Four weeks ago, the women’s volleyball team was 7-3 after its third tournament of the season, but the remaining month and a half of play was up in the air. The Red had yet to battle a league foe, the teams it had faced were either much better than the Ivy competition or much worse, and the everyday players were still trying to find their rhythm.
Going into its fourth tourney of the year, the Red (11-5, 4-1 Ivy) has entered a territory unfamiliar to its current players. Not since 1994 has a volleyball team had a real shot at winning the Ivy crown, and this year could be the Red’s coronation ceremony.
However, head coach Christie Jackson was quick to dispel any rumors of an easy road to the Ivy title.
“We are focusing on a new season. The [Ivy] season is really only half over because we play Pennsylvania and Princeton next weekend, and then in the [Ivy] tournament we have three more matches to win to be first. We still have things to do and relearn, and we have to refocus,” Jackson summarized.
Defensive specialist, junior Liz Condon echoed Jackson’s thoughts.
“We are going to come out strong this weekend and we are fired up to play. Even though it’s not Ivy play, it will be good practice,” she said.
“We don’t feel we have played that much and we still have a ways to go and we still need to improve,” sophomore defensive specialist/setter Mary Margaret Moore said.
Today and tomorrow, the Red will enter the Albany Invitational looking to recover from a disappointing loss at Syracuse. But Jackson is looking at this tournament as the beginning of the Red’s new season.
“This tournament is like the first one we went to in Florida [in August]. It’s like the preseason,” Jackson commented.
Tonight Cornell will face Niagara University, a weak squad held up by senior middle blocker Tricia Traczyk. Traczyk leads the team with 137 kills, a .190 mark in hitting, 157 digs, and 13 blocks on the year. Only one other team member besides Traczyk has a hitting percentage above the team average of .129. Junior setter Laurie Haefner runs the Purple Eagles’ offensive with 392 assists and 150 digs.
Saturday features a similar challenge from host school SUNY Albany. The Great Danes currently possess a 2-14 record for the year. On September 23, the Red faced Albany in the Siena Invitational in a match it won 3-1. The match featured a game Cornell won 15-0. Overall, the Red out hit the Danes .222 to .085.
Out of its 14 losses, the Danes have been swept in 10 and only once has the team forced a fifth game in all its matches.
Cornell will have to consider senior captain and outside hitter Julie Arbitman who had 12 kills against the Red in September. Sophomore setter Alissa Gibbs also put up 12 kills in the match.
To close out the tournament, the Red will face its toughest opponent of the weekend in SUNY Stony Brook. Although the Seawolves have had a significantly better year than Niagara and Albany with a record of 7-12, the team’s hitting percentage of .144 looks shoddy compared to Cornell’s .222.
Additionally, freshman setter Rachel Rice has more assists (758) than the whole Stony Brook team combined (724).
The Seawolves are lead by freshman right side Rachel Goldsmith with 186 kills and 218 digs. Senior middle blocker Katie McCabe has had a strong showing with 150 kills and 102 digs, and freshman setter has been an offensive threat with 642 assists.
This weekend will prove to be one in which the Red works on reducing its unforced errors.
“We have really been working on reducing the number of errors [in practice this week],” Jackson said. “We have freshmen and untimely veteran errors and those are the things we are focusing on. We will also work on getting a lot of people in the game, try some new stuff, and work on trying to take care of teams right away and get business done.”
Despite the number of mistakes Cornell has committed over the past few matches, Jackson was quick to comment that, “we are good at everything we do.”
The Red is more than good for several key reasons. Last year, senior middle blocker Robin Moore, then a junior, was the player opponents looked to shut down. She consistently had games with 25+ kills and if she was taken out, the team struggled to stay in the match. This year is very different.
“We spread the wealth more this year and Robin doesn’t have all the kills,” Jackson explained. “We have a very well-rounded team this year and [opponents] can’t just shut down one person and win. Robin keeps improving, but she won’t get all the kills because they will be more spread out.
Freshman outside hitter Debbie Quibell, junior outside hitter Jen Borncamp, Rice, and Robin Moore have been huge factors in Cornell’s success. But without steady contributions from Condon, Mary Margaret Moore, and freshman middle blocker Ashley Stover, the team would be extremely challenged down the stretch.
“Liz has been playing solid all year, Mary Margaret has learned a lot since she was a freshman, and for Ashley to lead in blocks as a freshman is amazing,” Jackson praised. “They are definitely doing a great job.”
Condon has posted 120 digs on the year and was a huge factor in last weekend’s victories over Dartmouth and Harvard. Mary Margaret Moore has 118 digs and is a long second with 27 assists. Stover has 60 blocks on the year, along with 80 kills and a .270 hitting percentage.
“Staying in shape is challenging and it will be a push to be the team that outlasts the others,” Jackson ended. “You never know because it’s the very beginning. We have just gotten a start and we have to peak in the Ivy tournament.”
“We need to work on playing well, doing the little things, and not having lulls where we break down,” Mary Margaret Moore said.
The Red will play Niagara tonight at 8 p.m. It will face Albany tomorrow at 12 p.m. and end with Stony Brook at 2:30 p.m.
Archived article by Katherine Granish