November 30, 2006

Volleyball Hits Road in Search of Post-Season Success

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Some things never get old.

As the volleyball team prepared to load a Swarthout coach bus waiting outside Bartels Hall to start the drive to Penn State, veterans and rookies alike were wreathed in smiles as they looked forward to their second trip to the NCAA tournament in as many years.

“I’m just a freshman, so I’m a little confused sometimes. I’m like, ‘Wait, what are we doing?’” said rookie libero Megan Mushovic. “[I’m] just excited to go in and play. I don’t know; it hasn’t really hit me yet.”
Even for the more experienced members of the squad, this year’s journey feels different from the last.

“It’s really exciting,” said senior co-captain Elizabeth Bishop. “I think that we have a good shot at this game, and that’s really exciting. We’ve been there before; we know what it’s like. … I think we’re ready. And we ended the season this season much better than we did last season.”

[img_assist|nid=20333|title=Get your motor running|desc=Freshman Stephanie Comon tosses her bag onto a Bus headed for Penn State, where the Red will face off against Hofstra in the first round of the NCAA tournament tomorrow night at 5:00 p.m.|link=popup|align=left|width=100|height=68]

The Red dropped a 3-0 decision to Long Island on Dec. 2, 2005, in its first NCAA appearance in more than a decade. The loss sent Cornell into the off-season with a three-match losing streak to end the season. This year, the team hits the road for a match against Hofstra tomorrow with nine consecutive wins behind it, as well as its third consecutive Ivy League championship.

“[Last year] was a more nervous feeling,” said junior co-captain Amy Gordon. “This year we’re peaking at the right time. It’s just exciting to be going into the tournament with wins and a lot of confidence. And our seniors are so core to the program, it’s fun to take them there and let them go out with a bang.”

The team’s ticket to University Park, Pa., was stamped on Nov. 26, when the Red gathered to watch the bracket’s unveiling on ESPNews. While head coach Deitre Collins-Parker initially brought her team to the Boatyard Grill restaurant for the special occasion, the coaches and players were forced to get their food to go when they discovered the Boatyard didn’t get ESPNews. At Collins-Parker’s house, the group watched, taking measurements for their Ivy League championship rings while they waited for Cornell to appear on the television screen.

“It was a good team bonding experience,” said freshman Stephanie Comon. “We sized for our rings — that was the highlight, pretty much.”

The Red’s team chemistry has kept the team motivated and focused throughout a tedious three-week layover since the end of the Ivy League slate. Despite 7 a.m. practices, there has been no letdown in the team’s work ethic.

“It’s always fun because it’s always fun to be with each other,” said senior Alex Dyer. “All of the girls on the team are something that I can really draw on. They’re really dedicated and really strong people.”

With the final stretch of the season just around the corner, five seniors stowed their luggage and boarded the bus knowing that, although their days in the carnelian and white are numbered, there is still enough time left to add one last exclamation point to the legacy they will leave behind.

“[The seniors] just worked their butts off on the floor. Every day. And it paid off,” Collins-Parker said. “They’re incredible sometimes when I see the things they do in practice and how hard they work, that’s the people they are. And it’s fun to see the younger ones coming up. The team just works so hard and it’s so gratifying to see as a coach.”

While championships, record-setting performances and honors and accolades have become the norm behind the leadership of this year’s class of seniors, Bishop — recently named the Ivy League’s Player of the Year for the second season in a row — says that none of it would be possible without the right combination of teammates and coaches.

“I never would have expected any of this coming in here,” Bishop said. “I’ve just been so lucky with coaches and the whole team. It really is a testament to the team because, as you see all the time, you can’t play the game of volleyball without a team effort. Our team clicks and we have a good time and we work hard. I guess it’s just really paid off — three times.”

For Mushovic, the success the team has experienced in her first season has been overwhelming, but not unexpected.

“When I came here [on a recruiting visit], the team itself just meshed so well,” she said. “[It’s motivating] just knowing that the program has so much potential and that if we win this game we’ll be going farther than we ever have … and we can keep building this program.”

The inspiration for all the time and energy the team members gladly devote to furthering their cause is simple, Gordon said.

“[It’s] knowing that I have four years to play the sport I love for a school,” she said. “I can keep playing with my family in the backyard or whatever. But it means a lot to be playing for something, and I really feel like Cornell supports us. And it’s cool to be so proud of something, and I don’t want to let anyone down.”