The Cornell volleyball team exemplified the phrase, “Each day is a new beginning” this past weekend. Less than 24 hours after suffering a disappointing loss in five sets to Dartmouth, Cornell followed up with another five-set match — but this time with a victory over Harvard.
“During the Dartmouth match, we lost a bit of our discipline and aggressiveness,” said Coach Trudy Van Berg. “We had a long talk after the match … to figure out what was going on, and against Harvard we just came out with a different feel … and the mentality that we were not going to lose this match.”
Cornell’s game against Dartmouth featured tightly contested sets for much of the match. After splitting the first two sets, the final three were decided by a combined margin of seven points. At a certain point of the match, the Red found themselves leading 2-1 after fighting back from deficits in both the first and third sets, only to lose the match after dropping the last two.
“[Finishing games] is our biggest roadblock as a team right now,” said senior captain Alyssa Phelps. “We have no doubt that we can beat anybody in the league; we just have to finish. The last couple of years we haven’t been expected to win, and now that we can, we need to learn how to.”
Despite the loss, the Red saw notable performances from several players, highlighted by sophomore outside hitter Carla Sganderlla, who finished with a double-double of 17 kills and 15 digs. Phelps and junior Kiley McPeek tallied match highs of 32 assists and 27 digs, respectively, while freshman Jenna Phelps accounted for seven of the team’s 10 blocks.
“What clicked for me was just being able to give it my all,” Sganderlla said. “I know that if I start to struggle, my teammates will always come and pick me up, so I never have to worry. I just keep swinging and I know if I’m not doing well, my team will be there.”
Following the tough loss to Dartmouth, the Red regrouped and addressed the aspects of their game which needed to be fixed looking ahead to Harvard.
“After the Dartmouth game we sat in the locker room for a long time discussing things we could do better, mental aspects of the game, and overall team spirit,” Phelps said. “It brought to light a lot of important game issues that we were able to tackle the next day at Harvard.”
Playing against Harvard just hours after the previous game, the Red found itself in a notably familiar situation to the recent loss. The first three sets featured tightly contested sets which were decided by a combined margin of 11 points, including one deuce and victories. As Cornell trailed Harvard 10-2 in the fifth set, the Red looked set to repeat a similar narrative to the Dartmouth loss.
However, after regrouping, the Red went on a remarkable 13-2 run to steal the fifth set, 15-12, and win the match, 3-2.
“Going into the fifth set we reflected about how we were going to react from [the] Dartmouth loss [and] leave … the gym with a win,” Phelps said. “The first 10 points were pretty ugly, to say the least … but all of the sudden things turned around. Behind Sam Arenas, Natalie Danenhauer, and Shae Bauchens we rallied. I have never played in such an intense, emotional game, and the celebration afterwards was the best of my career.”
With the victory over Harvard, Cornell is now 2-5 in Ivy League play and 8-9 overall. The Harvard game also marked the end of the first half of the Red’s conference play. As the Red begins the second half of conference play, the team will focus on playing at the level displayed against Harvard.
“I think we can match up and play with anyone in the league because we went to five [sets] with pretty much everyone in the league,” said head coach Trudy Vande Berg. “The team is feeling pretty good about themselves even though our record isn’t where we wanted it to be. I think the Harvard game will be a turning point, but we do have to come into every game with that same mentality.”
Cornell will begin the second half of its season this Saturday, Oct. 22, when the team is scheduled to host Columbia.