While a new season may usher in a fresh start and a clean slate, it also brings back familiar faces. This Saturday, the Red (5-4) will travel to New York City to play its first Ivy League match of the season against Columbia (5-5), a yearly tradition.
“Columbia is our first game every year and obviously there’s a bit of a rivalry,” senior setter Alyssa Phelps said. “[Our games] are always really back and forth, but more than ever this year we’re excited to come out and take it to them”
Cornell enters Saturday’s game hoping to improve upon last year’s disappointing season, when the team placed last in the league with a 2-12 Iyv record. However, if the Red hopes to start league play with a win, they will have to overcome a team which has traditionally boasted strong defensive lineups.
Last season, Columbia ranked first in digs and second in blocks and opponents hitting percentage. Their lineup also consisted of then-junior Cassie Wes, who is currently reigning defensive player of the year and returning for her senior year, and now-graduated Katarina Jovicic, who was second in the league in blocks.
“We know it’s going to be a very defensive game, a very disciplined game,” Coach Trudy Vande Berg said. “We’re just going to have to stay focused to win those long rallies.”
Cornell will primarily hope to counter through their offense, which has vastly improved from last season. The team now boasts a much faster attack, which will be especially effective against Columbia by preventing them from setting up their defense.
“We’re basically trying to run a faster offense to beat the block on the other side,” Phelps said. “The faster we can get up and put the ball down, the less time the other side has time to get ready for it [and] smaller hitters will have a greater opportunity for a bigger swing.”
As the team’s starting setter, Phelps naturally plays a central role in finding teammates and orchestrating the offense. The senior has performed her role exceptionally well in past games against Columbia, averaging an impressive stat line of 35.5 assists, seven digs and 2.5 blocks against the Lions last season. She hopes her performance carries over into Saturday’s game.
“It’s all about knowing who’s hot at the moment, taking advantage of who’s hot that day and keeping the team on their toes,” she said. “[I] just want to keep everyone very excited and ready to go.”
Junior Maddy Sroufe may also play a key role in the upcoming game. Sroufe is currently coming off a great performance at the UMKC Kangaroo Klassic, where she was added to the all-tournament team after averaging 11.3 kills. Using mental preparation, she hopes to transition her recent play continues into Saturday.
“For me personally and the team as well, [the struggle] will be mental,” she said. “We have the talent, physicality, and skills … so the only part that will keep us from our goals will be the mental aspect of the game.”
Although the Red will place a lot of focus upon their offense, the team will not rely solely on that aspect of their game in their upcoming game. There is widespread sentiment that this year’s team has drastically improved upon the defensive capabilities of past years.
“Columbia is a great defensive team, [but] we’ve been working on being a scrappier team ourselves,” senior Macey Wilson said. “I think we’ve done a really good job at picking up our defense [and] if we play the offense at the level we’re capable of playing at, we should have no problem beating [Columbia].”