Not too many Cornell athletes possess the rare combination of smarts, physical stature and athletic ability worthy of originating a new entry in the sports dictionary. However, inside Newman Arena there are kills, spikes, and then there are Joanna Weiss bombs — balls that rain down on opponents as if they are carrying the weight of a dozen bricks.
That’s why nobody returns her attacks. Weiss, the senior who earned first-team All-Ivy honors last season, not only broke the Cornell single-season record after leading the Ivy League in hitting percentage (.406) in 2005, but her efforts were good enough to rank seventh in all of Division I. Add the fact that she had 10 matches with five or more blocks and it’s safe to what was once tabbed as raw talent has been cooked and seasoned close to perfection. Her progress is something that Weiss credits to the encouragement of her teammates in practice.
“Any strides I’ve made have come because of the support of my teammates,” Weiss said. “My progress has come because I’ve become better by playing against them in practice everyday. We know that if we each bring our own individual level of play to the game, we’re going to win a majority of the time.”
While it’s the team that motivates Weiss to improve, it’s Weiss that ultimately stands out in games, on the stat sheets and in the eyes of opposing attackers positioned on the other side of the net.
“She’s just a wall,” said assistant coach Sarah Bernson. “When Jo is up and she’s solid, [she’s] hard to hit around.”
When classmate and fellow middle blocker Katie Rademacher was sidelined due to injury in an Ivy playoff game against Yale two years ago, Weiss was called upon to fill the void. It wasn’t until then that Weiss started to make a name for herself. Although the match ended in heartbreaking fashion, there was new hope for the Red’s immediate future after Weiss ended the match with a personal best 12 kills and four blocks.
Add in a junior season that saw her almost double her personal best in kills (21) against the same Yale squad, and the transformation was complete.
“People keyed in on her last year but they couldn’t stop her,” said head coach Deitre Collins-Parker. “Last year gave her a lot of confidence and now she wants the ball in key situations. She just continues to get more and more comfortable in doing more than hitting off of one foot behind the setter. … Once Jo strengthens the blocking parting of her game she’ll be one of the best middles in the country. That’s something that we’re focusing on a lot in practice. She’s strong at the net, is really mobile and she just causes problems for defenses.”
This season, when the Red looks to repeat as outright Ivy champions, Weiss will be called upon to deliver in her new role. Still, she remains humble and respectful, downplaying the attention she gets from opposing teams.
“We need everyone in their role as an individual to be successful as a team. I just try and do my part in the games and in practice,” Weiss said.
Sure. Tell that to the girl who was just hit by a Joanna Weiss bomb.