Trailing 13-16 in the volleyball team’s third game against Penn, senior co-captain Elizabeth Bishop dove into the stands and made the dig of the weekend during a phenomenal 23-hit rally that ended with a Bishop kill and a huge momentum swing for Cornell.
From that point on, the Red never looked back as it seized the Ivy League title in front of a combined audience of 900 fans by sweeping its final two home games of the season, defeating Penn, 3-1, on Friday night, and shutting out Princeton, 3-0, on Saturday afternoon.
It was the third consecutive Ivy League crown for the Red, dating back to a co-championship season in 2004. The senior class of of Katie Rademacher, Joanna Weiss, Bishop, Alex Dyer and Alaina Town helped helped Cornell clinch the crown and the program’s second NCAA championship tournament berth in thier final home match for the Red.
Approaching the weekend, Cornell knew that it had to win out against Penn and Princeton to be assured of another banner hanging in Newman Arena.
“Sheer determination is what won both games for us this weekend,” said head coach Deitre Collins-Parker. “That 23-hit rally against Penn was truly amazing. We were still jumping and swinging after the end of that. We really persevered through those long rallies and we definitely got the attitude of ‘We’re not going to lose this game’ by playing points like that.”
Against Penn, Cornell had to grind out every point for its 30-24, 23-30, 30-27, 30-19 victory. Even though Penn was swept by Cornell at its home gym earlier in the year, Penn came to Ithaca with its eyes on an upset. With the help of Bishop’s 27 kills, Town’s 11 kills, Dyer’s 10 kills and junior Kara Zaragoza’s seven digs off the bench, the Red refused to be denied by the Quakers on Friday night.
“I think Kara came in and made a big difference on the defense that we were playing,” Collins-Parker said. “Her talking and what she brought to the floor was crucial.”
Despite having an up and down season — with two concussions — Zaragoza was certainly glad to be able to contribute to the team’s success, especially two monster digs on the 23-hit rally.
“I really thought it was five minutes long, but I was told it was only 75 seconds,” Zaragoza said. “But it was just amazing. There was no way we were going to let them win that point. It was a total team effort.”
Coming back the next day for a virtual must-win match against second-place Princeton, Cornell again had to refocus and not let the emotions of the day affect its play. After losing 3-1 to Princeton in the Garden State earlier in the year, Cornell decided not to give its rivals a glimmer of hope as it posted a 30-24, 30-26, 32-30 sweep to end the Ivy League race.
Across the board, it was a total team effort in this one. Bishop led the way with 15 kills while Dyer contributed 12 timely kills of her own, including the final kill to solidify the title for the Red. Weiss and Rademacher actually had identical stats in the thriller, both posting eight kills and a .412 hitting percentage. The day before, Rademacher had another nine kills along with a game-high nine blocks. All in all, the player who teammates and coaches call “Raddy” saved her best for when it mattered most.
“Katie, numbers wise, had great games this weekend,” Collins-Parker said. “She took some good swings and that’s what we need to take some pressure off of Liz. So it was good for Raddy to get back into hitting well.”
Although Bishop was a star for the Red all weekend, she credited said the success was really a result of well-executed teamwork.
“We came out there with the attitude that we were going to win this final
match in three and we played amazing,” Bishop said. “I’m so proud of everyone on the team. We played completely as a team and that’s the best volleyball we’ve played all year. It’s very exciting going into the postseason knowing that we can continue to get better.”
Collins-Parker could not be prouder of her team for its effort and determination not to let another team take away its Ivy League title. Because of it, they are bringing home the Andrea Dutcher trophy, returning the prize named for a former Cornell coach to the East Hill once again.
“You know they were so focused,” Collins-Parker said. “They really wanted it badly. The question coming into this weekend was how badly did we want it. They decided a few weeks ago that they wanted it bad, and they played like that.”
The Red will be in wait-and-see mode until the NCAA selection committee determines the championship tournament seedings and bracket, which will take place after Thanksgiving.