“We know we can’t lose.”

In just five words, outside hitter Shannon Farrell ’07 summed up the pressure on the volleyball team to beat Cornell tonight.

Cornell (14-3, 7-0 Ivy), the only conference team to defeat the Elis (15-2, 6-1) in the first half of Ivy League play, is just one game ahead of Yale in the league standings, and the Bulldogs are eager to hand the Big Red their first Ancient Eight loss.

“We have nothing to lose,” Farrell said. “There’s just that sense of urgency to go out there and grab it.”

In the first portion of the league season, Cornell and Yale distinguished themselves as the teams to beat. With seven and six wins, respectively, no other team has been able to close in on the two top spots. The outcome of tonight’s game will likely determine the conference title as well as the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that comes with it.

“You’re looking at the cream of the crop of the Ivies so far going against each other,” Yale head coach Erin Appleman said. “I think the match-up is going to be huge, and I hope to get a huge crowd.”

On paper, Yale and Cornell have posted nearly identical numbers. They share a high kills-per-game mark (16.2) and a correspondingly low errors-per-game record (1.2). Largely thanks to Becker’s 12.92 assists per game, Yale holds the slight edge over Cornell in that category, with 15.2 versus 14.8.

Defensively, the teams are relatively even. Yale averages more digs per game (18.8), but Cornell, led by junior middle Katie Rademacher, is a better blocking team (2.8 blocks per game).

With such an even distribution of skill, tonight’s game will come down to which team commits the fewest errors and executes the fundamentals best. When the Elis last faced the Big Red, a series of mental and communication errors cost the Bulldogs several leads and eventually lost them the match.

“We just need to play better than when we played them last time,” Farrell said. “We should have beaten them. There were just so many little balls we should have gotten up or balls that were dropped without anyone going for them.”

One major challenge for the Bulldogs tonight will be defense. Middles Renee Lopes ’06 and Kristin Wilk ’09 will probably bear the brunt of the blocking burden, caused by the onslaught of unstoppable Cornell outside hitter Elizabeth Bishop. The last time Bishop faced the Elis, she knocked down 21 kills and scooped up 12 digs.

Though Bishop may have caused the most problems for the Elis in their first faceoff of the season, the Big Red’s advantage is that, like the Elis, they draw their strength from their entire team, rather than a single talented player.

“I think Cornell will be our biggest competition the second time around,” Lopes said. “They’re a very solid team. They have strong players in every position. They’re definitely beatable, but it’s tough because there’s no real weakness of theirs we can exploit.”

The Elis continue their Empire State competition this weekend when they host Columbia (5-13, 3-4) on Saturday afternoon.

Overall, the Elis’ outcome this weekend depends on whether or not they can play the type of volleyball that has brought them so much success in the first half of their season.

“I think the first time we played them we were up in every game and this time we have to finish competing,” Appleman said. “We just have to play our game and compete at the level we should be at.”

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