Sporting Life

Net gain

Alex Goldberger '08, an Olympics research assistant at NBC, is the sideline reporter for Yale football on radio station WELI.

Penn State Athletic Communications

Penn State Athletic Communications

The volleyball team beat Ohio in the NCAA tournament before losing to Penn State the next day. View full image

Yale women's volleyball coach Erin Appleman makes several recruiting trips each year to Southern California, the nation's most fertile ground for the talent that makes up half her roster. But the coach's biggest SoCal coup, a sinewy outside hitter from Newport Beach, picked up the phone herself and sought out Appleman.

Last spring Cat Dailey '10, a disillusioned spare part of Cal-Berkeley's volleyball machine, contacted Appleman to discuss a possible transfer to Yale. Appleman had tried to recruit Dailey when she was in high school, but it took an April visit two years later to convince Dailey that New Haven was where she belonged. "I stopped playing over winter break and wasn't sure if I wanted to continue," Dailey says. "But I completely fell in love with Yale on my visit. That's when I realized I wanted to play again."

Three months after arriving on campus, Dailey led Yale to an Ivy League championship and became only the fourth player in school history to be named Ivy League Player of the Year. Both distinctions were wrested from defending champion Princeton on the final night of the Ivy League season. Before 418 fans, including dozens bused from New Haven, Yale won in three highly contested sets, punctuated by a title-clinching Dailey kill that sent her "Cat Pound" cheering section into a frenzy.

That final spike also earned the Bulldogs a spot in the NCAA tournament, adding December games to the Yale schedule for the second time in Appleman's six-year tenure. On the bus after the Princeton win, Appleman told her team, "Hey, the best news is we get to extend the season. More practices!"

The extra work paid off. Against Ohio University, their first-round opponent, the Bulldogs played like a team accustomed to the postseason. Their three brightest stars —All-Ivy first-team honorees Dailey, Alexis Crusey '10, and Ally Mendenhall '09, the team captain—each posted double-doubles. The contest was a back-and-forth thriller, but the Bulldogs refused to break in the pivotal fifth set, and Crusey clinched the match with a cross shot.

The victory was only the second ever by an Ivy League team in an NCAA tournament. (The other was by Yale's last Ivy championship squad, in 2004.) But the season finally ended for Yale the next day against juggernaut Penn State, the nation's top-ranked team. Penn State had breezed through the regular season, winning every set of every match, and it beat Yale decisively, 3-0. "The biggest difference between the Ivies and the big programs is size and physicality," Dailey says. "Players in the Ivy League are just as skilled—they're just not six-five."

After the loss, Appleman was asked whether the Bulldogs might attempt to become an Eastern power in volleyball. She laughed: Yale does not offer athletic scholarships. Appleman is content with all that her record-setting group has accomplished. She hopes that, during finals and beyond, team members will "just think about what we did and get big smiles on their faces."

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