In sports, it is rare that a team can go from last place to first in one season. The Atlanta Braves, better known as the team of the 90’s, turned their season around in ’91 and effectively went from “worst to first” in a span of two and a half months. In similar fashion, the women’s volleyball team has risen in the ranks.
On Friday and Saturday, Harvard and Dartmouth came to Newman Arena expecting to face the team that held the worst record in the Ivies last year. They were in for an early Halloween trick.
Harvard entered the weekend with a disappointing 0-2 mark in the league. Last year’s Ivy runner-up, the Crimson had retained many of its key players and came out looking for a win.
In the first game, Cornell (11-5 overall, 4-1 Ivy) went up 3-0 before the Crimson fired five unanswered daggers to take a 5-3 lead. The Red tied it up at 5-5, but Harvard took control of the court and made it 11-5. Although Cornell knocked in a few more points, the Crimson won the first game 15-10.
The Harvard that defeated Cornell 3-0 last year emerged in the second game to embarrass the Red in a 15-3 slaughter. The Crimson recorded 17 kills to Cornell’s nine in that game, and down 0-2, Cornell obviously had to change its entire strategy.
“Well, we just went out there and yelled for a little while and talked about how we want to feel after the match and that we don’t want to say we could have and should have,” head coach Christie Jackson reflected on the time between the second and third match.
In the turning point of the match, Cornell was down 8-13 in the third game with two Harvard points away from a sweep. After battling back to make the score 13-11 in favor of Harvard, the Crimson sneaked in a point to make it 14-11 and served for the match. Two surprising Harvard errors later and a kill by freshman outside hitter Debbie Quibell evened the score at 14-all. Harvard went on to commit two attack errors to give Cornell a 16-14 win.
In the fourth round, Cornell won 15-9 on another Harvard error and a late contribution by Quibell.
In the fifth game, Cornell took an early 10-2 lead, only to see it diminish through errors and a late effort by the Crimson to close the gap. On another key Harvard error, the Red went ahead 15-14 and took the match with a kill by Quibell.
“I looked at the two freshman [Quibell and freshman outside hitter Rachel Rice] and I said, ‘you guys told me you’re not losers,’ and they stepped it up in the match and that’s what helped us win,” Jackson explained.
As late as Thursday, the Red faced the prospect of going into the weekend without Quibell. In the game against Yale the previous weekend, Quibell turned her ankle. In practice throughout the week, she was going at 60% and Jackson was preparing to fill the void Quibell would leave on the court. Instead, the freshman put up a career-high 29 kills against Harvard.
“She’s a gamer, that’s all there is to it, she’s definitely a gamer,” Jackson said. “It kills her to sit out, and that’s how she [came back].
“Harvard was last in the league before they came here, and now they are still last,” Jackson said with a chuckle.
The night was capped off by senior middle blocker Robin Moore recording her 1000th career kill, only the second player in Cornell volleyball history to reach such an impressive peak.
Moore needed only four kills to make history, but had 11 in the match along with 10 digs. Quibell had 15 digs to complement her 29 kills, and junior outside hitter Jennifer Borncamp joined Quibell and Moore’s double-double performances with 20 kills and 21 digs. Freshman setter Rachel Rice also turned in an amazing performance with 62 assists and 11 digs.
“I don’t know, something just really changed on the court,” Moore commented on the turn-around in game three. “They kept making mistakes and we kept getting better and better. It felt like they were just giving [the match] to us. We couldn’t have played any worse the first two games, so there was nowhere to go except [up].”
Harvard junior outside hitter Erin Denniston, who also has 1000 career kills, was outstanding in the first two games, but was essentially removed as a factor in the last three games. Despite recording 18 kills in the match, she was not able to add to that total late in the critical games.
“We started to serve a little tougher and better, which eliminated their middle attack. Then we knew the ball was only going to go outside to her, so it allowed us to put up a better block. She destroyed us last year, but we had a better overall effort this year,” Moore said.
On Saturday, the Red battled Dartmouth in a match that would crown the winner first in the Ivy standings.
The previous weekend, Dartmouth had upset Pennsylvania and Princeton in close matches, giving it first place in the league. Being a league leader does not get you very far when history is involved, however.
“We always hate Dartmouth,” Moore laughed. “A year ago, all the [Ivy] coaches were on a conference call before the Ivy tournament. We were seeded against Dartmouth in the first round and the Dartmouth coach totally overlooked us [in her conversation with the other coaches]. She also gets cards, she complains to the ref, so it all started with the coach.”
Cornell used the momentum from its win against Harvard and the frustration from last year to have a huge clean-up.
The Red came out in the first game and did not give Dartmouth a chance. Cornell recorded 12 kills and only one error to hit .423 for a 15-5 win. Dartmouth looked like a bunch of middle-schoolers and had more errors than kills for a negative mark in hitting.
In the second game, Cornell again out-hit Dartmouth and had little trouble in a 15-7 win.
The third game, Dartmouth finally broke out of its slump and battled to tie the score eight times. The Big Green had a 14-12 lead at one point, but its effort was too little too late as Cornell closed out the match with a 17-15 win.
Cornell hit .175 overall in the match, while Dartmouth hit a meager .034.
“We just know the team really well,” Moore explained.
Freshman middle blocker Ashley Stover was instrumental in the third game and lead the match with 10 blocks. Borncamp and junior defensive specialist Liz Condon each had a team-high 13 digs. Moore hit .500 in the match and joined Quibell in recording 15 kills each.
“Quibell was amazing, Jen Borncamp all weekend was amazing, Robin [Saturday] was good, Rachel our setter, amazing. Without her, I don’t know, her blocking really came together this weekend,” Jackson summarized.
Jackson stated that these two wins mean “total confidence” for the team.
“When you beat these three tough teams in the league; Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth, it is not a fluke, its talent. I think that tells [the other teams] that ‘yeah we are a good team,’ not just that we lucked out. It was totally us, we had control of everything,” Jackson continued. “Now we just need to beat Pennsylvania and Princeton, that’s all there is to it.
Cornell’s next match is this Tuesday in Syracuse against the Orangewomen and will travel to Albany this weekend to compete in the Albany Invitational.
Archived article by Katherine Granish