In terms of the greatest and most significant volleyball games ever played in the history of the sport, the Red’s matchup this weekend against Penn and Princeton is debatable. Yet in terms of the most important games of the season, and quite possibly, the careers of the seniors on the squad, there is little argument: this weekend is crucial.
Trying desperately to remain in the hunt for its first Ivy League title since 1993, the volleyball team will face the two teams most capable of destroying that dream in back-to-back home matches against Penn tonight and Princeton tomorrow. The Red was knocked off by the defending champion Quakers in Philadelphia on Oct. 25 and was swept by the Tigers on Oct. 24, the only two blemishes on the Red’s otherwise flawless Ivy record.
Yet, in her characteristic nonchalant fashion, head coach Christie Roes is quick to downplay the importance of any one single game.
“Every weekend is big in this league,” Roes said. “This is just like any other weekend. It doesn’t matter who we are playing — you just go out and have a great time with your teammates and the win will come.”
Trailing behind Penn (16-4, 9-0 Ivy) by a game and a half going into tonight’s match, the Red (18-3, 8-2) will need both wins this weekend to pull within at least a half game of the undefeated Quakers and give themselves some breathing room from Princeton (13-6, 6-2). Yet Penn still has five scheduled matches to play (compared to the Red’s four), which could make Cornell dependent on a Quaker loss. The Red, however, is thinking only in terms of what the team can control, and a win tonight is certainly something on its mind.
“There is a lot at stake tonight,” said senior middle blocker Jamie Lugo. ” But we feel really confident. Honestly, we’re not intimidated by [Penn] at all.”
Not only is the weekend important in terms of league standings, but it also holds the emotional distinction of being the last time the Red’s four seniors will play at Newman Arena. Middle blockers Lugo and Ashely Stover, outside hitter Debbie Quibell and setter Rachel Rice will all be making their final home appearances for Cornell, leaving behind them 14 individual single-match, season, and career records in addition to an immeasurable amount of hard work and dedication.
“It just kind of sneaked up on me,” Lugo stated. “We’ve been so focused as a team on going hard and controlling the tempo of these games that [the seniors] have not had much time to think about it. But we have so much fun at home; I know this weekend will be a great time.”
The Red’s 5-0 home record this season attests to the team’s exceptional performance at Newman Arena. In those matches, the Red has edged its opponents 15-4 in individual games, and out-hit the visitors .258 to .115. Penn, by contrast, is a modest 7-3 on the road this season, yet the Quakers have not lost an Ivy League match in 20 straight contests (the last loss came at the hands of the Red on Oct. 13, 2001). Part of Cornell’s task against the Quakers will be containing Penn’s all-time leader in kills, outside hitter Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, and middle blocker Heather Janssen, who has 232 kills on the year in addition to 52 blocks.
“Our team just needs to take care of the things we normally take care of,” Roes said. “Penn is not untouchable. They’re steady — they’re not going to do anything spectacular or really bad. But if Cornell plays the way Cornell plays, we can beat anybody.”
The Tigers will arrive in Ithaca coming off a win against Brown and a loss to Yale last weekend. They will be relying again on outside hitters Lauren Grumet and Kellie Cramm, who combined for 36 kills against the Red in the last matchup. The Princeton squad currently trails the Red by a game in the Ivy standings.
Archived article by Kyle Sheahen