November 9, 2007

Volleyball Challenges Dartmouth, Harvard

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Challenging. That’s the word that senior captain Amy Gordon and senior Kara Zaragoza believe best describes their team’s experience this season. With only two more “challenges” left in the rest of their volleyball careers at Cornell, both girls stress that they still have something to prove this weekend when they hit the road one last time to take on the Dartmouth Green (13-9, 6-6 Ivy) and the Harvard Crimson (7-17, 2-10).
“To be honest, I don’t know what to expect,” Zaragoza said. “I’m definitely going to expect both teams to start strong, hitting aggressively. I think having beat Yale and then to really wipe out Columbia on Monday has boosted our confidence and the whole team spirit, so I hope we can maintain that level of energy that we’ve had in our last couple of matches.”
Despite a season-long battle to overcome immaturity and inexperience, the Red (8-15, 5-7) had great success against both the Crimson and the Green when they met at Newman Arena in early October. Cornell defeated Harvard by a score of 3-2 and went on to upset Dartmouth by the same tally the following afternoon.
“I think there is definitely some bad blood from when we beat Dartmouth,” Zaragoza said. “The coach told our trainer ‘Merry Christmas’ because of the calls we got in the game. That is ridiculous. I hope we take it to Dartmouth, and I would love to win on the road this season.”
However, with past success comes an increased pressure to win and finish out the season on a high note. While the Red is out of contention in the race for the Ivy League title, if it can come up with two big victories, it will be able to finish the season with a very respectable conference record. This weekend, maybe more than ever, it will be important for the team to come out strong and never let up. The squad has struggled on the road the entire season, Furthermore, it will be Harvard’s Senior Night, so it will look to send its seniors off in glory.
“It helps to play someone that you’ve beaten before, but in other ways it doesn’t,” said head coach Deitre Collins-Parker. “It’s much easier to win at home than it is to win on the road, so we have to be careful and know that it’s going to be harder. We had two tough matches when they were here so we are really going to have to step it up for this weekend.”
While this weekend is paramount in Gordon and Zaragoza’s thoughts, there is much more riding on these last two matches than just a season record. As the only two members of the senior class, the girls have become extremely close friends, roommates and of course teammates, in spite of the fact that they have completely different personalities.
“I definitely think that we’ve benefited from just having the two of us and having opposite personalities. I think it would be hard if we both had the same personality. We wouldn’t be able to lead as well as we have. I think we’ve done a good job this year. It’s been hard. It’s hard to right away enter a program and just start winning and then to leave a program not quite the same way we entered it. It’s been a challenge for both of us to develop into different kinds of leaders for a different kind of team.”
Although Gordon is the official team captain, both girls have filled important leadership roles and have been able to use each other’s differences to benefit the team. On a team with six freshman, much of their job has centered around helping the younger girls learn the ropes of the volleyball program and really trying to create a family feeling off the court to facilitate team work on the court.
“Amy has been a captain for two years, so she has always been well respected by her teammates,” Collins-Parker said. “She’s just a very solid person, and Kara just really learned a lot about herself and really became what people needed her to be. I think that is a really big growth. She’s a pretty feisty person, so she didn’t always know how to deliver what people needed because she just wanted to fight all the time. But she really worked hard to be what the team needed and ultimately became an assistant captain this year.”
After Cornell, Gordon is looking to work in the field of consulting, and Zaragoza is planning on going to grad school and hopes to eventually become a school psychologist. While their career paths definitely diverge, both girls know that volleyball will always be a part of their lives and hope to be able to coach youth volleyball at some point in the future.
“I want to keep playing,” Gordon said. “I know that as long as you live in a city that is decent sized, then there are leagues and stuff like that. I know that my parents both still play volleyball, so I know there is life after organized sports. And I would love to coach also — kind of small scale coaching, but definitely not as a career.”
For Gordon and Zaragoza, this weekend marks the end of what has been a four year emotional roller coaster. Having been a part of three Ivy League championship teams, they’ve experienced incredible highs. But this season they learned a little more about themselves and what it means to work hard and motivate others to give their all in the face of adversity.
“I remember my senior year of high school, thinking and telling my friends that I’m afraid that when I go to Cornell, I’m going to be identified by being a volleyball player,” Gordon said. “The one thing I think about now as I’m leaving is that I want nothing more than to have volleyball define me through my college experience. … What I’ve learned and what I hope our freshman learn is that there is nothing better than to have your teammates be your best friends. … I’m thrilled that coming out of my senior year, I am defined at Cornell by volleyball.”