Three weeks ago, it looked as though the season could be over for the volleyball team. After suffering its first two losses of the Ivy League season against Penn and Princeton, the Red was in danger of losing sole possession of the conference title and a bid to the NCAA tournament.
However, Yale dropped its final match to fall to second place in the league standings, and Cornell will make its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in 12 years against Long Island at 5 p.m. tonight in State College, Penn.
“We wanted to make sure that we didn’t just get to the NCAAs, [but] that we won some games in the NCAAs,” said head coach Deitre Collins. “Right now we can just go one game at a time. So our focus right now is Long Island and playing to win that match – and hoping that Binghamton upsets Penn State.”
Cornell (19-5, 12-2 Ivy) will take on Long Island (25-13, 8-0 Northeast) in a first-round match at the State College Regional. The last time the Red and the Blackbirds faced off was at the Albany Challenge in 2003, with Cornell claiming a 3-2 victory. After a three-week break, the Red heads into tonight’s matchup with a renewed focus looking to repeat this feat. A win would pit the Red against the winner of the match between No. 2 Penn State and Binghamton.
“You want to come in [against Long Island] and be able to play your game, and have a chance to win,” Collins said. “Conversely, going against a team like Penn State, we’re going to have to play above our level, so what a way to get to start your NCAA time by just go in and do what you’ve always done and you don’t need a miracle to win and that’s a comforting thought going in.”
The Blackbirds avearge 15.46 kills per game as a team with a .218 hitting percentage, as well as boasting the Northeast Conference Player and Coach of the Year. Lizelle Jackson earned Player of the Year honors after recording a 500-kill season, a feat matched by teammate Martina Wagner. Jade Gold joined Jackson and Wagner on the NEC first team with 2.81 kills per game and a team-high .266 hitting percentage. Setting duties are handled by Ivana Vasiljevic, who has posted 10.08 assists per game over the course of the 2005 season.
Cornell found out it would face Long Island on Sunday, and since then has had a newfound intensity and purpose in practice.
“Practices have been good, the intensity and the focus has been just what it should be,” Collins said. “We were getting a little too comfortable … It’s nice knowing exactly who our opponent is now – we were just practicing to get better for the last two weeks and raising our level. But now we have an actual opponent. We know what’s ahead of us.”
Cornell will step onto the court tonight boasting a similar resume from the 2005 campaign. The Red is led by the Ivy League’s Player of the Year, junior outside hitter Elizabeth Bishop, who broke the school record for career kills this season. She was joined on the All-Ivy first team by junior middle blocker Joanna Weiss, who led the Ancient Eight in hitting percentage this year. Seniors Kelly Kramer and Heather Young were both named to the All-Ivy second team after leading the Red from the libero and middle blocker positions, respectively. Furthermore, Cornell enters the tournament with a higher seed than is traditionally given to the Ivy League representative, a fact that gives the team a boost of confidence heading into tonight’s matchup.
“I think it was a huge kind of a we got the respect that we were given in our selection as benig the second-ranked team in that foursome is huge,” Collins said. “Knowing that we are expected to be able to do well by how we were seeded, that’s kind of exciting.”
But even with this newfound respect, the Red is fully aware of the win-or-die postseason situation.
“We really have not talked or looked past Long Island, and I think that’s all we can do right now. It’s exciting to look at the bracketing, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you get there. So we really have to go one day at a time and we want to be able to go [today] and play the best match that we’ve ever played,” Collins said. “And then, if we win that match, then [tomorrow] we’re playing an even better match than we’ve ever played. You take it one step at a time and wherever it takes you at this point, it’s just great that we’re here.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor