Libero Captain Melissa Cairo ’18 and outside hitters Shirin Tooloee ’18 and Casey Tierney ’18 combined for 10 service aces to power the volleyball team through a comeback win, three sets to two, on Brown’s Senior Day match against Harvard Saturday. Rookie outsider hitter Gabrielle Moriconi ’21 also posted a career-high 18 kills in the victory, which snapped Brown’s five-game losing streak.
After losing in a close 3-1 match against Dartmouth (8-13, 4-8 Ivy) Friday, the Bears (7-16, 2-10) were eager to bounce back. “I was a little hard on them last night,” said Head Coach Diane Short of Friday’s game. “I was very disappointed, and so were they. … I told them, ‘Look, you gotta play for the seniors tomorrow.’ You want to end it on a good note.”
After equalizing two Harvard (12-9, 7-5) match-score leads and narrowly taking the fifth set 15-13, Bruno could not have ended their home-court matches for the season on a more positive note. The fifth set felt “fantastic,” Cairo said. “It was like a movie ending.”
The Bears quickly fell behind 5-2 in the first set, and were caught on their heels defensively and lacking in offensive precision. Though Brown utilized increasingly complex attacks as the match progressed, its defense still struggled against Harvard’s surprise tips, and Bruno dropped the first set 18-25.
The second set opened with a tone-setting combination block by Moriconi and Courtney Palm ’19. Brown and Harvard went point-for-point until the Bears gained an 11-9 edge and never looked back. Between discovering a weakness in the Crimson’s inability to effectively return short serves and utilizing a full range of deceptive set plays, Bruno scrambled Harvard’s defense and took the set 25-20.
The momentum swung back the Crimson’s way in the third set, as Harvard took advantage of a suddenly sluggish Brown defense. Harvard stepped up its blocking in particular, thwarting Bruno’s cross-court spike attempts and swiftly claiming the set 12-25.
But the Crimson’s lead was short-lived, and the Bears exploded into the fourth set with an uncontested six-point streak. A well-called timeout and a few controversial calls in Harvard’s favor put Bruno’s opposition back in the competition, but the Bears stayed calm and composed.
“Once we started extending the play, we were winning points,” Short said. “Volleyball is about having no fear, because every mistake is a point. You gotta go out and you gotta be aggressive, and you can’t be afraid to do this or do that.”
Fearlessness indeed characterized Bruno’s play, as it found ways to overpower Harvard’s blocking and confuse its defense. Rookie setters Emma Chow ’21 and Bailie Salk ’21 successfully ran multiple set plays, registering a combined 43 assists and three kills in the match. Bruno claimed the set 25-23, taking the Bears to a fifth set for only the second time since conference play began.
The tension was palpable when the Crimson opened the last set with three unanswered points, but Coach Short was not worried. “Even though we were down 0-3, I felt we could win the set and they all felt it too,” she said. Brown rallied to take the lead at 5-4, after which neither team had a lead larger than two points. In the set, Bruno’s three seniors each had a service ace and Moriconi posted four kills, the last of which secured the stanza and the match victory for the Bears.
“The seniors … we’ve dedicated our entire lives to the sport,” Cairo said. “The entire team’s parents are here, and just playing for all the people that have supported us for so long — it’s a really fun way to end it.”
“I’m so proud of the seniors, performing like they did,” Short said. “I’m very fond of them. They’ve just done incredible things, not only being on the volleyball team but with their teammates, and what they’ve done for my family.” Throughout the season, the team has been raising funds and awareness for ALS research, a neurological disease that has affected Short’s immediate family.
With only two matches left in the season, the nostalgia is creeping in. But the Bears will stay focused as they hit the road next weekend. “They really had the will to win tonight and hopefully this will carry us on to the last weekend,” Short said.
Brown will finish the season by traveling to Columbia Friday and Cornell Saturday.