Four years ago the softball team tore up the Ivy League, racking up an 11-1 league record as well as an Ivy title and a bid to the NCAA tournament. Four years ago, Cornell had a promising squad of five young freshman, looking to make their mark on a successful program and happy to be a part of a championship team. Now this core group of freshmen are experienced seniors, and have completed the cycle by propelling the Red to a share of the 2004 Ivy title and another shot at the NCAAs.
“They’ve played really solid softball for four years and we’ve been fortunate to have them,” he said. “They’re a very strong core of people and they’re dedicated. They’re also very talented, so you put those things together and you have a very special group.”
Every team needs a player it can count on to fill whatever role is asked of her. For the Red, that player is Sandra Alvarez. Playing both the infield and outfield, Alvarez often finds herself in the designated player position, where Blood counts on her for timely hitting.
“Sandy has a lot of pop in her stick,” Blood said. “She’s got enough inner confidence so she can perform under pressure and has done a nice job for us in the clutch.”
Alvarez has often taken the game into her own hands with several game winning hits, including three this year. The most recent of her clutch performances was a walk-off grand slam against Quinnipiac to lead the Red to a 7-3 victory.
Another source of leadership is the versatile Melissa Cannon. Cannon can play virtually anywhere on the field, in the infield and outfield, as well as at catcher. She sets the bar in the weight room and consistently performs on the field.
“Melissa Cannon has been a tower of strength for four years,” Blood said. “She is one of our finest weight trainers, and has established a culture for our team in the weight room. She’s just been wonderful for our program and she bleeds Cornell red.”
Consistently among Cornell’s top RBI producers, Cannon also holds the record for most RBIs in game, nine, a record she set back when she was a freshman. With Cornell down 8-0, against Brown, Cannon single-handedly pulled the Red to victory, going 3-4 with two homers, on her way to the nine RBIs.
“We have fun when we play, even in pressure situations,” she said. “I definitely think we feed off of each other. When someone is down and not having a great game, someone is there to pick them up.”
If there’s one player on the team who does it all, however, it has to be Kate Varde. A first-team All-Ivy selection during all four of her years at Cornell, Varde made an instant impact on the Red. Leading the team in home runs (14), runs (36), hits (48), and slugging percentage (.698) her freshman year, she was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. A versatile player, Varde plays to win every game and has been instrumental to the Red’s success each season.
“Kate’s one of the finest athletes here at Cornell. She’s exceptionally fast, she’s really powerful, and she’s got a great game sense,” Blood said. “[With her] blend of speed and power, and a really solid throwing arm, she’s a five-tool player.”
Every great team needs an ace, and, for the past four years at Cornell, that player has been Sarah Sterman. With a variety of pitches that keep opposing players guessing, Sterman has racked up 76 wins in her four seasons with Cornell, and she holds team records for appearances (40), ERA (1.23), strikeouts (157), innings pitched (211 1/3), and most shutouts in a season (9).
“Sarah’s been rock solid for four years. She took over the number-one starting position as a freshman and has not yielded that position,” Blood said. “She throws hard, she battles all the time, and even when she doesn’t have her best stuff she’s a battler.”
Last but not least is Cornell’s prolific leadoff hitter, Erin Sweeney. Always near the top in batting average for the team, Sweeney also finds time to rack up the RBIs, with 34 this season — a difficult feat for any batter, let alone a leadoff hitter. Sweeney is also a terror on the base paths, holding both the single season (12) and career (27) records for stolen bases at Cornell.
“Erin has epitomized the word clutch,” Blood said. “She’s done a marvelous job for us. She’s a gritty, gritty player.”
Sweeney was also the only senior daring enough to answer the dreaded interview question of: “Which 80s rock song best sums up your careers here at Cornell?” Her answer : Pat Benetar’s “Hit me with your best shot,” a fitting response for a group of seniors who are some “real tough cookies with a long history” of achieving great things for Cornell softball.
Archived article by Paul Testa