November 3, 2008

Volleyball Drops to Fourth After Two Losses

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To have something so close and then have to watch it slip away is often harder than if you had never hoped to be able to achieve it in the first place. The volleyball team came very close to defeating a strong Penn team this weekend, but despite stellar play that was at times spectacular, the Red couldn’t come up with the big plays when it needed them most, falling in the fifth set, 3-2. Cornell also competed against Princeton, but was outplayed by a balanced Tiger defense and attack that refused to let Cornell steal a set, supported by a boisterously supportive home crowd.
The twin losses moved the Red (7-13, 6-4 Ivy), which had been in a tie for first as recently as two weeks ago, back down into fourth place, behind the league leader Yale, Princeton (14-3, 8-1 Ivy) and Penn (10-11, 6-3 Ivy). [img_assist|nid=33223|title=Vertical leap|desc=Senior middle blocker Emily Borman (center) notched a game-high 10 blocks on Friday against Princeton. The Red eventually lost to the Tigers and lost a close five-setter to Penn the next day.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
A disappointed Cornell team had conflicted emotions in the aftermath of the two matches. The Penn loss was all the more painful because of how close Cornell came to winning it.
“I think it’s harder, because we played so well and still lost,” said senior captain Hilary Holland. “The whole match I thought we were going to win. I think that that makes it more frustrating.”
Friday’s battle never reached the level of drama the Penn match did, but it had its share of close moments.
In the first set, the two teams were tied at 16 before Princeton pulled away to win, 25-20. The Tigers took an early lead to start the second game, but the Red did a good job rallying, drawing within one, 19-18. The comeback was short-lived, however, and some powerhouse play from Princeton, especially from senior middle blocker Lindsey Ensign, who finished the match with a .423 hitting percentage, pushed the home team ahead for the win 25-21.
Ensign wasn’t the only Tiger to have a great game at the Red’s expense. Senior right side hitter Kelli Grobe impressed Cornell head coach Deitre Collins-Parker with her ability to “get key points at key times,” and freshman defender Hillary Ford continued to impress during her rookie year with 22 assists. Ford is the sister of Cornell’s multi-sport star Nathan Ford, and was heavily recruited by Cornell, before deciding not to join her brother.
The third set was more of the same for both teams, and Cornell fell 25-21 again, for the match.
“[Princeton] was stronger than us,” Collins-Parker said. “We didn’t play great and we would have had to, to play better than them.”
There were bright spots for Cornell throughout the Red, including its 10 team blocks, six more than Princeton.
“I didn’t think we played horrible,” Collins-Parker said. “They had a middle we just couldn’t stop. The score isn’t always indicative of how we played.”
Senior middle blocker Emily Borman, who led the Red on Friday night with 10 kills and a .375 hitting percentage, agreed.
“It’s really frustrating,” she said. “I think we really can compete with Princeton. I felt we could have taken it to the next level, taken them to five game, and won it.”
“I think we played well, but kind of in spurts,” Holland said, singling out the third game as an example. “It was just too little too late. With a good team, you can’t give them two games.”
The Red seemed to have rebounded the next night, as it started well against Penn at the rowdy Palestra, in Philadelphia, a city still crowing from its baseball team’s recent World Series victory. The two teams battled back and forth for points, and it was too close to call for most of the set. A serving error by Cornell late in the set hurt the Red, as did a well-timed ace from Penn’s Kathryn Turner. Despite the Red hitting .306 percent, it lost in extra points, 29-27.
The Red acted as if its first loss had never happened in the second set, however. After taking an early lead, Cornell never allowed Penn any chance at a comeback, winning the set easily, 25-11. The Red held Penn to an impressive -.033 hitting percentage, while itself hitting .407 percent, with only one attacking error. The Red’s blocking was especially sweet given the attention the team had given it during recent practices.
“We really picked up our blocking,” Borman said. “For the past week that’s what we’ve been focusing on.”
Cornell won the third set without too much trouble, as well, 25-17. Freshman outside hitter Meagan Tatum hit .800 percent on five attempts. Tatum finished the match with 17 kills, as well as a season-high .417 hitting percentage.
The Red may have started to become a little complacent after earning its 2-1 game advantage, but Penn definitely did not. The Quakers made some changes and took the fourth set, 25-20.
“I have to give Penn credit,” Collins-Parker said. “They really came back in game four. They made some changes. They had to make changes, and they did.”
Penn adjusted in order to try and counteract Cornell’s excellent blocking, and in the process discovered the way to defeat tits opponents.
“The found the weakness in the type of defense we were playing,” Collins-Parker said. The Quakers started hitting high balls over the blockers into the right corner of the court, and by the time the Red adjusted, in the fifth set, it was too late.
In the fifth set, both teams battle back and forth, but Cornell made some errors, which the Quakers capitalized on, something it had been doing all night. An ace by Penn’s Julia Swanson with the set tied at 14 all pushed Penn over the edge, and the Quakers won, 16-14.
“It was just a matter of the small errors in the close games that caused us to lose,” Borman said.
Despite the painful final outcome for the Red, Collins-Parker sounded hopeful about the team’s future, a future that she said seems bright if the team continues to play like it did against Penn.
“You have to still be happy with the strides we made in that game,” she said. “My goal for us was to continue to get better, we have to focus on that. The wins and losses will take care of themselves.”