November 7, 2006

Newman, Not Lynah, Place to Be This Weekend

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Friday night has been circled on the calendars of the Lynah Faithful for some time now. That is when, of course, Cornell will host its own version of “The Game” as it welcomes Harvard to Lynah Rink to kickoff its ECACHL home schedule.

Now, I don’t want to say this year’s edition of the “Harvard Game” lacks any bit of the luster that it’s had the past few years. Lynah, as always when the Crimson comes to town, will be rocking. And, energized by the electric atmosphere, the teams will battle relentlessly for the full 60 minutes.

However, you do have to admit that — at a national level, at least — this year’s game just does not carry the same weight as it has in the past. First off, it’s early in the season and, looking at the current state of the two teams, it shouldn’t have the same impact on the ECACHL and Ivy title races that it has had in years past. Skating 12 freshmen and sophomores among its 19 regulars, the Red (4-0-0, 2-0-0 ECACHL) is bound to endure some growing pains this season. Meanwhile, after starting 0-3-0 (0-3-0), Harvard does not look like the same team that steamrolled past Dartmouth, 10-1, and Cornell, 6-2, to take the ECACHL tournament crown a year ago.

With that said — and with the fear of possible retribution from Cornell hockey fanatics in my heart — the Cornell/Harvard hockey game is simply not the best sporting event on East Hill this weekend. Instead, that honor goes to the matches being played just 50 feet east of Lynah, as the volleyball team tries to wrap up its third consecutive Ivy League championship on the hardwood of Newman Arena.

If you’re looking for a sporting event with drama, Cornell’s matches against Penn (10-12, 5-6 Ivy) on Friday and then with Princeton (19-2, 9-2) the next afternoon, are jam packed with storyline. Entering this final weekend of its season with just a half-game lead over the Tigers in the Ivy standings, Cornell (16-9, 10-2) can clinch a conference title with a pair of wins.

However, even with the home court advantage, this feat is far from a cakewalk. If Cornell can get past a pesky Quakers squad on Friday, Saturday’s match-up against Princeton could shape up to be a virtual Ivy League championship game.

Heightening the drama of that scenario is the fact that these two teams have made each other’s lives miserable over the past few years. In 2004, after the regular season ended with a four-way tie atop the Ivy League standings, Cornell swept Princeton in the first round of a playoff for the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. A year later, the Tigers returned the favor, defeating the Red, 3-0, in the two teams’ regular season finale to delay Cornell from clinching the Ivy crown.

Adding to the intrigue of the weekend series, a pair of Cornell wins will also mark a turnaround from a season that appeared to be slipping away just a few weeks ago. Facing a killer five-game road trip early in its Ivy League schedule, Cornell lost to both Yale and Princeton in a span of three matches to dig itself an early hole in the conference standings. However, Cornell has caught fire as of late, winning its last seven matches, including a 3-2 come-from-behind victory at Harvard this past Friday.

The weekend will also mark the final goodbye to the team’s five seniors. Just for its contributions to the Cornell program thus far, the Class of 2007 is one of the most prolific group of players to come through Ithaca. Having played major roles in capturing league titles the past two years — its first titles in over a decade — the group has returned Cornell to the upper echelon of Ivy League volleyball.

Individually, the seniors will also leave their imprint in the Cornell record books. By the end of this season, five of the major 13 categories in which the athletic department keeps individual records for volleyball will have a current senior’s name at its top. Most notable, senior co-captain Liz Bishop — an All-American and unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year in 2005 — will finish her career as the Red’s all-time leader in kills, kills per game, attack attempts and will list among the top-5 players in digs, digs per game, and block assists.

Even if the prowess of the senior class is not enough to bring you out to the bleachers of Newman Arena, you should go just to appreciate the joy and love for the game with which the Red takes to the court. It’s amazing to watch these players mercilessly fling their bodies to the court for a dig before immediately getting back up with a smile on their face, ready to do it all over again.

At the same time, the team is so humble and down to earth that you wouldn’t think it’s in position to claim a third consecutive Ivy title. Even when prodded to discuss the potential championship match-up against Princeton this weekend, Bishop refused to take the bait.

“We’ve got to take it one game at time. Right now we have worry about Penn on Friday night,” she said.

Bishop also makes it clear how much the team appreciates and feeds off the energy of its fans. With the Red’s matches set for 7 p.m. on Friday and 4 p.m. on Saturday — both conveniently scheduled before the puck drops at Lynah — there is no reason that hockey fans can’t get to Bartels Hall a little early and show support for Cornell volleyball. The team definitely deserves it.

Scott Reich is a Sun Staff Writer. Scotty Doesn’t Know will appear every other Tuesday this semester.