Before the season started last year, newly appointed head coach Deitre Collins knew that having strong team depth was needed in order to contend for sole possession of the Ivy League championship. The team had all the tools in order to contend when healthy – but when injuries and fatigue set in last year, the Red faced uncertainty, as its bench players had little, if any, game experience.
Last year’s team finished the season as co-Ivy champions, but the ultimate dream of competing in the NCAA tournament was cut short thanks to a two-point loss against Yale in the league playoff final.
What a difference a year makes. The two newcomers from last year’s squad, sophomores Kara Zaragoza and Amy Gordon, have flourished after gaining a full year of experience. Collins has delivered after making promises to add depth, as players such as junior transfer Thais Mirela have had an immediate impact on the Red’s (13-3, 5-0 Ivy) successful first half of the season. Meanwhile, another sparkling freshman class has also shown promise for a bright future.
“Last season was a learning phase, not just for this year’s sophomore class, but for everybody,” Collins said. “This year, we have seven new people that get to learn from 12 others who understand what it means to play for Cornell volleyball, what it means to play for me, and what it means to work hard everyday. The biggest advantage to this season is having everyone back from last year, and in turn, having our new players learn from people who completely understand what our program is all about.”
Halfway through the season last year, Cornell stood at 10-6 and showcased a predominantly one-dimensional attack led by All-Ivy performer and current junior Elizabeth Bishop. Although the attack was first class among the Ivies, the Red was often criticized for slacking on defense and for having inferior ball control skills.
After an off-season dedicated to improving the defense and creating a faster offensive tempo, the team has jumped out to a 13-3 record – finding itself atop the Ivy standings, as the Red is undefeated in conference action.
All of this has occurred because of a more balanced attack and stellar defensive play.
“It’s hard to get a tape of us and know what you are going to do,” Collins said. “Last weekend, Penn and Princeton tried to focus heavily on Liz and Tex [senior Rachel Adomat]. They kind of slacked on [senior] Heather Young and she has really put up great numbers the last two weeks. I don’t think teams know what to expect from [junior] Jo[anna Weiss] either. Most teams just think she’s big, but she’s really coming along. And we’ve thrown Thais in sporadically and teams wonder if she is even going to play or not. We’re so deep that I haven’t even had a chance to explore all of our options yet.”
As the season wears down, team depth will also help keep the them fresh down the stretch. It also has had its benefits in practice, where Collins emphasizes that better practice leads to better play.
“In practice alone, it’s nice to have a solid group of 18 players that you can scrimmage against every day,” Young said. “Our so-called ‘back-up’ players are better than most of the girls in the league alone, so it’s definitely nice having such quality depth. Even in game situations, if someone has to come out, it’s nice to know that with whoever we put in there, the team won’t miss a step.”
So far for Cornell, it hasn’t really mattered who has been in the game – something Collins is quite proud of, as all of her players have come through when called upon.
“We have so many weapons,” Collins said. “It’s exciting.”
Archived article by Tim Kuhls
Sun Staff Writer