On Saturday’s career night for Cornell volleyball senior captain Emily Wemhoff, it was fitting that the outside hitter was able to score the match-winning point against Columbia the same way she had done all night — a hard kill breaking through a formidable block.
“During that last play, Columbia’s middle blocker Chichi [Ikwuazom] had a lot of blocks, so I really didn’t want to run that play with our setter,” Wemhoff said. “But then I realized that it had been working all game, so I just went for it, swung with all my might, and it was a kill.”
In Cornell’s (5-5) annual Ivy League opener against Columbia (5-5), Wemhoff recorded a career-high 23 kills, the only member of the Red to reach double digits in that category. Her efforts Saturday earned her Ivy League Player of the Week honors.
“In the past starting Ivy [League play], we haven’t started with intensity and fire,” Wemhoff said. “We were able to do that today and having the first win under our belts is a great way to start conference [play].”
For the most part, Saturday’s match saw the return of a familiar foe to Newman Arena. Although Columbia did have a significant offseason departure in its two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year Cassie Wes, the Lions still showcased its trademark scrappy, defensive style of play this weekend.
“[Columbia’s] libero graduated and she pretty much dug the whole court for them last year, so that was definitely different,” said head coach Trudy Vande Berg. “But aside from that, they still played with the same style, same scrappiness and same things that they always do.”
That scrappiness was immediately on display in the first two sets of the match. While the Red managed to take the first set in a 27-25 decision, Columbia evened the score with a hard fought 26-24 win in the second.
“We made a lot of errors in those first two sets and it made us a little more frantic than we usually are,” Vande Berg said. “But I thought we settled down after the second set and … we started to execute and play our game.”
Following some tight play in the first two sets, an 11-2 run in the middle of the third set gave Cornell some breathing room for a 25-19 victory. That momentum would carry over into the fourth set, where the Red sealed the deal in a 25-18 decision.
“We had some tough serving [where] a few people went on a few runs in the last two sets, and that was a big factor,” said senior captain Kiley McPeek. “We also just picked up our hitting where people were putting the ball away, and that was exciting.”
Against a Columbia team ranked third in the nation for aces per set with 2.09 and notorious for keeping the ball in play, the Red knew it had to be scrappy itself. McPeek recorded a game-high 16 digs, while the team as a whole recorded 60 digs and had great success on the block.
“Digging inside middle is never easy, but it was good that our block was up and able to stop them,” McPeek said. “Whenever we have a good block it’s always easier to dig around them.”
While Cornell holds an all time 52-13 record against the Lions, Saturday’s win represents the first time in several years that the Red have begun Ivy play with a win.
“In my four years here, this is my first 1-0 start [in Ivy League play],” Wemhoff said. “I know we have all the tools to put up a great showing in the Ivy League and I’m excited with what’s to come.”
Cornell will look to continue its Ivy success as it travels to face Harvard and Dartmouth this coming weekend.