Almost exactly one month ago, Cornell volleyball traveled to Cambridge and Hanover, eager to dismantle Harvard and Dartmouth But the Red fell, 3-1, to both schools and returned to Ithaca defeated.
This past weekend, however, Cornell got its chance at revenge as both the Crimson (11-8, 6-4 Ivy) and the Green (7-12, 3-7) traveled to Ithaca for a rematch with the Red. Cornell (10-9, 6-4) beat up on both, toppling Dartmouth on Friday night, 3-1, and then fighting back to beat Harvard in a fifth-set Saturday.
“We lost to both of them in four sets on the road but knew that we were in control of our own destiny in both of those matches,” said head coach Trudy Vande Berg. “We knew what to expect and executed our game plan really well this weekend.”
After its rocky execution in Ivy League play, the team came together and supported each other this past weekend.
“This week the team really came together and decided that we wanted to go out there and have fun and play as a united front,” said freshman setter Zoe Chamness, who had 17 assists against Dartmouth and 31 against Harvard. “That positive energy and loose feeling really pulled us through this weekend.”
Friday night’s matchup with Dartmouth was the first test for the Red. When the women last played the Green in Hanover, both Vande Berg and her players attributed the loss to their own overconfidence and unforced errors.
But this past weekend, the Red did not gift its opponent nearly as many free points.
“Against Dartmouth, we went out and served some really aggressive balls, which kept them scrambling most of the match,” Chamness said. “Once the other team was out of system, our defense did their job and our hitters took some great swings.”
Vande Berg agreed. “Dartmouth depends on their serve and block to frustrate teams, and we did a great job passing so they had no idea where we were going to hit. [We] kept them off balance the entire match. It was good to see,” she said.
When Cornell lost to Harvard last month, the team attributed it to the Crimson’s skillful middle hitters and the Red’s numerous unforced errors. Cornell adjusted its play accordingly, however, when entering Saturday’s match at Bartels Hall.
“The last time we played Harvard, our biggest weakness was defending their middles, so going into this weekend’s games we wanted to focus on keeping them out of system so that we could set up good blocks and defense against their middles,” Chamness said. “When we executed this plan with tough serves and smart swings, everything really came together for us.”
While Cornell easily won the first two sets, 25-16 and 25-19, Harvard fought back by winning sets three and four, 25-21 and 25-22, to set up a decisive fifth.
And when it mattered most, the Red stepped up and took the final set 15-10 and the match 3-2.
“Going into the fifth set, we had no doubt that we had all the tools to win the game, we just needed to bring up the energy and work together as a team to finish off the match,” Chamness noted. “I distinctly remember [senior defensive specialist] Chelsea Sincox reminding us to go out there and play as a unit, to smile at each other, give someone a pat on the back, make eye contact when you encourage your teammates.
“Being reminded how important teamwork was really brought us together to win that last set.”
Sincox had 23 assists of her own against Harvard.
Both Vande Berg and Chamness pointed to senior Kit McCarty the weekend’s standout player. McCarty had seven kills against Dartmouth and 19 against Harvard.
“Kit went out there with fire and never let down throughout the whole weekend,” Chamness said. “She was swinging hard when it was open and making smart shots to benefit the team when it wasn’t. Her play and her attitude really helped us this weekend.”
Now tied for third in the league, Cornell travels to Penn and second-place Princeton this weekend hoping to keep its title shots alive.