a game, we’d respond. They win again, we respond. We simply refused to stop.”

From left, Tristin Kott ’20, Frances Arnautou ’20, Izzy Simqu ’20 and Rebekah Nemeth ’20 (Photo: Yale Athletics)

A key driver for the Bulldogs’ success has been head coach Erin Appleman, who was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Volleyball Hall of Fame last fall.

The coach has led the Elis to eight Ivy League championship titles over the past 10 seasons and the first conference win at the NCAA championship level. The League also named her the 2018 Coach of the Year, and she has guided the Bulldogs to a 190–46 in-season conference record — the best record of any Ivy program over the past 17 seasons.

“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.”

Libero Yurika Boyd ’21, left, celebrates a point. (Photo: Lukas Flippo)

All 11 of the program’s Ivy League titles — barring its first crown in 1978 — have come under Appleman’s regime.

Simqu, the 2019 team captain and Second Team All-Ivy member, echoed the same sentiments as her head coach.

“I want the team to feel proud every time we step on and off the court,” Simqu said at the start of the season. “Win or lose, we want to play our game, play Yale volleyball and leave nothing behind.”

Graphic: Megan Graham

Though this culture has definitively shaped the team and set them up for success, each senior also brought undeniable raw talent.

Arnautou was named Ivy League Player of the Year in 2018, AVCA All-Region her junior and senior years and was selected as a national candidate for the CLASS Award. A force on the court, Arnautou accrued 831 assists this past season and 2,715 over the course of her collegiate career, making her one of the top Yale setters of all time.

Nemeth has steadily improved throughout her career, going from only playing three sets her sophomore year to every set last fall before an injury momentarily halted her collegiate career. Nemeth came back stronger than ever, posting double-digit kills in the five games leading up to the final match against Princeton to determine the NCAA tournament bid recipient. Nemeth also posted a team-high 2.90 points per set last season.

Photo: Lukas Flippo

Kott, who was named to the All-Ivy Second Team her first and second year, rounds out the senior squad. The Floridian has been a major asset for the Bulldogs and tallied 437 kills as an Eli.

Though Princeton handed the Blue and White a loss in the final game of the season, ending its hopes of an NCAA championship berth, Simqu recalls her past four years with fondness and gratitude.

“Of course, I wish the outcome had been different in our final playoff game and I wish I could have played with every single teammate a little longer,” Simqu said. “However, at the end of the day, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have played with the women of Yale volleyball for four seasons and unbelievably proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

Photo: Lukas Flippo

While these four powerhouse players will undoubtedly be missed, the Bulldogs welcome four new members and with the guidance of middle blocker Chiara Spain ’21, the 2020 captain, seek a fourth ring to place on the fingers of the rising seniors.

Margaret Hedeman |