Captain Taylor Vail ’14 will soon finish her career as the anchor of Bowdoin volleyball’s defense. She ranks second in career digs in Bowdoin history and, if the team makes a run in the post-season, she will challenge for the top honor. Last week, she made the all-tournament team at the Hall of Fame Invitational at Mount Holyoke.
“It was a very up-and-down weekend for us,” captain Ellie Brennan ’14 said. “Taylor was very consistent all weekend so that’s probably why she won it.”
Playing the libero position, Vail’s contributions are difficult to quantify on stat sheets, as digs are the result of a team failing to block an attack, which is always less preferable than the block itself. Vail, therefore, tends to accumulate better stats against stronger teams.
“We’ve been a very good blocking team this year, which means there are fewer balls coming her way,” said Head Coach Karen Corey. “I think that can be frustrating for Taylor.”
“She’s not out there getting 20 kills, so she doesn’t get that instant gratification,” Brennan said.
Instead, Vail must excel at the most basic part of the game: passing.
“She’s been able to deliver great passes during her time,” Corey said. “When you don’t have consistent passing, it’s really hard to play volleyball.”
Vail mostly carves out her role on serve-receive, feeding balls to the setter and moving teammates around before the ball is in play. She plays on all six rotations. Her passing allows the team to threaten with an attack from any of the three front row attackers—a situation Corey calls “being in system.
“With Taylor, we’re in system a lot,” she says.
Vail started playing volleyball in sixth grade with her school team. She joined a club team one year after because she “learned that club was the only way to get better.” She started as an outside hitter, but settled into the libero position when she stopped growing.
“I got to be an outside hitter at first,” she said. “But everyone else kept growing and I did not so they looked at me and said ‘no, you’re too short.’ It was definitely a bit of an adjustment, but I’m happy to get balls hit at me…as strange as that sounds.”
Vail stands at roughly five feet-seven-inches, compared to Brennan—the team’s middle hitter, who at six feet-one-inch can block balls almost 10 feet in the air.
Vail continued to play club volleyball year round, making the commitment to switch to playing in college during her senior year of high school. The Los Angeles native had always known she wanted to go east, and she chose Bowdoin over MIT because it provided a better balance between volleyball and academics. The recruiting pitch of a team captain also had a large influence on her, something she remembers fondly.
Vail challenged the incumbent at her position as early as her first year, playing 98 of 114 sets before taking over the starting job officially as a sophomore.
As captain, she has been responsible for coordinating team activities and helping the first-years to acclimate to college life, in addition to the responsibility of making on-court adjustments.
“This is the captain’s job, but some do it better than others,” Corey said. “It’s been a great role for Taylor. She has learned how to become a great student-athlete at Bowdoin and has been helping the first years to learn.”
According to Corey, Vail is the more vocal of the two captains. Brennan agrees, suggesting it helps her excel as a libero.
“She will get into players’ faces to fire them up,” Brennan said. “It’s a different mentality. She thrives off her teammates’ success, which makes her a successful player.”
Vail will graduate with majors in biology and Spanish and is currently looking at graduate schools. Her main academic interests lie in nutrition and public health. In addition to volleyball, she has dedicated time to Bear Buddies and Food Forward.
The sports editor of the Orient chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.