A year ago, the women’s volleyball team was happy just to play in the NCAA tournament. This time around, however, as the Red (18-8, 12-2 Ivy) prepares to make just its third-ever appearance in the tournament against Hofstra (23-6) at 5 p.m. today in University Park, Pa., it has much loftier aspirations.
“We’re very prepared and excited,” said senior co-captain Liz Bishop. “We know what it’s like to be here. Our goal is to make it past the first round and to keep going.”
[img_assist|nid=20372|title=Armed and ready|desc=Senior middle blocker Katie Rademacher (3) and the Red battle with Hofstra today in the NCAA tournament’s first round. (Jeff Slosberg / Sun Staff)|link=popup|align=left|width=81|height=100]
“We’re so ready to win,” said junior co-captain Amy Gordon. “Last year, it was like, ‘We’re finally here.’ This time around we’re not going to be satisfied with just playing in the first round.”
As Cornell tries to join Yale as the only Ivy League program to have won an NCAA tournament game, the Red will try to harness the momentum it has built along its current nine-game win streak.
In its latest contest, the Red swept Princeton, 3-0 at home to clinch its third consecutive Ivy League title. Closing out that contest in exhilarating fashion, Cornell rallied back from a 29-26 deficit in the final game of the match to win 32-30 in front of an appreciative home crowd.
With that victory coming almost three weeks ago, however, there are concerns that the Red might exhibit some signs of rust after waiting for the NCAA tournament to begin. Nevertheless, instead of viewing the extended break as an inconvenience, Cornell took advantage of the rest to get its team healthy and focused.
“Especially this year, we needed that rest to get everyone healthy,” said head coach Deitre Collins-Parker. “We took a few days off, but when we’ve been together to practice, we’ve really gone after it.”
“Keeping up the intensity is a huge challenge,” said senior Joanna Weiss. “We had to wait a couple of weeks to see who we were going to play, so we just focused on refining our ball control and reminding ourselves of our goals. For the past week, though, we’ve been able to focus on Hofstra and keeping our intensity up.”
Several Cornell players also found out they had received individual awards from the Ivy League as they prepared for this weekend’s play. For the second year in a row, Bishop — the all time leader in kills and kills per game at Cornell — was named the unanimous Ivy League Player of the Year. Weiss also received first-team All-Ivy honors, while freshman libero Megan Mushovic was named to the second team and senior Alaina Town was an honorable mention. Led by seniors Elizabeth Curley and Beverly Rivera, who combined to average more than seven kills per game during the season, the Pride has several weapons at the net. Meanwhile, junior setter Shellane Ogoshi has the skill to keep opposing teams guessing on defense.
“She’s very fast and deceptive,” Collins-Parker said. “We just need to play our game and take advantage on offense when we get the chance.”
“They are very good team,” Bishop said. “They should definitely be a challenge for us.”
Nevertheless, even with the strong scouting report in on Hofstra, the Red is confident that it can put up a strong fight against the Pride.
“It’s an idea situation for us — both teams are really at the same level of competition,” Gordon said. “Hofstra is really a team we can compete against and beat if we play our best game. We know that.”
The winner of the match will face either Penn State (29-2) or Long Island (25-10) in the second round of the NCAA tournament at 7 p.m. tomorrow. Those two teams will face each other tonight at 7:30 p.m. following the conclusion of the match between Cornell and Hofstra.
All those players as well as the rest of the Cornell team will have to be on top of their game to have success against a talented Hofstra squad.