November 13, 2008

Three Seniors Carry Volleyball Through Times of Transition

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Every graduating class is special — any coach will tell you that. But sometimes a class comes along that, for whatever reason, really does stand out in a coach’s mind.
For volleyball head coach Deitre Collins-Parker, the seniors of 2008-09 are just such a group: captain Hilary Holland, Emily Borman and Kathryn Woodbury remain of the original fab five. (Jessica Misse will stay with the Red for another year, and Lia Gaetano no longer plays volleyball for Cornell). They were Collins-Parker’s first — the first class she recruited, the first class she will see graduate after a full, four-year cycle. Their departure will be full of memories both amazing and bittersweet.
As soon as she was hired as the head coach at Cornell, Collins-Parker said she “hit the ground running, and the first people I saw were Emily [Borman] and Hilary [Holland].”
[img_assist|nid=33562|title=Stand by me|desc=Senior captain Hilary Holland (2) sets up blocker classmate Emily Borman (15) in one of their final matches in Ithaca.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Borman and Holland were both competing in the Junior Olympics. A friend of Collins-Parker also recruiting at the Olympics recommended that she check the two out. This advice was greatly appreciated by Collins-Parker, who had no previous experience trying to recruit for the academically rigorous, not to mention expensive, Ivy League.
“I didn’t know where to start,” Collins-Parker said.
It wasn’t easy convincing a bunch of young players who had starred in their high school and club programs to come and play for a new coach on a team that already had a strong starting line-up. The fact that the five all decided to go for it is something Collins-Parker will never forget.
“They took a chance and came,” she said. “I felt like they took a big chance on me, that it was going to be OK going in.”
Despite the fact that freshman year involved a lot of bench time for the new players, Collins-Parker said the team as a whole was influenced by the new arrivals.
The new girls were immediate competition, Collins-Parker said, competition for spots that upperclassmen had assumed were already spoken for. Collins-Parker still remembers the reactions of the older players to Borman’s impressive vertical leap test.
“They have worked so hard,” she said. “Even though they didn’t play all the time, they definitely made the older team better. … They were just as important to our success the others.”
And the Red was very successful during the first two years the quintet played for the Red.
Under Collins-Parker, Cornell won back-to-back-to-back Ivy titles, a run that cemented its legacy as a volleyball powerhouse from the 2004-2005 season until 2006-2007.
The past two years have seen Holland, Borman and Woodbury mature into even stronger athletes, as well as leaders. At the same time, they have watched their team go from Ivy champion to underdog as the Red entered into an intensive rebuilding process and fell out of title contention.
“I feel bad that they don’t get to go out on top,” Collins-Parker said. “Because they still deserve it. They got caught in the building phase. But they have been amazing.”
Holland, the Red’s starting setter, is also the team’s sole captain. The 5-11 Applied Economics and Management major hails from Stockton, Calif.
In four years with the Red, she has consistently put up big numbers, improving her assists, digs and aces totals every year. Last year, Holland recorded a triple-double against Harvard, notching 10 kills, 10 digs as well as 50 assists. Her average this year of 9.56 assists per game places her in the top-6 in the Ivy League,
Holland, who plans on attending law school after graduation, stayed in Ithaca for two summers in a row in order to work out and prepare for the season.
“I feel a sense of accomplishment,” Holland said. “It’s kind of bittersweet. I think it’s time to be done, but at the same time I’m going to miss it a lot.”
Middle blocker Emily Borman, a Biological Sciences major, is also a Golden State native (there are a total of four on the team.). A second team All-Ivy selection in 2007, Borman led the Red in blocks her junior year, good for fourth in the Ivies.
She has improved her hitting percentage each year, and is currently fourth in the Ivy League, with .353 percent. Her average number of blocks per game — 0.66, places among the League’s top-ten in that category.
Borman and Holland have been playing with and against each other for a long time, going back to when they starred on opposing club teams in Northern California.
“It has been great to play with her all these year,” Holland said. “I think that we know each other really well. I always know where she’s going to be, and sometimes I don’t even have to communicate with her, I just know.”
Rounding out the senior trio is Kathryn Woodbury, a 6-2 Policy Analysis and Management major from Amherst, N.H., was the first of her class to see real playing time. The right side hitter, whom everyone on the team calls Woody, is always willing to find another way to improve, according to Collins-Parker.
“Woody is just so happy, so polite,” she said. “She always thanks you for helping her. … You just love coaching her. I absolutely love her.”
This year Woodbury is ranked sixth in the Ivies in blocks, averaging 0.79 per game.
Senior Night is always an emotional time for the team, as seniors and upperclassmen alike try not to think about the elephant in the room — at least until after they have the game in the bag.
“I knew that this class would be hardest to let go,” Collins-Parker said.
A team player until the end, Holland said she has a simple wish for her last game in a Cornell uniform.
“I just want to end on a win,” Holland said. “If I played the best game of my life, I’d be happy. But if I played the worst game, and we still won, that’d be fine, too.”