By Olson Barthelemy
Thanksgiving break, other than being a time to meet with family, give thanks and consume liberal amounts of stuffing, is also an opportunity for students to recharge their batteries in preparation for the final stretch of the semester.
The break served the same purpose for the Hofstra Pride volleyball team as they took the time off to prepare for the NCAA Tournament which kicks off this Friday at 5pm at Penn State. The Pride (23-6) will face Ivy League champions Cornell University (18-8) in the first round. The time off came just a few days after the Pride won their first ever Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Championship with victories against Delaware and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Cornell enters the match having won its last nine matches, while the Pride has won 18 of its last 19 matches. The Pride, which hasn't competed in the tournament since the 2000 season, will be treading relatively unfamiliar ground against Cornell. Conversely, this marks Cornell's second straight year in the NCAA Tournament. While the Pride are just adjusting to being CAA champions they must face a team that has won or shared three consecutive league championships and has already experienced the rigors of NCAA opposition.
Despite its tournament inexperience, the Pride enters the tournament riding quite the wave of momentum. As already mentioned, the Blue & Gold have won 18 of its last 19 matches. Added to its impressive play is the emotional high the Pride has undoubtedly experienced after winning its first CAA title. The victory against the very team that ended their season last year (VCU) should afford the Pride even more energy as they explore some fairly uncharted territory.
In addition to momentum and pure energy, the Pride enters the tournament boasting a roster featuring players who have had impressive years. For the second straight year a Pride player won the CAA Player of the Year Award. Only this year it was senior middle blocker Elizabeth Curley as opposed to junior setter Shellane Ogoshi, the recipient of the award last year. Ogoshi was named CAA Setter of the Year and both players were named to the All-CAA First Team. Senior outside hitter Beverly Rivera was named to the Second Team after an impressive year.
Also on the Pride's favor is the leadership of first year coach Lauren Netherby. Saddled with the interim tag for the entire season, Netherby managed to lead the Pride to this point. After a slow non conference start this year, Netherby managed to rally her players just as conference play started and what resulted was on of the more impressive streaks in the schools history. Add to that Netherby's ability to get the team back on track and avoid a slump, after the teams winning streak was broken, and the Pride appear to be in capable hands entering the tourney.
Despite the Pride's strengths, advancing to even the second round will not be a simple task. The experience of their opponent has already been documented. NCAA competition is nothing new to this group of Cornell Big Red players or its head coach. Whereas coach Netherby had a successful first season with the Pride, Cornell head Coach Deitre Collins-Parker has quite the resume. Prior to coaching Cornell Parker coached eight seasons at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and is the winningest coach in the programs history.
Parker will be leading an impressive roster as well. Senior outside hitter Elizabeth Bishop, the star player of the Big Red, won her second straight Ivy League Player of the Year Award this season and is joined on the All Ivy League First team by her senior middle blocker teammate Joanna Weiss. Weiss will be the tallest player on the court this Friday, towering at 6'4. An obvious defensive presence, Weiss posted an incredible .406 hitting percentage for the season.
The Pride will attempt to prolong their season this Friday against Cornell.