With two comeback wins against Princeton and Penn this weekend, Cornell volleyball showcased just how much its mental game has improved from last year.
In both its matches this weekend, the Red (8-8, 4-3 Ivy) found itself down 1-0 after the first set, but was able to string together wins in the following three sets to secure the weekend sweep — its first since 2012.
“In the past, we’ve had problems … with being really complacent if we’re down,” said senior captain Kiley McPeek, whose weekend performance earned her Ivy League Player of the Week. “This year, we’re prepping on how if we lose a point or a set, we can turn it around right away, and I feel like that’s what’s been helping us finish games in three or four sets.”
Cornell’s improvement in its mental game and closing matches is an especially welcome sight for a team which has visibly struggled in recent years. Last year, the team played seven of its 14 conference matches to a full five sets.
“Last year, even when we won a set we wouldn’t take what worked into the next set,” said sophomore Samanta Arenas. “We would be satisfied with that and let up a little bit, which led to a lot of four and five set games. This year, we’re focused on finishing the game all the way through to 25 rather than becoming complacent when we hit 20 or 21.”
The Red’s comeback performances are even more notable when considering its opponents.
In its first match against Princeton (12-5, 5-2), Cornell handed the two-time reigning conference champion its first Ivy loss of the season. The Red was also able to snap the Tigers’ seven-match winning streak in the matchup for Cornell’s first win in the series since 2013.
With its following match against Penn (8-8, 3-4), the Red was able to secure sole possession of fourth place in the conference standings — a spot which had previously been a tie between Cornell and Penn.
“The win [against Princeton] was really exciting and everyone on the team just clicked and was able to cover for each other,” McPeek said. “We were high off that win, and it was great that we were able to carry over that momentum and replicate our performance against Penn.”
Along with the team’s chemistry, Cornell was aided with quite a few career performances during its comeback wins. Both junior Kara Rogers and Arenas shined offensively over the weekend, with the former recording a career-high 15 kills on a .455 hitting percentage against Princeton and the latter recording a career-high 20 kill, 20 dig double double against Penn.
On the defensive end, McPeek served as an anchor, recording a career-high 35 digs against Princeton and following up with another 24 against Penn. McPeek’s weekend performance awarded her the Ivy League Player of the Week, with the Princeton outing in particular putting her down as 13th in Cornell history for digs in a set and third overall for digs in a four-set match.
“We were incredibly disciplined on our block and on defense [and] took care of the Princeton players that they usually depend on in tight situations, hence Kiley getting 35 digs,” said head coach Trudy Vande Berg.
The Red will look to carry over the momentum from this weekend as it begins the second half of conference play on the road against Columbia on Saturday, Oct. 21.