Last weekend, volleyball (7-14, 5-7 Ivy) concluded the 2023 home slate by taking down Penn (4-18, 2-10 Ivy) on Saturday Nov. 4, after being swept by Princeton (11-8, 8-3 Ivy) on Friday, Nov. 3.
Early in the first set against the Tigers, the Red found itself dueling hard to keep up with Princeton’s momentum. Cornell managed to cut the deficit to just one after a kill by junior middle blocker Camryn Carlo left the score 7-6 Princeton, but that was the closest the Red would get to the Tigers for the rest of the set.
“We came out pretty flat and just couldn’t get ourselves out of it,” said head coach Trudy Vande Berg.
When the score was deadlocked at 24-14 Princeton, the Red went on a 3-0 run that would push the score to 24-17, but a kill by Princeton’s Mariah Haislip would seal the first set.
“The team went on a little run at the end of the set to push the score to 17,” Vande Berg said.
“Up until that point, they were tentative and afraid to make mistakes, but towards the end they were just like, ‘What’ve we got to lose?’”
The Red evidently brought that mindset into the second set, as it took an early 4-2 lead after two kills by sophomore middle blocker Eliza Konvicka. However, the script seemed to flip immediately, as the Tigers went on a 3-0 run that would grace them with a 5-4 advantage. Much like the first set, Princeton would ride the momentum to take a 15-9 lead, but the Red would cut that deficit to three later on in the set. Cornell’s efforts weren’t enough, however, and the Tigers would take the second set 25-20.
“It’s hard to get a team like Princeton out of its rhythm once we let them get into it,” Vande Berg said. “Even though we started playing better towards the end, which I was really glad to see, I think it was already a little too late.”
The third set was undoubtedly the Red’s best, as it took a 12-11 lead on an ace by junior libero Megan Bickle. The lead would fizzle out quickly, as a 7-2 run by the Tiger’s would give them a four-point cushion. The Red would answer and cut the deficit to one, leading to a Tiger timeout. The stoppage would be detrimental for the Red, as Princeton would go on to win the set and the match on a 5-3 run.
“When we come out tentative like we did in that match, it usually only goes downhill. But this time, the team started to fight a little more as time went on, which really reflects what we’ve been working on in practice,” Vande Berg said.
In the match against Penn the next day, the Red played their last home game of the regular season with tenacity and grit.
“I really spoke to the team about coming out against Penn with more urgency and energy than we did against Princeton. We couldn’t allow ourselves to be tentative again,” Vande Berg said.
The team internalized the advice and swept Penn in three straight sets.
The Red came out firing in the first set and took an 8-4 lead on two kills apiece by senior libero Kate Stration and Konvicka.
“Kate came and played outside hitter for the first time in her career, and she really showed up. [She] did a lot of great things for us,” Vande Berg said.
Stration was one of the four seniors on the team being celebrated on Saturday night. Through her performance, she exemplified the skill and resilience of each of the seniors both on and off of the court. Against Penn, she recorded a career-high 12 kills, two of which she would use in the first set to break the tie of 12 apiece. The Red would go on a 5-0 run that would give it a 17-6 lead it would use to seize the set, 25-17.
Despite the low score of the first set, the Quakers would shake things up in the second by taking an early 6-5 lead on a ball-handling error by the Red. The Red would close the gap after a kill by sophomore setter Doga Ozalp and take a 8-6 lead. The Quaker’s would continue to hang around, but a run highlighted by three aces from Bickle would give Cornell the second set, 25-16.
With momentum firmly on its side, the Red would smash the Quakers in the third set and secure the win, 25-16. The high of the win was still buzzing in Newman Arena as it celebrated the four seniors — Sydney Moore, Rylee Baptiste, Alexa Orent and Kate Striation — who have balanced their academic and athletic goals here at Cornell for four years.
This weekend, the Red hits the road to play its last two matches of the regular season against Brown and Yale.
“In order to get that spot in the Ivy League tournament, things will have to go differently for us. We’re going to have to win two matches against two very great teams, which I think our team has the potential to do,” Vande Berg said. “What’ve we got to lose? Let’s see what happens.”