The volleyball team overcame a two-set deficit to force a tiebreak fifth set Saturday against Cornell but fell short of a comeback. Outside hitter Sabrina Stillwell ’19 tallied 13 kills and libero captain Melissa Cairo ’18 registered 28 digs in the season-concluding match.
Though a defeat, the result left the team in high spirits. “I was happy with the way they performed today,” said Head Coach Diane Short. “(It) was good to see them improve week to week. … Next year, we’ve got a good core returning, … and I feel very optimistic that we’ll do much better next year.”
Both teams had a slow start in the first set, but Cornell (12-11, 8-6 Ivy) gradually built up a lead that put the team past the 20-point plateau at 20-15. Yet the Bears (7-18, 2-12) did not let the Big Red relax, and responded with a six-point streak powered by serves from outside hitter Casey Tierney ’18. The ensuing point-for-point battle turned into a win-by-two situation when a kill from outside hitter Stillwell tied the set at 24 apiece. But a Bruno service error and a sharp kill by Cornell gave the first set to the Big Red, 26-24.
The second set was less evenly matched, with Cornell taking the lead at 2-1 and never looking back. The Bears stayed on the heels of the Big Red, but, with lackluster defense and mistake-prone offense, Brown could not overcome Cornell’s hard-swinging outside hitters and highly reactive defense. The Bears dropped the set 25-22.
The third frame started on a more optimistic note. Brown gained its first lead at 6-5 after two instrumental block assists by Jacqueline Jacobs ’20 and Gabrielle Moriconi ’21 and two Cornell attack errors forced by Elisa Merten ’19. The Big Red did not back down, and the lead changed four more times in the set, but two back-to-back attacks by outside hitter Shirin Tooloee ’18 clinched the set for the Bears, 25-23.
“We started playing a little more free,” Tooloee said of the change in momentum. “We started swinging and taking big hits at the net. … Cornell is really good at digging a lot of balls, and so just not getting frustrated when they got balls up and really just going after it was what changed the momentum at the end of the second set.”
This momentum carried into the fourth set, with Bruno opening on a 5-1 run against a caught off-guard Cornell. The Big Red fought back to tie the set at seven-all, but the Bears maintained their lead by capitalizing on Cornell’s mistakes to go on several point-streaks. It wasn’t until the Big Red hit the 20-point plateau that Bruno got into trouble, with Cornell surging ahead for the set point at 24-22. But with poise and grace, Emma Chow ’21 set up Stillwell for two consecutive kills that tied the set 24-24 and once again brought the stanza to a win-by-two situation. A kill from Tooloee and two Cornell errors gave the set to the Bears, 27-25 and tied the match score at two-all.
“The fourth set was awesome, especially the last few points,” Tooloee said. “Those were the best points we played all season … it just really showed that this team is so close, and we all wanted to play for each other, and we all wanted to lay it all on the court and leave nothing behind.”
But the elation was short-lived. After tying at one-all in the fifth set, the Bears quickly fell behind as they experienced difficulty coordinating attacks and breaking through Cornell’s tight defense. “We just got stuck in a rotation we couldn’t get out of,” Short said. “But we fought hard.”
At a 14-2 set point, Bruno squeezed three more out of the Big Red before Cornell took the set 15-5 and the match 3-2.
Despite its losing record, the team has found this season rewarding in other ways. “This is such a very close team,” Coach Short said. “They come in working hard every day, one of the closest teams I’ve ever coached.”
Tooloee reflected on the close of her senior season. “It’s a little surreal right now. It definitely hit me … at the end of the match,” she said. “I got a little emotional just because the team is so close. … It was sad realizing it was my last game I was going to be with them, but it was satisfying to go to five (sets).”