The head coach of Cornell volleyball doesn’t like to mince words, and she doesn’t like to waste time — Deitre Collins-Parker doesn’t mess around. So it should come as no surprise that instead of choosing to compete in easy tournaments this preseason, her volleyball team will be making a trek out to the Kansas prairie this weekend to play its first official games of the 2008-09 season against tough competitors in a tournament they may very well lose.
Not that Collins-Parker doesn’t want to win—far from it. “I’d always like to win,” she said. And the team goes into every tournament with the goal of coming out on top. However, Collins-Parker said that sometimes even losses can serve an important purpose.
“I do think it’s a good challenge for us to go to [the Kansas St. Invitational] tournament,” she said. Kansas St., a team Cornell will play tomorrow is currently ranked No. 17 in the country. Liberty, the Red’s first opponent, is undefeated on the season.
Cornell competes as part of the Ivy League, which means that ultimately, it’s the matches against Ivy League teams later in the semester that will determine whether or not the Red will make the playoffs and have a shot at competing for a championship title.
With this is mind, “If we can just go out and play our best we can be confident,” Collins-Parker said. “If we can stay competitive, the experience will help us just be really confident going into Ivy League play.”
In this context, whether the game ends up in the win or loss column ultimately is not that important.
Rob Koll, the head coach of the wrestling team, agrees. “I look for the hardest schedule I can possibly get,” he said.
The wrestling squad competes for the Ivy League championship, but like the volleyball team, constantly keeps the ultimate goal of a national title in the back of its minds. [img_assist|nid=31641|title=Not in Kansas anymore|desc=Senior blocker Emily Borman (right) gets set for a kill. The Red will face tough early competition at Kansas St.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Koll said that it’s important to practice competing against the top teams in the nation early in the semester so that you don’t get nervous and choke when the match really matters.
“You won’t get nerves,” Koll said, “If every time you step out on the mat it’s against a top-10 team. Then [that level of competition] just becomes normal,” instead of the exception, he said.
Teams that don’t push themselves during preseason matches may have a lot of confidence going into the penultimate matches, but that confidence may not last if the team gets into a tight spot — something the squad would not be exposed to against easy teams.
“[Your team] has lots of confidence, but in a tight spot, you’re not prepared,” Koll said. It’s the same in every sport.”
And it’s OK to lose — once in a while — as long as you peak at the right time, which for Koll is at the Nationals.
“It’s important to keep everything in perspective,” he said. “You lose but you get right back in the ring. The psychological component is also important.”
There are other reasons for keeping a tough schedule. In terms of recruiting, Koll said you need to make sure your team is seen competing at a top level, and this means competing against other, equally high profile teams. Historically, the Ivy League has not had much of a presence in a national wrestling scene that is consistently dominated by powerhouses from the Midwest. Case in point: according to this year’s dual match rankings released by Wrestling International Magazine, the top schools are Iowa, Ohio State and Iowa State.
Koll said that the Red won’t be intimidated by any teams this year. But its one thing to say you can compete with the big boys, and another to actively go out and prove it. In order to ensure a tough schedule, Koll said that Cornell will sometimes pay top-ranked teams to come to Cornell and compete — called paying a guarantee. Another way Koll increases his schedule’s difficulty level is compounding matches against traditionally weaker opponents with a second match against a tougher team on the same day.
“Of course, you don’t want to challenge yourself to the point of burnout,” Koll said. “Every coach has to be careful about over-scheduling. If you’re losing every time, that’s not good.”
Collins-Parker and the volleyball squad are so far quietly optimistic about their chances this year. Following a disappointing 2007 season where the team went 9-16 overall (6-8, Ivy), Collins-Parker said she thought this year will be more successful.
“Our returners are better,” she said, and the team is excited about this year’s six-member recruiting class. “The freshman are very competitive,” Collins-Parker added.
The seniors, too, seem to have returned to the Hill ready to make their last season with the Red one they can be proud of.
“The seniors have really upped their game,” Collins-Parker said. “They’re just amazing.” Collins-Parker singled out senior setter and captain Hilary Holland, senior right side hitter Kathryn “Woody” Woodbury. A year below, junior libero Meghan Mushovic returns after ranking eighth in the nation last year in digs per game with 6.16.
“I think we’re still rebuilding,” Collins-Parker said. “We’re not there yet, but we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”