September 5, 2011

VOLLEYBALL | Struggles Continue Despite Fast Start

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After starting off the Cornell Invitational on Friday with an encouraging straight-set victory over Delaware State (0-3), the Red (1-3) dropped three consecutive matches to UTEP, Niagara and American.

The opening matchup with Delaware State saw Cornell sweep the Hornets, 25-19, 25-15, 25-16. The volleyball squad fell in straight sets to UTEP, 25-12, 25-14, 25-17, and to Niagara, 25-14, 25-22, 26-24. After taking the first set against American, 15-25, the Red lost the next three, 25-17, 25-17, 25-15.

Head coach Sarah Bernson noted the play of sophomore outside hitters Janel Forte and Kelly Marble as one of the bright spots of the tournament. Marble had 12 kills in the loss to American, while Forte led the scoring in the Red’s opening victory with 11 kills and no errors on 22 attempts. The performance also earned Forte a spot on the all-tournament team.

“I knew I had to come to play,” Forte said.  “I just had to focus on playing my position so that the players around me would feel confident.”

Sophomore hitter Sierra Young contributed with eight kills, and sophomore blocker Rachel D’Epagnier added seven kills of her own. Senior setter Jordan Reeder had 34 assists. The Red’s strong defensive effort included 17 blocks, highlighted by six from D’Epagnier, who is now second in the Ivy League in blocks.

But the Red failed to continue the high level of play in its next three matches.

“We struggled most with making adjustments to opponent’s changes,” Bernson said.

Forte added that the Red also had trouble with “siding out.”

“When the other team got the serve, we needed to get the ball back in our hands for it to be our serve again,” she said. “We need to stick within our system and be a quick team.”

Quickness, according to Forte, is one of the team’s keys to success going forward.

When looking at the tournament as a whole, consistency was the main concern.

“We know we had moments where we played crisp, clean and very composed, and we had moments where we let opponents dictate our play,” Bernson explained. “Our task is to be more consistent and sustain those execution moments longer and minimize our opponent’s ability to impact our play.”

Another factor in the Red’s struggles was inexperience. These matches were the first of the season for the Red, while Niagra (4-4) had already played four games. American (3-3) came in with three matches under its belt. UTEP (8-0), the tournament champion, entered the tournament with a record of 4-0. The Red also had less opportunity to practice compared to the teams it faced in the tournament.

“That definitely factored into it — especially with regard to chemistry,” Bernson said. “I tried different lineups throughout the tournament, trying to find a lineup that will suit us well. Unlike our opponents, who had three to four games to figure that out, we’re still playing catch up.”

In addition, three freshmen saw significant playing time for the Red.

“They did well,” Forte said.  “It’s just hard to come in, especially as a freshman at Cornell, and quickly learn the system.”

The Red moves on to the Virginia Commonwealth tournament this weekend.

“We just need to be disciplined,” Forte said when asked what the Red needs to improve upon. “We need to be focused on running our game … and staying with our system.”  Bernson added right side blocking as another area in which the Red can step up.

Although the team did not get off to as good of a start as it hoped, the atmosphere around the locker room is positive.

“We feel confident,” Forte said. “It’s a learning experience. We’re going to take it and learn from it and move forward.”

“There isn’t a doubt of what we can do,” Bernson added. “We just have to figure out how to make it happen more often.”

Original Author: Ben Horowitz