It could have been just another team dinner – the volleyball team got together yesterday at head coach Deitre Collins’ house to share pizza and celebrate assistant coach Sarah Bernson’s birthday yesterday afternoon.
But this meal was unique because, for the first time in 12 years, the Red was waiting to find out its first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament. And after spending all of Thanksgiving break practicing in Ithaca for a nameless foe, Cornell (19-5, 12-2 Ivy) found out it will face Long Island (25-13) on Friday at Penn State in the tournament’s State College Regional.
“We’re excited to be playing Long Island, playing a school that we think is in the area that we’re used to playing,” Collins said. “We were hoping not to be in Penn State’s bracket, but we’re excited [because] until last year, the Ivies had always drawn the highest [seed] first. It says a lot about how the selection committee respects us.”
Only the top-16 teams in the field of 64 are ranked, meaning that the Red and Long Island will be unranked participants in a regional that features No. 2 Penn State, No. 7 Hawaii – Collins’ alma mater – No. 10 Missouri, and No. 15 Tennessee.
The team was on campus throughout Thanksgiving break, practicing and waiting to discover who it would face.
“We’ve been waiting four years to stay here for Thanksgiving break,” said senior co-captain Kelly Kramer. “I think it’s going to be a good match [against Long Island]. They’re a good team. It helps not to play a top-seed team first.”
Cornell would face the top-seeded team in its regional, Penn State, on Saturday if it records a win over Long Island.
The Red last faced Long Island on Sept. 19, 2003, when Cornell came away with a 3-2 victory to claim the 2003 Albany Challenge title.
Long Island, the 2005 Northeast Conference champions, opened the season with a 2-8 record while playing a schedule littered with national powerhouses including No. 9 Louisville, North Carolina, and Long Beach State.
The NEC Player of the Year, Lizelle Jacson, and Martina Wagner lead the Blackbirds, as each has recorded more than 500 kills this season. Jade Gold added 2.81 kills per game and led the team with a .266 hitting percentage. Both Wagner and Gold earned all-conference first-team recognition. Ivana Vasiljevic adds 10.08 assists per game for the Blackbirds’ attack.
But even before the Red knew who its first-round opponent would be, the team had found fresh motivation and intensity in practices over the vacation following losses to Penn and Princeton to finish the Ivy slate.
“In a way, we needed to lose those two games to figure it out. Practice has been fantastic, we’ve refocused,” Collins said.
“It was a motivator,” Kramer said. “Just genuinely having no idea who we’re playing, but knowing whoever we play is going to be good.”
The Red got another morale boost last week, as the Ivy League awarded four Cornell players conference honors on Nov. 21. Junior outside hitter Elizabeth Bishop was named the 2005 Ivy League Player of the Year, and was a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team after averaging 4.94 kills per game, good for 17th in the nation. Bishop also broke the school record for career kills this season, and currently has 1,244 in only three seasons for the Red.
Classmate Joanna Weiss was also named to the first team, as the middle blocker was 11th in the country with a .403 hitting percentage – a Cornell single-season record. Kramer and senior middle blocker Heather Young earned second team recognition.
Kramer averaged 4.76 digs per game from her libero position en route to setting a new Cornell career record and a single-match record with 39 digs in a 3-2 win over Yale on Oct. 28. Young earned her second consecutive second-team honor after leading the league with 1.44 blocks per game and a setting a school record with 327 career block assists.
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor