The women’s volleyball team kicks off Ivy League play when it travels to New York City to take on rival Columbia Saturday at 2 p.m.
The Red (2-7) is coming off a split at last weekend’s Temple Tournament, where it handily defeated Central Connecticut State before falling to Temple in straight sets. The Lions (5-4) are riding a three-game home winning streak after securing victories in each of their matches at the Columbia Invitational last weekend.
Despite holding a 46-8 all-time advantage over the Lions, the Red dropped both games to Columbia last season. The league-opening match-up between the two squads ended in a heartbreaker for the Red, who took the first two sets by the same score, 25-21, before dropping the final three sets in front of a home crowd.
The team is looking to reverse its fortunes this season under first-year head coach Melissa Batie-Smoose, who emphasized that each season is a clean slate.
“Hopefully our mentality is no preconceived notions of anything in the past,” she said. “It’s a new experience and we’re going to go in with the mindset that this is a new year.”
During the preseason, the Red suffered several straight-set losses and secured only two hard-fought wins. The difficult schedule was beneficial for the team though, according to junior middle blocker Rachel D’Epagnier
“We’ve played more high-level teams this year during preseason than we ever had,” she said. “That has really prepared us for what we’ll face in the Ivies. Even though we didn’t win all those games, it showed us that we can play with these teams at high levels.”
This weekend marks the first time during the season that the Red is playing only one team on the weekend. According to D’Epagnier, this break allows the team to concentrate on exploiting Columbia’s weaknesses and putting its full effort into the game.
“We only have to think about one team, one system,” she said. “We can just go out and leave everything on the court because after that game we’re done.”
Playing an Ivy League opponent adds extra motivation, according to junior libero Sierra Young. In preparation for the Lions, Young added that the team has spent the week practicing keeping the ball alive.
“We’ve been working really hard on defense and out-of-system game play — if you don’t get a perfect pass or perfect defense you have people come in and move the ball to offense and still score,” she said. “We’re keeping an aggressive mentality.”
Batie-Smoose said she is looking to Young, outside hitter Kelly Marble and setter Kelly Reinke to set the tone for the team. Young had previously played outside hitter but will start as a libero against Columbia.
The Lions’ young squad is anchored by senior captain Megan Gaughn, who averages two-and-a-half kills per set. Batie-Smoose added that consistent play makes the Lions a dangerous opponent.
“I think the one thing they do very well is they don’t make a lot of errors,” she said. “The ball will continue to keep coming back to us and we have to win the long rallies. They’re not going to give us anything.”