September 29, 2006

Volleyball Opens Title Defense

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With its preseason tournament schedule over with, the volleyball team will kick off its climb toward a third consecutive Ivy League championship as it hosts Columbia tomorrow afternoon in both teams’ conference opener.

“Our preseason is intended to help us get ready for Ivy League play,” said head coach Deitre Collins-Parker. “We’ve had a tough preseason so I think we’re ready for conference play.”

It has been especially tough for Cornell (5-5) over the past two weeks after posting identical 1-2 records at its own Big Red Invitational and the Courtyard by Marriott La Guardia Invitational in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In the latter tournament, the Red started off in impressive fashion, sweeping St. Francis 30-11, 30-8 and 30-14 to shatter its record for fewest points allowed in a match. Cornell continued its fine form into its next contest the following day, as it defeated No. 26 San Francisco, 30-25, in the opening game.

[img_assist|nid=18646|title=first look|desc=Senior outside hitter Elizabeth Bishop (pictured) and the volleyball team will play its first Ivy match against Columbia tomorrow.|link=popup|align=right|width=74|height=100]
That victory, however, would be the last one for the Red that weekend. Spurred by an impressive attack percentage, the Dons would win the next three games, 30-27, 30-23 and 31-29 to clinch the win. Then, in Cornell’s tournament finale, the Red could not find the energy to hang with Long Island, losing in straight games, 30-19, 30-21 and 30-24.

“I think we played well, for the most part, in that tournament besides the match against Long Island,” Collins-Parker said. “We played San Francisco pretty tough.”

Despite the disappointing finish, there were several positive signs for Cornell throughout the weekend, including the play of senior middle blocker Joanna Weiss, who earned all-tournament team recognition. Weiss currently leads the Red with a .354 attacker percentage and is also among the team’s top three players in both blocks and kills.

Other key contributors for Cornell include its captains, senior Liz Bishop and junior Amy Gordon. The returning Ivy League Play of the Year, Bishop is again anchoring both the team’s attack and back row, leading the squad with 4.14 kills per game and second on the team with 2.64 digs. Gordon, meanwhile, has also played well as the team’s primary setter with 11.17 assists and 2.22 digs per game.

Unlike Cornell, who has struggled against tough competition as of late, the Lions (5-4) enter tomorrow’s contest on a three-game winning streak. Last weekend, Columbia swept all three of its opponents at the Sacred Heart Invitational to win that tournament.

“They are a greatly improved team,” Collins-Parker said. “They’ve gotten better over the past two years and I expect them to be better this year.”

Led by juniors Cassie Ligh, Natalie Gerling and sophomore Amalia Viti — all of whom average more than three kills per game — the Lions’ attack has several weapons. Meanwhile, Cornell will also have to be conscious of sophomore Kelly Russell, who leads Columbia with 16 service aces.

Even with the talent it is facing, Collins-Parker and the rest of the Cornell team feels confident, especially while playing in front of a home crowd. A year ago, the Red finished a perfect 11-0 at home.

“It’s always a good thing to be playing at home. We went undefeated here last year and we want to be undefeated here for Ivy League play this year,” Collins-Parker said. “We’re pretty excited to get the conference season started and we’re really looking forward to it.”