This past weekend, the Cornell volleyball team put its spotless league record to the test in enemy territory. Despite some close calls, the Red boarded the bus home triumphant, earning a 3-2 win over Yale (16-3, 7-2 Ivy) and a 3-1 victory against Brown (8-12, 5-4 Ivy) to give itself a two-match lead in the league standings with six matches left to play.
“[Being in first place] feels great after Friday night, where we really had to earn it,” said senior co-captain Kelly Kramer. “It just kind of makes it feel that much better.”
Cornell (16-3, 9-0 Ivy) and Yale put together an epic match on a night reminiscent of the Bulldogs’ 3-2 win in the Ivy championship playoff tournament last season. Kramer set a school-record with 39 digs, while junior outside hitter Elizabeth Bishop added 25 kills, 12 digs, and nine blocks to lead the Red. Junior middle blocker Joanna Weiss had a career-high 21 kills, hitting .500 for the match, and also had seven blocks. Senior Kristen Hughes had a career-high 22 digs, and senior setter Whitney Fair notched a double-double with 56 assists and 13 digs. Classmate Heather Young also contributed a double-double – her first of the season – with 12 blocks and 11 kills. Despite being out-hit in the first two games, the Red out-blocked Yale over the course of the match, 19.5-10.0.
Yale was led by a 25-kills, 24-dig performance from outside hitter Shannon Farrell. Rookie outside hitter Courtney Hall added a double-double of her own with 13 kills and 12 digs, while setter Jacqueline Becker had a match-high 76 assists and libero Anja Perlebach chipped in with 25 digs.
The pressure of playing on the road in front of a deafening crowd seemed to get to the Red at the start, as Cornell was out-hit by the hosts in game one by a .444-.175 margin. The Red slowly found its rhythm, fighting back from an 8-0 Bulldog run to tie the game at 28-28 in the second game. Although Cornell was able to take the lead at 33-32 on a kill from senior outside hitter Rachel Adomat, the Red surrendered three straight points on attack errors to give the Bulldogs a 35-33 win in game two.
“We didn’t really get our game going at all,” Cornell head coach Deitre Collins said. “We just didn’t start off playing well and that gave Yale a ton of confidence and they’re a good team. … They’ve always believed they can beat us.”
Weak passing on the Cornell side of the net, as well as strong serving from the Bulldogs, contributed to the Red’s troubles early on, as Collins tried different lineups to find a winning combination. This carried on well into game three, as Yale fans began to chant “Warm up the bus!” when home team held a 28-23 lead. However, Cornell quickly quieted the fans, going on a 5-0 run with a kill from Adomat, a block by Bishop and Weiss, a service ace by sophomore defensive specialist Kara Zaragoza, and a block by Weiss and Fair after a Yale timeout. A kill from the Bulldogs’ outside hitter Nicole Perkins gave Yale an opportunity to end the match – but a set error by the hosts gave Cornell one more chance. The Red took advantage, as a Bishop kill gave the Red a 30-29 lead. After the opponents traded service errors, the Bulldogs committed an attack error to give Cornell a 32-30 win – and hope of winning the match.
From that point on, the team depended on its mental toughness and past experience to keep it together down the stretch.
“We realized how far we had fought and there was no way we were going to let them take it away from us,” Kramer said. “It was also huge deja vu … we remembered how it felt last year and none of us wanted to feel that way again.”
This was apparent in the next game, as the two teams battled for the lead, with neither side gaining more than a two-point advantage until the Red went up 12-9 after a kill from Bishop. The Bulldogs recovered, however, tying the game again at 13-13 after a block from Renee Lopes. It was at this point that the Red began to pull away, wracking up six-point leads five different times en route to a 30-26 win to force the tiebreaker.
The final game featured 11 ties and kept the crowd of 715 in the Lee Amphitheater on the edge of their seats until the final point. The final tie came at 17-17, before consecutive blocks from Young and junior right side Alaina Town carried the Red to a 19-17 victory. It was the first time Cornell had won a five-game match since a 3-2 victory over Penn on Nov. 7, 2003.
After the physically and mentally draining roller coaster on Friday, the Red travelled to Providence, R.I., to face third-place Brown on Saturday.
“We were still really excited about the [Yale] match,” Collins said. “We talked about it all that night and all the next day, always trying to refocus and come back to Brown. We knew it was important for us to beat Brown.”
The Red opened up the match on Saturday without missing a beat, taking the first game, 30-18. Zaragoza shined for Cornell in the opening game, serving eight consecutive points to give the Red a 27-15 lead. Although the Bears stayed close early on in game two, the Red took the lead for good after kills from Bishop and Adomat, and a service ace from Bishop put Cornell up, 11-8. Brown couldn’t regain its momentum, as the Red carried that lead all the way to a 30-23 win. However, Cornell stumbled in game three, as the Bears used a 9-2 run to put the game out of reach. Cornell could get no closer than four points down the stretch, as Brown took the game, 30-24.
“I think we realized dropping the third game was [about] losing a little bit of focus,” Kramer said. “We realized that’s not okay and we weren’t playing up to the level we wanted to be at, and in the fourth game we turned it around.”
After the score was tied 3-3 after an error by Weiss, the Red scored 13 of the next 19 points to destroy any hopes of a Brown comeback. Cornell wrapped up the weekend with a 30-20 victory to remain in sole possession of first place in the conference with a perfect league record.
Bishop notched another double-double with 21 kills and 12 digs, while Weiss contributed 20 kills and eight blocks. Town added 12 kills, four digs, and four blocks on the night. Co-captains Kramer and Fair were strong in their usual roles, as Kramer had a team-high 25 digs and Fair added 57 assists and five digs.
“It’s exciting and we’ve given ourselves some cushion,” Collins said. “It would be wonderful to end the conference undefeated – but more importantly, in first place.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor