Almost 1,000 miles from Ithaca, Cornell’s volleyball team will compete in the Midwest this weekend to take part in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Kangaroo Classic. The Red will take on the host school, as well as Bradley and Nebraska at Omaha over a two-day event. The Red, currently sitting at 2-1, is looking to make a statement at the tournament.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to play teams from another region so far away,” said senior blocker Macey Wilson. “Getting to play those teams will challenge our team in a whole new way.”
Head coach Trudy Vande Berg similarly said she was looking forward to the opportunity to go against a different group of colleges than the schools the team usually plays.
“It is exciting to see what we can do against teams from a different part of the country,” Vande Berg said. “I’m also very excited to get a few of our players closer to home so they can play in front of family and friends.”
Tournaments give the team a wide array of different opponents and can help get the Red on track for the upcoming season, according to sophomore Carla Sganderlla.
“Playing in tournaments with various teams always ends up being exciting and competitive,” Sganderlla said. “Tournaments give us the opportunity to find our rhythm as a team which is important when we have six new players this year.”
On the road trip, the team will be facing a competitive group, but are confident in their prospects, much like last weekend when the team was able to secure a second place finish in the 2016 Cornell Invitational.
The weekend began with a 3-1 win over Colgate, followed by a tough 0-3 loss to James Madison. The women then went on to beat Marist in a solid victory to cap off the weekend.
The season opener proved to be a thriller, with the first set itself going to 27-25. Set scores were 27-25, 18-25, 25-18, 25-21. According to Vande Berg, it is always important to start off on the right foot, and it was no different here.
“It was huge,” Vande Berg said. “We had trouble closing last season so our ability to fight for the win against Colgate in that first set shows how far we have come.”
The Red went on to drop the next set before coming back strong and winning two back-to-back. Cornell as a whole outperformed Colgate in nearly all statistical metrics, but there was one player who stood out: freshman Jenna Phelps.
“[Jenna] had an incredible debut against Colgate and for the entire weekend,” Vande Berg said “Having a middle that can score efficiently opens things up for our pin hitters.”
Phelps had a perfect game with zero errors and tacked on nine kills.
The next day started off on a lower note, as the girls fell to James Madison, 0-3 in the morning. Set scores were 17-25, 16-25 and 18-25. Cornell struggled with its offense, only connecting on around 17 percent of the hits.
Later that evening, the women avenged their loss with a triumphant win over Marist. Following a closely contested first set, the tone was set for a tight competition. Cornell edged out a 2-0 set advantage before giving up the third set. Marist was able to keep the momentum going taking a commanding 18-9 lead in the fourth set, before Cornell came back and sealed the victory in a win-by-two situation.
Vande Berg cited this as another example of the team’s improved ability to close out tight games this season. Despite the loss, she said she saw positives in the defeat
“No real lows [against James Madison],” she said. “We did a great job of fighting and adjusting throughout each of the matches. James Madison is a very good team and I think we played well against them, even in the loss.”
The Red hopes to continue the strong play at this weekend’s tournament.
“I look forward to seeing us each improve individually and as a team and then coming home with three more wins,” said junior Kit McCarty.
The Red has a 1-0 all-time record against UMKC while this is the squad’s first meeting with Bradley and Nebraska-Omaha. Because of the team’s unfamiliarity with the opponents, Cornell is going into this weekend prepared for anything.
“We need to serve a bit more aggressively but other than that, just keep learning, working hard and getting better every day,” Vande Berg said.
The women find strength in the camaraderie that they have developed over the years to give them the extra edge they need.
“We are all very competitive athletes, so I know the desire to win is always present,” Sganderlla said. “No matter if we do win or if we lose, there is a camaraderie like no other team I have been a part of between us.”
McCarty agreed that the bonds between women on the team are incredibly important.
“My favorite part of being on Big Red Volleyball is getting to compete alongside my best friends, my teammates,” McCarty said.
This weekend will prove to be a weekend in which the women can establish their footing and propel forward.
“I think we are just getting used to playing with each other and we will only get better and better each game,” McCarty said. The junior was named to the Cornell Invitational All-Tournament Team last weekend along with junior Emily Wemhoff.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back out on the court and having a successful weekend with my teammates,” Sganderlla said. “I know that we all enjoy playing in competitive matches with teams that will challenge us.”