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This past weekend, Cornell volleyball headed to Virginia to open its season with a three-game fight in the Tropical Smoothie Invitational. The Red went 1-2 on the road and now has its sights on shoring up weakness and keeping complete focus despite dropping two matches. Cornell fell to both James Madison and Drake, but closed out its first weekend of play with an impressive 4 set victory over Hampton.
“I think the last game was the highlight of the weekend,” said junior Carla Sganderlla. “It truly was amazing to see the team get a win for each other. We have such a team-first mentality which makes the win that much better.”
Head coach Trudy Vande Berg does not see this weekend’s 1-2 run as a setback, but as a challenge that the team will need to overcome throughout the season.
“Keeping our composure under pressure and staying disciplined and focused throughout the match [is the biggest challenge for the team].”
The Red kicked off the tournament against undefeated JMU but came up short in a 3-0 loss despite major contributions from seniors Kit McCarthy and Emily Wemhoff, who each had eight kills. However, the big story of the game was the debut of freshman Alena Madar. She had three kills and two digs in her first look at varsity action.
After losing the JMU, the Red was forced to enter the Saturday doubleheader still looking for its first win of the season. Cornell first faced off against the Bulldogs, who proved to be a dominant force and took the match 3-0. Cornell rounded up more blocks and digs (53-52) than the Bulldogs and had only one less kill but still was forced to take a loss.
Senior Chelsea Sincox took on an newfound role for the team and earned herself 13 assists, which combined with sophomore Katie Randolph’s 12 to give the team 25 in the contest. The Red’s defense was strong, but ultimately fell short.
“Chelsea [Sincox] stepped into an unfamiliar role for us and I couldn’t be happier with her performance,” Vande Berg said. “[Senior Kiley McPeek and sophomore Lily Barber] handled some big servers well and helped our team stay organized.”
In the final matchup of the Invitational against Hampton, the Red began to put the pieces together and jumped to a 2-0 lead after taking the first two sets, 25-22 and 25-18. Losing the third set in a tight 25-22 finish, the Red still had time to seal the deal and earn its first win of the season with a dominating fourth set win, 25-11.
Wemhoff, McCarthy and sophomore Samantha Arenas all played a large role in taking the final game of the Invitational, each putting up double digits for kills to help the offense hit a season-best .240. The Red looked sharp as the match progressed with McPeek recording a season-high 16 digs and rounding out her spectacular performance with four of the team’s six aces.
Vande Berg was quick to praise Arenas’s performance this weekend as well as the backcourt the team worked on strengthening this off-season. Those efforts were put on show during the final match of the Invitational.
“Arenas came in and played great for us,” Vande Berg said. “Our backcourt did a great job of controlling the defense and digging some transitional balls.”
As the team looks to kick off the Cornell Invitational this weekend, Vande Berg believes that rest is the best way to prepare. She is relying on all of the hard work that the team put in during the offseason to help carry them to a winning season, regardless of the bumpy start they had thus far.
“We need to relax and let our bodies take over and trust the training,” Vande Berg said. “We will get there, [we] just need to let it happen.”