|A Second Chance|
For a few days in mid-November the two-month dream of an Ivy League title seemed out of reach for volleyball coach Diane Short and the young women on her team. The Bears were back on campus after a costly trip to New York over Veterans Day weekend. A Friday-night 3в2 victory at Columbia had been followed by the bus ride from hell, a nearly six-hour stall-and-crawl journey from New York City to Ithaca, which ended with the Bears checking into their hotel at 3:30 a.m. Twelve hours later the bus-lagged Bears were blindsided by Cornell, losing in three games to a Big Red team they'd wiped out, 3а0, two weekends earlier in Providence. Then it was back on the bus for a long, unhappy ride back to Providence. "Everyone was down and out," recalls cocaptain Corre Myer '02. "We basically thought our season was over."
To make matters worse, Penn, the league leader, had come through the same weekend unscathed, opening a two-game lead over the second-place Bears as the final week of the regular season began. "It doesn't look good," Short said on Monday morning, her voice weakened by frustration and fatigue. "Penn has three games left: Princeton, us, and Yale. It's disappointing. But the season's not over yet. We just have to go out and win our last two matches and see what happens."
By Wednesday morning a beam of light had cut through the gloom. The night before, third-place Princeton had knocked off Penn, 3в2, slicing the Quakers' lead over Brown to one game. With Penn due to arrive on campus Friday night and Princeton coming in for the season finale Saturday afternoon, the Bears were suddenly back in contention for at least a share of the title. "Penn was not supposed to lose to Princeton," Myer says. "When we found out Penn had lost, it was insane. A door opened, and we were not letting it close again."
Instead, the Bears ripped the door off its hinges. Playing before an enthusiastic Friday-night crowd at the Pizzitola Center, Brown smacked its way to a 3б1 win over Penn, avenging a loss by the same score in Philadelphia back in October and, more importantly, moving into a first-place tie with the Quakers. It all came down to Saturday afternoon, November 18. While Brown closed out its regular season in Providence against Princeton, Penn wrapped up its schedule with a final game in New Haven against Yale. The fate of the Bears, who were unbeaten at home against Ivy competition, was now squarely in their own hands. Rising to the occasion, Diane Schneider '04 and Ceneca Calvert '03 cranked out nineteen and fourteen kills, respectively, while the ever-steady Myer contributed fifty-two sets and Laura Wells '02 hustled for fourteen digs. The team took out Princeton in three straight to earn at least a share of the Ivy League title, pending the outcome of the Penn-Yale game.
The party was on. Myer, Wells, and Miranda Turner '02, who as freshmen were all part of the 1998 Ivy championship team, received flowers from the coaching staff in honor of their last home game as Bears. "We Are the Champions" and "Celebration," those time-tested songs of triumph, boomed from the Pizzitola speakers. Hugs and high-fives were abundant. The newly minted champs cracked wide smiles as proud parents clicked cameras from all angles. Cake was wolfed down. What a difference a week had made.
"We got a second chance," said Short. "And I don't remember getting too many second chances in my life. This is such an incredible experience." The dramatic weekend sweep left the Bears at 11г3 in the Ivy League and 16б10 overall, a quick turnaround from last year's disappointing 2е5 Ivy record and 12б12 finish overall. (Ivy League teams began playing each other twice in a season for the first time this fall.) A major reason for the shift in fortune was the absence for most of last season of Myer, whom Short calls "the glue to this team." Myer appeared in just two Ivy League matches after injuring her left knee in a mountain-biking accident in the summer of 2000. This year, with Myer and every other starter back, the Bears returned to the top of the league, even if the trip didn't exactly follow a straight trajectory. "This was our expectation," Myer says. "Everyone was coming back. We have the talent. There was no reason not to [win it]."
"This team has a lot of heart," Short explains. "Once we knew we had a chance again, we had such good practices, and we just became closer as a team and worked harder. I'm just very proud of them." As the celebration ebbed after the final Princeton game, and as players and fans drifted out of the Pizzitola Center and into their Saturday night, Associate Athletic Director Tom Bold received an update from New Haven on his cell phone. Penn had beaten Yale in three straight. The Bears would share their championship with the Quakers.
All that was left to decide was which team would go on to the NCAA tournament. On November 20, Penn and Brown squared off at Yale for one last head-to-head contest, but after winning the first game, the Bears were unable to fend off Penn's attack or get by its excellent defense, and the Quakers won the next three games to move on to the nationals. With sixty-two assists and eleven digs, Myer nevertheless was named Ivy League Player of the Year and became Brown's all-time career-assists leader with 4,026. Better yet, she and her fellow seniors will leave the University as champions.