CAMBRIDGE, MASS. — This year’s Ivy League volleyball runner-up should be remembered for its season and tournament play, and perhaps deserves more commendation than the victor. Winning the championship match two years in a row is undeniably impressive, but when a team climbs the rankings from eighth to second in a single season, that team should not be forgotten just because it won’t have its name on the trophy.
The women’s volleyball team traveled to Harvard to compete in the Ivy League Tournament this weekend. The Red was seeded third, but the rest of the league doubted its ability to compete under pressure.
The league’s skepticism was legitimate. Only a year ago, Cornell was last place in the standings and seeded eighth in the tournament. 1999’s double elimination format forced the Red to play two matches in which Princeton, the eventual champion, and Dartmouth both swept Cornell.
“We showed everybody that we could compete in the Ivy League [this year],” junior outside hitter Jennifer Borncamp stated.
This year’s tourney held a different destiny for the Red. In the first round on Friday night, Cornell faced Brown, a tough team that had beaten the Red in five games during the regular season. Brown, seeded sixth in the tournament, went into the match with a 11-11 overall record and a 2-5 league mark, its other win coming against Columbia.
In the first game, the Red jumped out to an early 6-3 lead on a strong serving effort by freshman setter Rachel Rice. Brown and Cornell exchanged serves for several plays, but the Red was able to sneak in three more points to up the score to 9-3. Brown could not find Cornell’s side of the court until the score was 14-6. The Bears collected three more points before the Red closed the opening round on a long kill at 15-9.
Cornell had 16 kills and a .157 hitting average during the first game, while Brown placed 18 kills for a .017 mark. The Red was more consistent at the net and only had eight errors, but the Bears made several costly ones for a total of 17 mistakes.
The Red battled the Bears for the lead in the second game. Cornell had a slim 4-3 lead, only to see Brown tally three unanswered points for a 9-6 advantage. Cornell would not relent, and fired back with six straight points, led by strong serving from sophomore defensive specialist Mary Margaret Moore to make the score 12-9. The Bears refused to stand down and closed the gap at one point with Cornell leading 14-13. Borncamp then ended the match with a solid kill and a 15-13 win.
The Red improved to knock in 19 kills and reduced its errors to seven for a .188 hitting percentage. Brown also improved to 19 kills and 11 errors for a .123 mark.
The Bears gave the Red trouble in the third game as Brown staked an 8-2 lead. Although Cornell fought to narrow the point margin to four, the Bears looked set to take the game with a 12-7 lead. After a strong three-point run, the Red again narrowed the score to 12-10, but Brown would not be swept out of Harvard and took the game 16-14.
Both teams had similar stats for the game. Cornell posted 26 kills, eight errors, and a .231 hitting average, while Brown had 25 kills, five errors, and a .278 mark.
Game four featured a Cornell squad ready to close the lengthy match. The Red jumped out to a 7-4 lead and did not look back as it limited Brown to only five more points over the course of the final round. Cornell took the game and the match by a 15-9 score.
Cornell dominated in the fourth game with a .294 hitting percentage and a team-low six errors. Brown put up a .194 mark with 10 errors and 20 kills. Borncamp led the Red with 28 kills and posted a stellar .391 hitting percentage. Moore contributed with 17 kills and a team-high 28 digs. Freshman setter Rachel Rice was her usual self with a match-high 66 assists to lead the offensive effort. Classmate outside hitter Debbie Quibell put up 17 kills and had 17 digs.
“Our girls just believed they could do it,” head coach Christie Jackson said, explaining the win. “When we go in thinking the outcome is going to be a win, we can put that aside and focus on every task that we have. That’s all that [the win] was, and keeping them not too excited.”
“We just came out and took control,” freshman middle blocker Ashley Stover said. “There wasn’t a point where we didn’t think we were going to win.”
Saturday’s semifinal match materialized against second-seed Penn. With an earlier 3-2 win over tournament host Harvard on Friday, the Quakers were coming off a match in which both teams scored in double-digits in every game.
In regular season play, Penn had defeated the Red in three games, but this match would prove too much for the Quakers. Jackson headed into the match with hopes of “taking care of our game first. We haven’t beaten them and we want revenge.”
In the first round, Cornell and Penn swapped the lead back and forth before the Red broke out with four straight points to take a 14-10 lead. A Penn error gave Cornell the game, 15-11.
Penn broke out in the second frame to battle back from a 6-2 deficit and took the game 15-12 after a key four-point run late in the game.
The Quakers then used the momentum from their victory in the previous game to take a 4-1 lead, but the Red battled with an eight-point slaughtering to take the third game, 15-10.
In the fourth game, the Red took an early 7-4 lead after trailing at the beginning of the round. Another run of eight unanswered points effectively closed the match, and in spite of a mini-surge by Penn, won the game 15-8 and earned a trip to the finals.
The Red took this match with a solid offensive effort from five members of the team. Moore had 19 kills and a .326 attack percentage. Borncamp and Quibell each had 18 kills, while Stover posted 12 kills and an outstanding .500 hitting mark. Junior outside hitter Jennifer McHarg also stepped up with an 11 kill effort. Rice was again awesome with 71 assists, nine digs, four kills, and no errors.
