First Three-Time Ivy Player of the Year Was "One in a Million"
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- When the Class of 2014 graduated, it took with them the most decorated Yale volleyball player in the history of the program.
Kendall Polan graduated as a four-time First Team All-Ivy selection, the first three-time Ivy League Player of the Year, two-time Honorable Mention All-America, 2010 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, and four-time Ivy League Champion. In addition, at Yale's Class Day festivities, Polan was named the recipient of the 2014 Nellie P. Elliott Award, the top honor for a graduating female athlete at Yale.
"Kendall deserved this award because her impact on the Yale Volleyball continues to this day," Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. "It's more than four Ivy League titles, three Ivy Player of the Year awards or all the matches she led the team to victory. Her leadership and will to win has left an indelible mark on this program. She truly is one in a million."
When Polan arrived at Yale, the program had won two titles in the past six years, and was by any measure a successful team for Yale athletics. Little did anyone know that Polan would help triple the number of titles in the next four years and redefine what it meant to be successful.
Two weekends into Kendall's first Ivy League campaign, however, even a top 3 finish looked questionable. After two wins against Brown, the Bulldogs promptly lost two straight Ivy League matches at Penn and Princeton. But the team powered through the rest of the schedule to finish 12-2 in the Ivy League and secure the first of what turned out to be four straight Ivy League titles.
"My favorite memories include the obvious ones such as winning the four Ivy League Championships," Polan said. "Each championship was unique because the composition of each team was different. Each preseason, when we would each sweat through three t-shirts per practice and couldn't walk up the stairs due to sore muscles, provided unforgettable memories that always brought us together as a team."
After 2010's title came another in 2011, and then an undefeated Ivy League record in 2012, and finally a fourth in 2013 to close out a remarkable four years.
"One Ivy championship is special and takes so much hard work," Appleman said. "But to win four titles in a row is simply amazing."
In addition to Ivy League success came opportunities to play agains the best programs in the country, including Penn State, Stanford, and USC. Polan also got to play in a number of unique venues, from the University of San Diego in 2012 in front of her hometown friends to a distinctly exclusive clientele inside the Pentagon in 2013.
Appleman also scheduled a number of tough opponents in Yale's own home tournaments, looking to constantly push and challenge Polan and her teammates. Throughout her career Polan faced programs such as Utah, Texas A&M, and Missouri from within the cozy confines of John J. Lee Amphitheater.
"We make a point to schedule some of the best teams in the country because it's important that our student-athletes not only get an opportunity to compete against great competition, but it also prepares us for the challenges of the Ivy League," Appleman said.
One of Polan's fondest memories came after a conference win last November at home. Yale swept Cornell for its 32nd straight Ivy League home victory and moments later found out it won a conference title with two matches left to play.
"After the game all 15 of us were huddled around a little computer screen in the locker game watching another Ivy League match that would determine if we would be solo champions," Polan said. "After the game was over and we were declared sole champions, we danced around the locker room for at least 30 minutes. Whether it was playing inside the Pentagon or playing in the John J. Lee Amphitheater in front of friends and family, Yale Volleyball provided me with some of my fondest memories of Yale."
With each championship won for the program, more and more accolades came for Polan: Rookie of the Year; then Player of the Year; multiple First Team All-Ivy selections. But instead of growing enamored with her own abilities, Polan always deflected attention to her teammates and coaches, to the people she felt were just as integral to the program's success as she was.
Despite the spotlight always being on her, she chose to share it with everyone.
"Kendall never likes to be singled out and has always put the team before herself," Appleman said. "And that's the mark of a true captain."
And true to form, Polan thanked her teammates for four special years.
"Being at Yale is a special experience in itself but being on the volleyball team that won the Ivy League title four years in a row turned a special experience into an extraordinary experience," Polan said. "My best friends have been members of the Yale Volleyball team and I couldn't be more grateful for the experience they provided over the last four years."