Season Preview: Bulldogs Working to Reclaim Ivy Title

Season Preview:  Bulldogs Working to Reclaim Ivy Title

Bulldogs Return Three All-Ivy Selections, Many of its Top Producers from 2016

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The Yale women's volleyball team returns three all-Ivy selections, four of its top-five kill producers from a year ago, along with its assist, blocker and dig leaders from 2016, and welcomes a nationally recognized recruiting class in its quest to reclaim the Ivy League title.  

After an 11-3 Ivy season and a 19-5 overall mark last year, the Bulldogs bring back firepower in 2017 on offense and defense.  Yale has won five Ivy League titles in the last seven years, and seven of the last 13, and are working towards another.

A Challenging Non-Conference Schedule 

The Bulldogs will face programs such as USC, Penn State, Arkansas, Wake Forest, Ohio and Clemson in one of its toughest non-conference schedules.  The 2017 season starts on Sept. 1 with the Yale Invitational in New Haven, and features matches against Delaware, Rhode Island and Clemson.  After that, the Bulldogs travel to California to play USC, host UC Santa Barbara and Arkansas.  The next weekend, the Bulldogs travel to Penn State to face the Nittny Lions, Ohio and Wake Forest before starting the always challenging Ivy League schedule. 

Preseason pactice is underway for the Builldogs. Here's an individual breakdown of the Bulldogs by class:

The Seniors

Team captain Kelsey Crawford enters the season ninth all-time in Yale program history with 1,887 assists.  Crawford also ranked third on the team last season in digs (170).  Kaitlyn Gibbons will provide a steady presence at outside hitter.  Gibbons ranked fourth on the team last season in kills per set (1.81), and has a career average in digs per set (1.73).  Megan Rasmussen put up career-best numbers as a junior, averaging over a kill and dig per set.  Her breakout match last season came in her home state of Texas with a season-best 13 kills, along with 11 digs and a .387 hitting percentage. 

The Juniors

Two all-Ivy performers -- Kate Swanson and Kelley Wirth -- headline a talented junior class.  Swanson led the Bulldogs in digs with a 4.31 per set average and earned a spot on the all-Ivy second team.  She also represents the top returning service ace producer with 28 last season. Wirth bursted on to the scene last and earned Ivy League Player of the Week after the first weekend, and kept it going.  She finished the year ranked second on the team in kills (197) and total attacks (558) behind unanimous first-team all-Ivy selection Brittani Steinberg.  Yale's top two blockers also return -- Kate Aitkenhead and Shreya Dixit.  Aitkenhead led the team and finished fifth in conference play in blocks per set (1.07).  She also led the team solo blocks.  Dixit led the team with 54 total blocks, and was one of four Bulldogs last season to surpass 100 kills. Classmate Gray Malias was a key contributor off the bench with 65 kills and eight service aces in 20 matches last season. 

The Sophomores 

Outside hitter Tristin Kott earned on a spot on the all-Ivy second team after a stellar rookie campaign.  Kott ranked seventh in the Ivy League in hitting percentage (.295) and finished the year strong with a 3.10 kills per set average in the final two matches of the conference season. Setter Franny Arnautou became the first Bulldog and was the only Ivy Leaguer to earn a spot on the 16-player U.S. Women's Junior National Training Team, and trained with team during this past summer in Colorado Springs, Colo. Arnautou led the team in assists and ranked fifth in Ivy League matches in assists per set (7.39).   Middle blocker Izzy Simqu gained valuable experience in limited action last year, and provided 14 kills and six blocks in 10 sets.  Rebekah Nemeth returns on the right side after showing positive strides in her first season with 14 kills and a .414 hitting percentage in 10 sets.  

The Freshmen

For the ninth year in a row, Yale volleyball's incoming class has been recognized as one of the nation's best by Prepvolleyball. The Yale Class of 2021 — Kathryn Attar (outside hitter), Yurika Boyd (libero), McKenzie Cooke (outside hitter), Destiny Daniel (middle), and Kiki Spain (middle) — received Highest Honorable Mention from the online website, making it one of the top 55 recruiting classes in the nation. Other programs receiving the same honor include defending National Champion Stanford, Washington, Florida, and Pepperdine.  All five freshmen have significant experience competing against the nation's top volleyball teams in the Open divisions of USA Volleyball's Junior Nationals.

Report filed by Ernie Bertothy, Yale Sports Publicity