“I think Penn actually played a better game than the first time we played them,” Jackson reflected. “[We] just decided that [we] were going to win. It was a big combination of things that made the game work out for us.”
The Red combined for a spectacular effort in the fourth game. Penn has big players that get high in the air for big kills. Somehow, Cornell prevented virtually all of these kills from smashing the floor.
“[The players] made a decision that they were not going to let anything hit the floor,” Jackson remarked. “It was all about them, and the way they want to play. We always do our job coaching. We do the same thing every single time. If they are playing well, we can make adjustments, and they executed.”
“We were digging balls out of nowhere,” Borncamp cheered. “Things that we had never picked up before we were getting. I was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ Then people were just smacking the ball down, getting kills, and it was crazy. Everybody played so well.”
Moore added to Jackson and Borncamp’s comments.
“I think once we got past Brown we were much more confident than we were when we came into the tournament,” she said. “That definitely showed against Penn.”
Princeton, as expected, swept eighth-seed Columbia on Friday and did the same to fourth-ranked Yale in the semifinals to advance to the championship round. The Tigers had yet to face tough league competition. Only two of their regular season league matches reached the fifth game — both coming against Dartmouth and last year’s tournament runner-up, Harvard.
Cornell ran away with a 7-1 lead in the first game and
did not look back. Several Princeton points scattered over the rest of the game did not factor into a 15-6 Cornell victory. The Red was daunting with a .371 hitting average.
However, the Red ran into a Tiger road block as Princeton took an early 7-3 advantage in its 15-5 win in the second game.
Cornell took game three with another early lead. Aided by strong serving from Quibell, the Red ran off four straight points to win 15-7. Robin Moore used an effective kill off an assist from Rice to contribute four late points to the Red’s win.
With this game, Cornell had a 2-1 lead in the match and two opportunities to take its first Ivy title since 1993.
The fourth round was tied at 5-5 until Princeton grabbed five straight points for a 10-5 lead, which was a big enough advantage that the Red could not regain momentum. The Tigers took game four by a score of 15-9.
With the match tied 2-2, the championship and bid to the NCAA tournament would go to the victor of the final game.
The score remained razor-thin for the duration of game five. The fifth game is played such that every kill or error, regardless of which team is serving, is good for a point. Any significant lead a team can establish will give it a huge advantage in the game.
Cornell opened with a three point effort, but the Tigers came back to make the score 3-2. Points were traded back and forth, until Princeton tied the score with three straight at 6-6. But at 8-8, the Tigers dealt the Red a final blow with a four-point surge to take a 12-8 lead. Cornell closed the gap with three points, but could not fight off the pesky Tigers who became two-time champions with a 15-11 win.
Quibell continued to prove a valuable asset as she knocked in 17 kills and 20 digs. McHarg was an offensive terror for the Red as she had 15 kills with only one mistake for a match-high .560 hitting percentage. Robin Moore was solid with 13 kills and 16 digs, while Borncamp also had 13 kills and a team-high 22 digs. Rice was perfect again with 58 assists, and did not make a single mistake. Junior defensive specialist Liz Condon contributed with seven digs, and was a big factor in all three matches as she came in and consistently hammered well-placed serves.
“I’m proud of them. [After the match], I told them to hold their heads high because this is just the beginning for us. Most of the players are young, and going from eighth to second is just unheard of,” Jackson stated. “To also show up at the tournament and make the run like we did, I mean, someone could have blown us out and we might not even be [in the finals].”
“I don’t think anybody has played Princeton that close, and really both teams played very well,” Robin Moore commented. “[The outcome] could have gone either way.”
Although Princeton did take the Ivy crown, Cornell nonetheless had the tournament MVP. Robin Moore was appropriately awarded the honor — an apt curtain call for her spectacular career in a Cornell uniform.
Along with MVP Moore, Borncamp was also honored as a member of the all-tournament team. Both women were outstanding throughout the season, as well as the tourney, and without a doubt deserved the distinction.
“That was totally awesome,” Moore said. “It is definitely bittersweet because I would trade the MVP for a [championship] ring any day, but I’m really happy with the way we played.”
The team had various things to say about the tournament, but all were happy with the outcome. In addition to going from eighth place to second in one year, the team ended the season with a 20-8 overall record. The Red should not be disappointed as the runner-up.
The team’s goal all along had been to win the Ivy championship, which is a goal also shared by other Cornell sports teams. The spikers are unique in that their goal was especially difficult to achieve considering they were eighth last year. Although the Red came up just short, it is primed to take the championship next season.
“We definitely stepped it up this year, and I think we played really well,” Stover said. “We played exactly how we wanted to.”
“The past years the tournament has been double elimination,” Condon remembered. “We lost both matches and went home right after we came, so this year was really a lot of fun.”
“From here on out, teams will have respect for us,” Borncamp ended. “We know we will be working hard now for a first place title and not just fifth place.”
“I think we surprised some people. Everyone thought it was pretty much up for grabs, and no one was counting us out necessarily,” Moore said. “Princeton definitely deserved the first seed, but as far as how we would come out, I don’t think anybody picked us over anybody else.”
“This is just a beginning,” Jackson said, “and it’s a damn good beginning.”
Archived article by Katherine Granish