September 6, 2007

Volleyball Looks for Continued Success

Print More

It’s one thing to be a freshman on a Division I, championship-winning varsity squad, but it’s quite another to start on that team. And that’s exactly the situation that many of last year’s recruits now find themselves in — vying for starting spots in the team’s first real game of the season this Friday at the Cornell Invitational.
Cornell’s women’s volleyball team had a great season last year, finishing with its third straight Ivy League title and with awards to back-up its all-star reputation. And then, inevitably, May came and went, taking with it five seniors, talent, maturity and priceless experience.
It’s hard to rebound from a loss like that but the team seems to be getting off on the right foot with a little help from an unusually large incoming freshman class, and a lot of help from the returning players.
Even this early in the preseason, the freshmen have impressed players and coaches alike with their maturity and poise.
“They have a really good head on their shoulders,” senior co-captain Amy Gordon said. “They are really good student athletes and seem to be wise beyond their age. They don’t really play or act like freshmen.”
But despite these early, promising signs, the fact still remains that they are all being thrown into a highly competitive environment very different from anything they have experienced in high school.
“It’s a new step,” Gordon said, “You really start to feel the pressure.”
Head coach Deitre Collins-Parker said that a key element of the preparation process has been simply giving the younger players as much exposure to game situations as possible.
“We’ve done a lot of competing in practice,” Collins-Parker said. And tonight the team will invite the Ithaca College team up for a friendly scrimmage.
So far, Gordon and other team leaders have used a unique strategy to help prepare the younger players for the challenges they will soon have to face.
“We’ve been trying to tell them stories about times when we’ve had to overcome adversity,” Gordon said.
Gordon said she’s used the example of Cornell’s 2005 Ivy League Championship game, which was played at their opponent Yale’s stadium.
The Red found themselves down two games to none, and they were losing the decisive third game 28-23.
“So we were on our deathbed, so to speak,” Gordon said. “And the fans at Yale were pretty rowdy. They started shaking their keys at us, like telling us to start the bus already.”
But Cornell did not give up. They won the third game, and went on to carry the match in five games.
“It was the greatest comeback I’ve ever been a part of,” Gordon said.
That year’s squad had four seniors graduate, while last year’s team lost five. This year, Gordon hopes that the team’s relative inexperience will be balanced by highly refined skills.
The freshmen influx has also had another, more positive affect on the team. The team’s upperclassmen have all really stepped up and become leaders, Gordon said.
“Now, it can’t be just the two seniors,” she said. “It has to be a group effort.”
“Most of the upperclassmen that are here were behind people [last year],” Collins-Parker said. “So now this is a huge opportunity for them to step up. And [in this situation], they always step up.”
Collins-Parker took a realistic view of the team’s chances this year, as they look to defend their Ivy League championship for a fourth season.
“The attitude of the team is they want to win another championship,” she said. “Realistically it’s going to be difficult, but it is also definitely something we can do. My goal is to make sure we peak at the right time and be ready for the conference.”
It’s going to take the concentration of the entire team to repeat last year’s success, but the freshmen on the team have already shown that they are ready and able to meet that challenge.