Club volleyball smacks Nationals in the mouth

April 9, 2010

On Wed., Mar. 31, 12 Yale women flew down to Louisville, Ky. to compete in the National Collegiate Club Volleyball Federation National Tournament. Four days later, they were in the finals, facing North Carolina for the national championship.

Getting to the finals was a remarkable feat for the young club volleyball team. Before last week, the team had never played in a national tournament, and the team itself has only existed for six years. Asked to describe the team, Captain Christina Marmol, JE ’12, laughingly said, “Short…we’re really small.”

In past years, the team was a “chill club sport,” and the captains had difficulty getting players to attend practice. “I felt like we were truly a ‘recreational’ team,” said Katherine Woodfield, BK ’10, a three-year player and former captain. This year, practices became mandatory, and this term they picked up Dave Dantes, an assistant with the Yale Varsity team and the first coach in Women’s Club history. The addition of Dantes, in the words of Woodfield, made the team “more disciplined and composed on the court.” Five to six hours a week of practice and five strong new freshman players gave the team an unfamiliar edge. By the time Regionals rolled around, Yale Women’s Club was ready, decimating the competition and going largely unchallenged until their final against Westchester. With Regionals under their belt, the team was “mentally and physically prepared to compete in Nationals,” said Regionals MVP Julie Zhu, MC ’12.

The team steamrolled their opponents in the opening games. The final game at Nationals, though, was a different matter. After three days of games, the team was tired and hurting. Woodfield had injured her tailbone, while Marmol had been sidelined earlier in the week with an injury to her meniscus. Hitter Blair Benham-Pyle, DC ’10, was struggling with a cold and problems with her abs and left hand. Meanwhile, Zhu, the team’s only setter, was playing on a bad ankle. And for the first time, the team’s lack of Nationals experience showed. Yale and North Carolina played the final in a huge stadium and the game was broadcast live on the Internet. Used to small tournaments in homey gyms with fellow players officiating, Yale felt a new sense of pressure.

“The team had to adjust to the setting [and] amount of distractions,” Marmol said. “The announcers reported everything, including errors, so it made making a mistake that much more embarrassing.”

Stage fright initially kept Yale out of the first game in the best-of-three match. Though they made a late-game comeback, it wasn’t enough to overcome the results of their earlier nervousness.

Coming back for the second game, Yale regrouped. “We weren’t going to come all this way and not put up a fight,” Zhu said. Months of practices began to pay off. The team, always adept at “communication and understanding each other’s styles of play,” in Zhu’s words, had become even closer after five days of living on top of each other. Initial jitters gone, they swept two games to defeat North Carolina and claim the championship. Caitlin Parmer, JE ’13, received the MVP award, while Chelsea Sanders, BR ’10, Zhu, and Woodfield were all named to the All-Tournament Team. Caitlin York, JE ’10, and Tracy Timm, PC ’10, received honorable mentions.

There are no secrets to success. Hard work and talent brought the Yale team to the championships. But was there any quality that gave the team an edge over the competition—some secret formula that gave them an advantage? If anything, it was that indefinable closeness called “team chemistry.”

“We all manage to get along because while different, we’re all a little crazy,” Marmol says. “For a volleyball team, we’re surprisingly low drama. I’m pretty sure the men’s team has more drama than we do.” Woodfield has noticed the change from prior years. “Everyone on the team is equal, no matter what class year. This team is the closest socially [I’ve seen]. We spend a lot of time outside of club volleyball together—dinners, mixers with other club teams, or just casual hang-out sessions. Being friends off the court allows us to support each other on the court.”

With a title in hand, what do the women plan to do next? One word: repeat.

External link: