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Women’s volleyball cruises to 10th-straight win with back-to-back sweeps against Cornell and Columbia

“When we play really well, I think we’re the toughest team to beat in the league.”

<h5>The Tigers are currently ranked first in the nation in two statistical categories.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6><a href="https://twitter.com/PrincetonWVB/status/1579825152355074048?s=20&amp;t=4MMSC93gAl1il1MG6g_kvw" target="_self">@PrincetonWVB/Twitter.</a></h6>
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The Tigers are currently ranked first in the nation in two statistical categories. 
@PrincetonWVB/Twitter.

It’s safe to say the Tigers have found their groove.

Of the 15 games Princeton women’s volleyball (13–2 overall, 5–0 Ivy League) have played so far, 10 of them have returned a 3–0 sweeping victory. No other Ivy team, not even top-ranked Yale (13–1, 5–0), has put together that kind of record. Beyond an impressive record, Princeton players also own top spots on all but two of the seven major Ivy League individual stats leaderboards and the players routinely receive player and rookie of the week awards.

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The Tigers have also begun to carve out a place in the national spotlight. They’ve crept into a top-five hitting percentage across the NCAA, and currently lead in two statistical categories: assists per set and kills per set. Senior setter Lindsey Kelly owns the top spot in assists per set (11.93). The team’s latest back-to-back matches against Cornell and Columbia at home in Dillon Gymnasium showed just how dominant the Tigers can be.

Cornell

Last Friday’s opening set against Cornell (3–11, 1–4) was over almost as soon as it began. The Tigers quickly backed the Big Red into a corner as they took a commanding 16–6 lead. From suffocating blocks to quick rotations and pin-point kills, the Tigers had it all. As Cornell scrambled to find an answer, Kelly found sophomore right side hitter Mariah Haislip for a final devastating kill. The Tigers sealed the first set, 25–9 while Cornell never scored twice in a row.

Princeton took an early 4–1 lead as the second set opened, but this time, Cornell put up a response. Even as Kelly set up her teammates for two more kills, it wasn’t enough to shake the Big Red, who had found new scoring energy in outside hitter Jordan Walker. An ace from Cornell outside hitter Eliza Konvicka tied up the score at 14–14, opening the door for middle blocker Sydney Moore to lay in a neat kill on the next serve for Cornell’s first lead.

For first-year outside hitter Valerie Nutakor, putting together a comeback was straightforward. 

“My teammates, they give you the confidence,” Nutakor told The Daily Princetonian after the match. “Even if we get in a rut, everyone’s like, ‘okay, next point, we’ve got this.’”

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It turned out to be good advice. Haislip and Nutakor worked in tandem with Kelly as they snuck in a kill each to pull Princeton back up by two. Cornell’s heavy defensive effort from early in the set was fading just as senior right side hitter Avery Luoma went on a tear, scoring back-to-back kills off of assists from Kelly and pushing the lead to five. Kelly had the final say herself, laying down an ace that closed the set in Princeton’s favor, 25–19.

The third set saw the same fire from Cornell they had brought to the second. The Big Red took the lead early, going up 4–1 and forcing the Tigers to go on the defensive. The Princeton roster showed its depth and experience, however, as senior outside hitter Melina Mahood took the reins. Mahood scored back-to-back kills, assisted by Kelly, to shift the score to 10–8 in the Tigers’ favor.


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After Saturday’s match against Columbia, head coach Sabrina King spoke with the ‘Prince’ about how her team deals with adversity. 

“It’s not that we’re so much more talented this season, it’s just that we have a little bit more poise,” King explained. “When things get tight, you can feel that the energy stays pretty loose.”

King’s observations came true as the third set forged ahead. Cornell had grabbed a one-point lead, but a combination of sharp kills from Haislip and Nutakor, along with a slew of attack errors from Cornell’s end, landed the Tigers a six-point lead. Princeton held on until the end, grabbing the third set, 25–19, and snagging another 3–0 win. By the end, Luoma led all players with 15 kills, while Kelly ran circles around everyone as she logged 40 assists.

Columbia

The Tigers opened the first set against Columbia (4–10, 1–4) with less fervor than they had the night before, as their own attack and service errors allowed the Lions a two-point cushion through the first half of the set. Haislip wasn’t backing down, however, as she entered the game and quickly put up five kills and a block, earning the Tigers a three-point lead.

Haislip credits her captains, senior libero Cameron Dames and senior middle blocker Olivia Schewe, for part of her offensive take-over. Early in the first set, Dames and Schewe brought the team into a huddle for a wake-up call, Haislip told the ‘Prince’ after the match.  

“When we were trailing in that first set, I just got in knowing that we needed something to get us going,” Haislip said. “I did what I know how to do.”

It was enough to put the Dillon Gym crowd on its feet, eagerly watching Haislip’s every move. With each kill the game announcer called, the cheers grew louder. “I like to think of every point as an opportunity to do something cool or have some fun with my teammates,” Haislip told the ‘Prince.’ “I want to maximize our time on the court.”


Princeton kept their distance through the remainder of the set, as Kelly set up back-to-back kills for Luoma and first-year middle-blocker Lucia Scalamandre. The Tigers would take the first set, 25–14.

The second set came much more smoothly for the Tigers, as they grabbed a four-point lead early and never looked back. Defensive effort from Scalamandre and the Princeton front line, who made building momentum near impossible for the Lions, did not go unnoticed either. The Tigers finished out the set on a 7–0 run to win the set, 25–11.

After the match, Haislip was all-smiles for her first-year teammates. 

“I feel like they’ve really overcome that hard beginning … not really knowing where you stand or what the team environment is like,” she said of Scalamandre, Nutakor, and first-year libero Ella Bunde. “They really jumped right in and they’ve been amazing, on the court and off.”

Perhaps eager to end things, the Tigers kicked off the third set with a blazing 12–2 run, supported, in part, by four consecutive attack errors from Columbia. The Lions struggled to respond while Scalamandre and Luoma brought the Tigers to new heights, blocking Columbia’s attacks and responding with kills of their own.


Though Columbia managed to go point-for-point with Princeton in the final plays of the game, it wasn’t enough to overcome the massive lead the Tigers had built. Princeton finished off the third set, 25–15, and won the match 3–0 for their second clean sweep of the weekend.

Overall, the Tigers scored six aces and layed down 10 blocks to Columbia’s one and four. As is becoming routine, Luoma led all players with 11 kills, Scalamandre put down seven blocks (five more than the next closest player), and Kelly posted 36 assists to lead the match.

Next up: undefeated Ivies face off

The Tigers will face Yale for a clash of the titans on Friday, Oct. 14. The Bulldogs will be one of Princeton’s toughest opponents yet, as they currently sit atop the Ivy League with a 5–0 record and 13–1 overall. Both teams will enter undefeated in Ivy play, though only one will leave the John J. Lee Amphitheater that way.

Yale outside hitter Cara Shultz has been a problem for teams all season, as she currently holds the third-highest ace per set rate in the country at 0.71. As a team, Yale ranks sixth in the nation for aces per set at a flat 2.0, so the Tigers will need to be on high-alert from the start of every point.

However, King says the team is ready and eager for the challenge.

“We love playing the Yales and Browns of the world because that brings out our best volleyball,” she told the ‘Prince’ after Saturday’s match. “We never get to [our highest] level without that competition and that competitor, so we’re excited about it.”

As for playing the game on the road and on the wrong side of midterms week, King isn’t worried.

“[Midterms are] always a little bit hard, because people will not have slept,” she said with a knowing smile. “But honestly, we embrace being on the road as much as we embrace being [at Dillon]. It gives us time to just worry about our play and not all the other stuff that’s going on, like family and recruits … so it gives us a little more focus as well.”

The match against Yale will begin at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14 in New Haven, Conn. Then, the Tigers head to Providence to face Brown on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 5 p.m. Both games will be available to stream on ESPN+.

Isabel Rodrigues is a staff writer for the Sports section at the ‘Prince’ who typically covers women’s basketball. She can be reached at isabelr@princeton.edu or on Twitter @IsabelBarroso78.

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