UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The volleyball team managed to make history Friday night, but came up four points shy of advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament when Hofstra pulled out a 15-11 win in the fifth game to seal a 3-2 match victory in first-round action in Penn State’s Rec Hall.
The Red (18-9, 12-2 Ivy) won its first game in NCAA tournament competition in program history with a 32-30 win in the second game. However, Cornell head coach Deitre Collins-Parker made it clear at the end that making a new entry in the history books offered little consolation as her team left the gym without a mark in the win column.
“I don’t think our goal is about setting Cornell records, like winning our first ever tournament game,” Collins-Parker said. “Our goal was to win this match. It’s disappointing when you can get to a five-game match and don’t win at the end of that. But Hofstra is a good team, so we’re excited that we did play them as tough as we did. We had opportunities that we didn’t take, but it was a good match.”
In the first game Cornell jumped out to an early 7-3 lead, but Hofstra (24-6, 17-1 Colonial) rallied and tied it at eight apiece. The Pride eventually pulled away to a 29-18 lead on the Red, but despite being down 11 game points, the Red continued to fire away. The Pride did win the game 30-22, but the Red made a late rally was a hint of more to come.
In the second game, Cornell shocked Hofstra by jumping out to a 6-0 lead. Hofstra would rally and tie the game at 13, but it did not close the door on Cornell when it had the chance. After Cornell missed converting on a game point at 29-28, Hofstra won the next two points and had a chance to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the match. However, a service error by Hofstra sophomore Lauren Engle gave the Red new life and Cornell seniors Joanna Weiss and Alex Dyer made kills in the next two points to seal the game.
“Obviously, to come out and win Game 2 after falling behind and going back and forth brought life back into the match,” Collins-Parker said. “We lost Game 1 not playing very well and finishing Game 2 gave us the momentum going into the rest of the match and really got us motivated. We now had the feeling that we had a chance to win.”
In Game 3, the Red and the Pride battled back and forth until the score was 13-13. Then, Hofstra would not lose the lead as it pulled away to 29-23. Again, the Red battled back and rallied to 27-29 courtesy of two kills by Dyer and a kill by senior Alaina Town. However, Hofstra won the third game, 30-27, giving itself the 2-1 game advantage.
In the fourth game, Cornell fell into a 5-9 hole, but rallied to tie the game at 10. Then, Cornell freshman Megan Mustovic left the Hofstra fans speechless as she served five aces in a row, forcing Hofstra head coach Lauren Netherby to call a time-out.
“It just kept going,” Mustovic said. “It didn’t want to stop. It was great.”
That was the sign that Cornell was going to send this match into a fifth and deciding game, and it did courtesy of a 30-24 tally in Game 4. But in the fifth game, the closest Cornell came to overcoming its early 5-0 deficit was when the Red pulled within one at 7-6. After a Hofstra time out, Cornell could not get any momentum going and ultimately, Hofstra took the final game, 15-11.
“It was really great to take it to five games,” said senior co-captain Elizabeth Bishop. “However, I agree with coach. No matter what, we wanted to win. It doesn’t really matter that we won our first game or that we took them to five. So that’s a little bit disappointing, but I think there are good things in the future and there will definitely be more Cornell volleyball here in the tournament.”
Bishop, the back-to-back Ivy League Player of the Year, ended her outstanding career with a near triple double – 21 kills, 11 digs, and 8 blocks. Dyer also saved some of her best volleyball for last. She tallied 20 kills of her own and led the team with a .366 hitting percentage. Seniors Katie Rademacher and Joanna Weiss had eight kills apiece and also made seven and nine blocks, respectively. Senior Alaina Town added another four timely kills for the Red.
“The one thing that really stood out to me is that we all played together as a team,” Bishop said. “Our teammates were there to support us all the way through and that’s just what Cornell volleyball is all about. It’s about the heart and soul and playing together.”
While Bishop and her teammates were disappointed with the result, the Red’s second trip to the NCAA tournament in as many years was not without a silver lining.
“A positive is that we played well against a good team,” Collins-Parker said. “The thing we do as a program is that we try to get better all the time and we know that we are better this year than the year before and that’s where our program wants to continue to go. The next time we show up, we’ll be more confident that we were the last time. We want this to be a habit, a habit that we get to come here, get better, learn from it, and move on.”
Hofstra was paced by senior Elizabeth Curley, who had 20 kills on the night. Engle added 18 kills of her own to go with 12 digs, and senior Beverly Rivera got in on the action with 14 kills and 14 digs for the Pride. Senior libero Catherine Durakis had a match-high 21 digs, while junior setter Shellane Ogoshi notched 65 assists while piloting the Pride’s spread offense to victory.
The Pride will face No. 3 seed Penn State tonight after the Nittany Lions defeated Long Island, 3-0, in the nightcap.