On November 6, two teams—women’s soccer and volleyball—both clinched dominating seasons in the Ivy League, earning spots in the NCAA and creating a new record for Brown with two outright Ivy titles on the same day. The 2021 wins came after a frustrating year of pandemic cancellations and distanced practice sessions that made this season the first year of competitive play for sophomores as well as first-year students, showcasing the Bears’ physical and, especially, mental fortitude.
Achieving Joy Through Effort
Women’s volleyball won its first Ivy League title since 2001 this fall, breaking a long drought and securing the team’s fifth Ivy championship overall.
The secret to their success? Joy.
Head Coach Ahen Kim, who came to Brown in 2018, reminds his players to hold on to the joy they get from volleyball—and work hard.
“In order to receive that joy, you have to have discipline,” Kim says, “and you have to be willing to do hard things over and over again.”
The team has embraced the principle—especially last year, when they had to work extra hard to see the best in any situation.
“We emphasized gratitude a lot because it was so easy to be negative,” Kim says. “We were able to persevere through a lot of hardship.”
Not surprisingly, joy and gratitude came a little easier once the team could compete again, and they rode them to a historic 2021 season full of celebration: The team not only secured an outright title, but swept the 2021 Ivy League awards, becoming the first women’s volleyball team in the league to have five players named to the First Team All-Ivy.
Cierra Jenkins ’24 won Player of the Year; Victoria Vo ’25, Defensive Player of the Year; and Beau Vanderlaan ’25, Rookie of the Year. Kim earned a unanimous nod as Coach of the Year.
All three players say the team is so collaborative that their wins would never have been possible without their teammates. In fact, in an unusual move, the Bears do not have designated captains.
“By not allowing captains, you let everyone on the team step up,” Vanderlaan says.
Coach Kim says it’s about one of the team’s core values, servant-leadership: “We talk about having an attitude of leading others by serving others.” That means each player finds the individual role that allows them to help the team, and each role is valued. Players on the court feel support from the bench, where their teammates cheer no matter the score.
“Our bench is definitely a special part of our team,” says Jenkins. “They really bring out the fire in us on the court, especially when things start to get a little bit hectic.”
The Bears are focused on maintaining their positive team culture. “The way we bond is very unique,” says Vo. “The chemistry we have on and off the court and how we just want to have fun while we play is just so different from any other team.”
The team traveled cross country to play No. 15 Washington during the NCAA opening round, its first time in the tournament since 1998 and its first ever match against Washington. The Huskies bested the Bears 3-0. “It was so much fun watching this team grow up right in front of our eyes,” reflects Kim. “Every time this team gets an opportunity and something is new, they do struggle, but they struggle well through it. They just keep getting better and keep growing and I couldn’t be prouder.”
Read about Women’s Soccer’s winning season here.