2011 Season Preview: Pieces In Place For Another Successful Season

The Yale volleyball huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)
The Yale volleyball huddle. (photo by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity)

Bulldogs Host Yale Invitational This Weekend; Face Boston College This Friday at 7 p.m. in Season Opener

With three Ivy League titles in the last seven seasons, the 2011 Bulldogs aim to accomplish a program first: back-to-back league championships.

This year, the essential pieces are in place for another successful season, with experience and a lot of the talent that led the nation in digs and the Ivy League in a number of offensive categories last year.  Add a highly touted freshman class and a former All-American to the coaching staff, and the Bulldogs are in prime position to compete.

Every contender needs a leader, and the Bulldogs are in good hands with senior Taylor Cramm, this year's elected team captain. Cramm already has two league titles on her resume and led the conference in blocks per set in 2008.

Cramm will captain a team that returns four all-Ivy selections from last season, including sophomore setter Kendall Polan, the league's unanimous rookie of the year and one of the most versatile players in the league. Polan contributed 9.20 assists, 3.44 digs, 1.78 kills and 29 blocks for the season in helping Yale to an 18-7 overall record, 12-2 conference mark and an Ivy title.

Polan also earned first-team all-Ivy status, along with Bridget Hearst, one of the Ivy's dominant hitters. Hearst, a senior right side hitter, averaged 3.51 kills and 0.57 blocks per set on the season and 3.42 kills and 0.57 blocks per set in 14 Ivy matches. In 25 matches last year, Hearst reached double-digit kills 19 times, including a season-high 21 on two occasions.

Junior Haley Wessels is back to patrol the middle after being named All-Ivy second team in 2010. As a sophomore, Wessels finished third in the conference in hitting percentage, led the team in block assists and finished third on the squad in kills.

Along with Polan, fellow freshman Erica Reetz returns to power the outside attack. Reetz made an immediate impact in her Ivy League debut, being named league rookie of the week three times and finishing second in kills for Yale in 2010.

Despite graduating the program's all-time digs leader, Kelly Ozurovich, the Bulldogs will once again be defensively-minded this year after leading the nation in digs per set with a 19.3 mark in 2010.

Part of that defense should feature Katie Cordell, who returns for her senior season after finishing eighth in the conference in digs per set.  Cordell also ranked among the top 10 in service aces per set and posted at least 10 kills five times in 2010.

McHaney Carter also had a standout defensive season as a freshman in 2010,  finishing 10th in the conference in blocks per set including a personal-best seven block assists in a win over Georgetown.

Another sophomore, Gina Finke, will be asked to contribute more this season while still recovering from ACL surgery.  Finke's best stretch in 2010 came during the Ivy season, when she collected a personal-best six digs in three straight matches during a 10-game conference winning streak.

Along with the returners, Yale added an impressive group of freshmen.   The class of 2015 was rated among the top-50 in the country.  The new team members are:
•         Gabby Bird-Vogel, 6-2 outside hitter, who won a state championship in Washington.
•         Allie Frappier, a 5-10 outside hitter, named All-Tournament at Junior Olympics three years in a row.
•         Mollie Rogers, a 6-1 outside hitter, was a starter on back-to-back California Division IV championships in 2009 and 2010.
•         Maddie Rudnick, a 5-9 libero, joins former high school teammate Kendal Polan.  Rudnick's teams medaled at the Junior Olympics from the 12s through the 16s.
•         Dani Salka, a 5-11 right side hitter and setter, led her 2010 high school team to the championship of the prestigious Durango Tournament, which featured teams from across the U.S. She was named MVP of the tournament.

New to the staff this year is University of San Diego alum Amy DeGroot, who was an All-American for the Toreros as an outside hitter.