September 1, 2009

Volleyball Trains, Bonds as Season Approaches

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As the start of the volleyball preseason looms on the horizon, the Red has been working since the thursday of Orientation Week to make sure its senior leadership and its influx of new blood are combining together as smoothly as possible. This year, the freshmen will outnumber the seniors seven to three, rookie head coach Sarah Bernson is looking to hit the ground running, and the team will be starting its season an entire week earlier than in previous years. No one can say that the season will be lacking in excitement.
Following a five-year stint as the Red’s assistant coach, Bernson took over the top spot this year following the departure of former head coach Deitre Collins-Parker for a head coaching position at Sand Diego State.
Sitting in a straight-backed chair in her new office — she declined to be interviewed from behind her desk — Bernson spoke confidently of her inaugural season and her team’s fledgling chemistry. Tall and with her blonde hair pulled back in a bun, Bernson looked like she might be about to head out for some hitting drills herself.[img_assist|nid=37712|title=Wearing the ‘C’|desc=Senior libero and co-captain Megan Mushovic will play an integral role on a team that features seven freshmen.|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=478]
“Practice has been outstanding,” she said. “Team chemistry wise, it’s been pretty fantastic.”
Although Bernson stayed in Ithaca over the summer, the team arrived on campus officially on August 20th and the team’s first practice was that Friday. While some players were able to get together over the summer either independently or at a Cornell camp in Ithaca, for some this was the first time they would be assigning an actual face to the summer’s email correspondences. A picnic at Buttermilk Falls set the tone for the introductory weekend.
“It was a nice introduction,” Bernson said, “to be able to sit down face-to-face, finally.”
Freshman Alice Cope echoed her coach’s enthusiasm in the wake of the team’s first week and a half of organized practice.
“The girls are all awesome,” said Cope, a 6-1 middle blocker from Costa Mesa, California. “I already feel that I know them really well.”
Chemistry off the court is always important for a team hoping to play as any sort of cohesive unit, but it can be even more vital for teams incorporating a large number of newcomers all at once.
“Bonding and being able to have fun with each other is one of the most important things,” Cope said.
Cope said she and her fellow underclassmen have been immediately embraced by the team leadership, including the Red’s co-captains, seniors Megan Mushovic and Juliana Rogers. Senior middle blocker Jessica Misse, the third and final senior on the team, sat out her previous two seasons because of injuries. Junior outside hitters Alessa Cekauskas and Erin McCarthy round out this season’s cadre of upperclassmen, bringing the total to five, of the 17-member squad.
Libero Mushovic is no stranger to responsibility, however. As a junior Mushovic was named to the All-Ivy first team for her second-straight season, and her 5.6 digs per set was fifth in the nation. Middle blocker Rogers led the Red in kills per set as a junior, with 2.66, and was second the team in terms of total kills (221).
“[The freshmen] have blended in really nicely,” Mushovic said. “There’s definitely going to be some contribution from the class soon. It was a pretty smooth transition.”
Rogers pointed out the extra depth the Class of 2013 should bring to the Red, something that has not always been true of the squad that went 10-15 overall last season, 9-5 Ivy.
“There’s a lot of depth in all of the positions this year” Rogers said, “which is really important. I think that the freshmen are really going to be great for the team,” Rogers said. “They really want to get out there and prove themselves.”
An Ivy League policy change last year has moved up the start of the preseason for all Ivy fall teams, something that cuts off a week pure practice, but that makes the Ivy schedule closer in length to other Division 1 teams, many of whom started competing in tournaments last week, Rogers said.
“I think [the extra week] is going to be good for us,” Mushovic said. So while the team may be forced to work out more of its early problems during the course of actual competition — rather than the safer environment of the practice courts — “[Competitions are] some of the best places to work out bugs,” Mushovic explained.
The Red will start out its preseason with an away tournament in Fairfax, Virginia beginning on September 4th. The Red will compete against Morehead State, George Mason and Kent State as part of the George Mason Patriot Invitational.
Bernson was cautiously optimistic about her team’s chances this early in the season.
“It’s hard to say the level of the competition right now since they’re all just starting out like us,” she said. “But there are definitely going to be possibilities for victories.”
As in past seasons, the Red will be using these early tournaments as a warm-up for its conference matches.
“We’re going to use the preseason to work line-ups out — and get ready for the Ivy season,” Bernson said.
Reflecting a slight change in coaching philosophy from her predecessor, Bernson implied that her line-ups may be more fluid this season than they have been in the past, emphasizing a policy of team-wide flexibility.
“Playing time will be potentially based on how individuals match up against opponents,” she said.