October 6, 2006

Spikers Take Three-Game Road Trip

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While most of Cornell finished its cramming before fall break, the volleyball team will hit the road, looking to squeeze in three Ivy matches over the long weekend.

Fresh off a convincing 3-0 victory over Columbia at home last weekend, the Red begins its tour of the Ancient Eight tonight against Brown. Cornell will then head south to New Haven, Conn., tomorrow for a marquee matchup against the Ivy League’s current leader, Yale, before finishing its trip against the Lions on Monday in New York City.
[img_assist|nid=18810|title=Hitting the wall|desc=Sophomore Emily Borman (left) and senior Alex Dyer (right) go up for a block last weekend. (Kuan-Wei Chen / Sun Staff)|link=popup|align=left|width=69|height=100]
“This weekend is about establishing what kind of road team we’re going to be,” said head coach Deitre Collins-Parker. “Going into someone’s house and beating them there is always a little more difficult.”

Cornell (6-5, 1-0 Ivy) will first face Brown (4-10, 0-2 Ivy). The Bears picked up a win over Providence on Tuesday after dropping both ends of a home-and-home series against Yale (7-4, 2-0) last weekend.

With underclassmen making up over half of its team, Brown has struggled to find a consistent starting combination of players. Senior outside hitter Rikki Baldwin leads the Bears offensively, averaging 3.6 kills per game. However, the young Brown team ranks last all but one statistical category in the Ivy League.

“Brown has tried a lot of different lineups and they’re still trying to figure out who exactly they are,” Collins-Parker said. “Having scouted them somewhat, we’re not exactly sure what they’re going to do, so I think our key is just to play good steady volleyball.”

By sweeping its first two Ivy contests, Yale has established itself as an early challenger to Cornell’s Ivy title defense. Cornell took both of last year’s matches against the Bulldogs, winning at home, 3-1, and taking a tight 3-2 victory from Yale on the road.

The Bulldogs are third in the Ivy League with a hitting percentage of .211, but their opponents this season are also hitting .211. Averaging 3.54 kills per game while hitting .229, Yale freshman Alexis Crusey has won two straight Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors. The Bulldogs will look to 5-11 middle hitter Laurel Johnson — whose 1.15 blocks per game puts her third in the Ivy League — to try and slow down the Red’s attack.

“I definitely think Yale is better than they were last year,” Collins-Parker said. “They acquired some more diversity in their offense. … Before we always were able to capitalize on one or two players.”

But Collins-Parker has worked with her team to help the Red players adjust to the stronger Yale lineup.

“We’ve changed a little bit of the offense and the defense that we’re playing to be able to play a balanced team better,” she said. “I continue to stress blocking. That’s kind of who we are in the Ivies. … Also, we can’t be predictable. We need to be able to set a lot of different people so teams aren’t able to worry just about [senior captain] Elizabeth [Bishop].”

Cornell will catch its breath for a day before finishing up against Columbia (5-5, 0-1). The Red swept the Lions in three straight games last weekend, but Columbia was without key right-side player Natalie Gerling.

“We can’t ease up because we beat them at home,” Collins-Parker said. “Now we’ve got to step it up another level.”

It’s hard to say what that level is, however. Boasting the Ivy League’s top-2 blockers in senior middle hitters Kate Rademacher and Joanna Weiss, it is no surprise that as a team Cornell leads the conference in blocks, averaging 3.19 per game. Cornell is also second in the Ivies in both hitting percentage (.241) and opponent’s hitting percentage (.178).

Despite the level of competition in the Ivies and the grueling demands of playing three matches in four days, Collins-Parker is confident in her team’s ability to meet the challenges of this road trip.

“Once you get into the Ivies, every weekend’s tough,” Collins-Parker said. “The thing about this team is they’ll rise to the occasion. They know the importance of these matches and they’re going to give all that they have.”