September 4, 2009

V-Ball To Open Season At Patriot Invitational

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For the first time ever, Cornell and the rest of the Ivy League will open their non-conference schedules just one week behind the rest of the NCAA, rather than facing the typical two-weekend delay. That’s not the only new thing for Cornell volleyball this season; in addition to welcoming seven freshmen to the squad, Sarah Bernson will debut today as the ninth Wendy Schaenen ’79 Head Coach of Volleyball.
The Red is set to play its first match of the season later today against Morehead State. The team will take on host George Mason and Kent State tomorrow to round out its stay at the Patriot Classic. Just a few short months on the job and Bernson is already excited for the team to get a quick start to the non-conference schedule.
“I think it’s good to get out of the norm,” Bernson said. “With the Ivy League being one of the smaller conferences, we can get comfortable with the Ivy League, because we know the other Ivies’ systems.”
Cornell won’t know what to expect from its three opponents this weekend. The last time the Red played against Morehead State was in 1998, three years prior to the last matchup against Kent State, in 2001. The most recent meeting between Cornell and George Mason took place in 1994.
“Out of conference, we see teams we don’t know — we don’t know the pace they run,” Bernson said. “It’s good to face things you don’t know, so you can see how well you adapt on the fly within your own system.”
While Cornell’s players won’t know what pace to expect from their opponents, Bernson expects a quick pace from the Red. The team has been working on increasing the pace of their offense, focusing on quicker attacks.
“We’re trying to run a faster offense, and a lot of that will depend on ball control and how consistent we can be with setting the offense,” Bernson said. “But that’s our goal — to keep a fast pace, and we’ve been keeping a fast pace all throughout practice.”
Another change for the Red will be with personnel decisions. In its three matches this weekend, Cornell is expected to use numerous different packages on the court. Depth at every position will allow the Red to mix and match throughout the weekend, working around sophomore setter Jordan Reeder and senior libero Megan Mushovic.
“Right now our chemistry is so strong that everyone is comfortable playing next to anyone else,” Bernson noted. “It’s nice to have the ability to mix and have that interchangeability. We can use one of the other setters as a right side, or a middle or outside at the right side. We can match up based on how well one player blocks or swings. There’s definitely opportunities for everybody to get court time.”
With interchangeability comes unpredictability. This season, Cornell will often take advantage of having two middle blockers in the front row — one playing out of the middle and the other playing right side.
“If there are two middles on the court, we’ll let them work it out on their own,” Bernson said of who will play middle and who will play right side. “It’s been fun to see that they’re taking ownership of the system. They’re invested in it and they’re excited.”
This weekend, Cornell will have a chance to try out its new fast-paced, versatile offense against three strong teams that have already tested their own systems. Moorehead State started the season 3-0 to win the Comfort Inn and Suites Classic. George Mason went an even 2-2 at the D.C. Volleyball Challenge. Kent State is the lone winless team at 0-5, but they stand a strong chance of getting their first win this weekend in Fairfax.[img_assist|nid=37811|title=Dig it|desc=Sophomore outside Meagan Tatum and the volleyball team will start the season with some tough non-conference competition.|link=node|align=left|width=336|height=240]
“They’re definitely the level of competition we want to play,” Bernson said. “They aren’t top-10 programs, but we’re playing someone we have the opportunity to beat and we have to be our best to beat them. We want to test ourselves right now in the preseason. We have opportunities for victories, but we have to do our part.”
For Cornell, the first weekend of the season isn’t about tallying non-conference wins, though it would be a nice bonus. Instead, the Red is focused on using its three non-conference tournaments to play a lot of volleyball and perfect its system before Ivy League play begins.
“Non-conference play is about seeing what we’re about as we head into Ivy League play,” Bernson said. “What we’re focusing on with the team is to execute our system that we’ve been developing the past few weeks and not to focus on outcome, but just work on our system and playing with different personal. If we can hold to that for three matches, we’ll be better off for the rest of the season.
“That’s what we’ll be evaluating ourselves on: Did we play our game, did we play the speed that we wanted, did we execute the tempos we wanted at the level that we are focused on. If we do that, even without W’s, then we’re successful, because that will make us more cohesive and stronger the next time we play.”