Vball leads early, but fades to Cornell

In demolishing Columbia 3-0 on Saturday, the volleyball team showed exactly how a great team is supposed dispatch an inferior one. But it was shortcomings against another great squad Friday night that will probably keep the talented Elis out of postseason play this fall.

The sweep of the Lions (5-15, 3-6 Ivy) did little to ease the bruises left by Cornell (15-3, 8-0) in Friday night’s devastating 3-2 loss. With the victory, the Big Red completed its series sweep of the Bulldogs (15-3, 6-2) — Yale earlier fell to Cornell 3-1 on Oct. 8 — and most likely denied the Elis their shot at a repeat Ivy League crown.

Despite taking the first two games and leading the Big Red 28-23 down the home stretch of the third set, the Bulldogs could not hold out for the win and fell in their first five-set match of the year (20-30, 33-35, 32-30, 30-26, 19-17).

“We played hard,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “It wasn’t like we rolled over. With the experience level Cornell has, the drive they had, and that they’ve thought about nothing else for a year but beating Yale, when they were down, they never gave up.”

Middle blocker Renee Lopes ’06 and outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 paced the Bulldogs during the match. Appleman said Lopes played “the game of her life,” amassing a .383 hitting percentage en route to collecting 23 kills. Farrell added a 24 digs and a match-high 25 kills. And in enabling Lopes’ and Farrell’s huge nights, setter Jacqueline Becker ’06 put up 76 assists during the match.

But even with so many Bulldogs putting up impressive numbers, the Big Red players still managed to one-up the Elis. Cornell’s two-time All-Ivy outside hitter Elizabeth Bishop had 25 digs, 12 kills and nine blocks. Middle blocker Joanna Weiss and libero Kelly Kramer played arguably the best games of their careers. Weiss hit a stunning .500 and knocked down a career-high 21 kills, and added eight blocks to help out on the defensive end. Kramer set a new school record with her match-high 39 digs.

The Elis came out of the gates hard, holding Cornell to a .175 hitting percentage while hitting with a .444 accuracy themselves and making just four attack errors. After trading points until reaching an 8-8 tie, middle hitter Kristen Wilk ’09 nailed two kills and Bishop gave up an attack error to give the Bulldogs a 12-9 lead, and the Elis never looked back, eventually taking the set 30-20.

“In the first game they made a lot of hitting mistakes, and we were able to capitalize on that,” Farrell said. “We were playing with a lot of heart, and it showed in our play.”

The first points of the second set saw the Elis continue to dominate the Big Red. After tying the match at four, Yale took the next eight points on Becker’s service turn. But the Bulldogs could not hold onto their lead, and allowed the Big Red to sneak back into the set at 28-28. The two teams traded points for the duration of the game until three consecutive attack errors by Cornell handed the set to Yale.

“We had the lead in Game 2 and we kind of let up,” Appleman said. “Cornell’s a good team, and I felt that we got tentative in our serving and they took advantage. They came out and they never gave up.”

Late in the third set, with the Elis ahead 28-23, it seemed as though the Bulldogs might pull off the unthinkable and sweep Cornell. But Cornell’s more experienced, older team — which included just one sophomore who saw consistent playing time, compared to the three freshmen and two sophomores on the court for Yale — fought back from the deficit to win the set 32-30.

Cornell took the fourth game 30-26 to force a decisive fifth frame, which is played to just 15 points. In the final game, the Big Red and the Elis tied the score 11 times, including a stalemate at 17-17, but two consecutive blocks from Cornell secured the set and the match for the Big Red.

On the heels of their demoralizing loss, the Bulldogs’ win the next day over Columbia (30-23, 30-8, 30-12) was as much a show of their focus and mental toughness as it was of their physical ability.

“It was really hard to play again after such an emotional loss to Cornell,” Farrell said. “But we realized that our season wasn’t over and we still had games to play and teams to beat. Columbia is a weaker team so we had to pump ourselves up a lot more in order to get us to play at the level we needed to play at.”

Lopes again led the Elis, this time with 14 kills and five blocks, while Ally Mendenhall ’09 spearheaded the team’s defensive efforts with 12 digs. The Bulldogs’ defense smothered the Lions, holding them to a negative hitting percentage in two of the three sets while posting 19 blocks and 56 digs.

If Cornell can keep its two-game advantage over the Bulldogs in the league standings, a distinct possibility considering that the Big Red has already beaten every Ivy League team at least once, the Elis will miss out on the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. But the Bulldogs are not looking so far into their season, and intend to focus instead on upcoming home games against Penn and Princeton next weekend.

“Having only one home weekend left is sad, but it will be a good one,” libero Anja Perlebach ’07 said. “Penn and Princeton will bring tough games, and hopefully we can get a good crowd behind us and come out with two wins.”

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