October 1, 2008

Late Starts to Season Put Ivy League Teams at Disadvantage

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With their first Ivy League match under their belts (or rather, spandex), it’s time for the Red volleyball players to take stock of their preseason and see what can be learned from the experience, as well as what needs to be fixed as the Ivy season starts up in earnest. Saturday’s 3-0 win against Columbia was a good start for the Red (2-7, 1-0 Ivy), but their record overall leaves something to be desired. Should the team be worried, or were its preseason growing pains a part of a normal process that will ultimately strengthen Cornell this season?
A point that head coach Deitre Collins-Parker has brought up in the past concerning her team’s preseason is that ultimately it’s the team’s confidence and skill level heading into Ivy play that matters, not its overall record.[img_assist|nid=32225|title=Bring on the Ivies|desc=Senior captain Hilary Holland (2) and the Red have played tough preseason matches to get ready for Ivy League play.|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=240]
“We’re using the preseason as a stepping stone,” said senior captain and setter Hilary Holland. “It’s a good learning experience.”
Experience is something that is very important to any team, but for some time, teams in the Ivy League have been at a severe disadvantage in this area when it comes to the preseason. This year, while Cornell’s first match of the year was against Kansas State on Sept. 13, Kansas State had already competed in 13 matches before it faced off against Cornell. This kind of head start can be invaluable — the difference is potentially huge between a team that has been playing in competitive situations for over two weeks and one that hasn’t yet faced an opponent as a fully-formed unit.
“I think [that kind of head start] does put a team at [an advantage],” said senior middle blocker Emily Borman, emphasizing the importance of time spent competing on the court.
This year, the Ivy League voted to change the rules governing when teams can start competing in matches, but the change came too late to affect Cornell’s preseason, Collins-Parker said.
The Columbia match was interesting because it showcased a number of different players for the Red. Instead of just one or two athletes excelling individually, almost everyone seemed to be putting up good numbers and getting good touches on the ball, which had not necessarily been happening in past matches.
“Everyone on the floor did a really good job,” Holland said. “That was exciting, we had a good match.”
That said, while the team pulled out the sweep, Columbia had a number of runs of its own, and pulled a little too close for comfort during the second game, which Cornell won narrowly, 25-22.
“Columbia is a good example of an Ivy team,” Borman said. “They had a really strong offense and defense. Our team really pulled together.”
Holland acknowledged that although the win was heartening, “We know it’s only going to get harder from here,” she said.
This weekend Cornell will travel to New York City and have a chance to play the Lions a second time, as well as Long Island, but in two weeks, the Red will face Penn, a potentially intimidating opponent.
Holland said that although starting later than other Division I leagues may have put the team at a disadvantage earlier in the season, she thinks Cornell has caught up by now. Besides, Cornell’s Ivy rivals had to work with the same restrictions as the Red did. “Everyone’s on the same timeline now,” she said. Now that we’re in the Ivies, there’s no more room for error. [The team] knows we have to take care of business.”