November 30, 2016

Senior Star Mattaliano Ending Superb Career on a High As PU Women’s Volleyball Wins Ivies, Head to NCAAs

Princeton women's volleyball vs. Harvard

KILLING IT: Princeton University women’s volleyball player Cara Mattaliano goes up for the ball in recent action. Senior star Mattaliano, who currently stands 11th all-time at Princeton in kills with 1,101, was recently named the Ivy League Player of the Year after helping Princeton go 19-4 overall and 13-1 Ivy on the way to winning the league title outright and punching its first ticket to the NCAA tournament since 2007. This Friday, the Tigers start NCAA action by playing at 13th-seeded BYU (27-3) in a first round contest in Provo, Utah. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s office of Athletic Communications)

Cara Mattaliano has firmly established herself as one of the top performers in the history of Princeton University women’s volleyball.

This fall, the 6’1 outside hitter became the only player in program history to win back-to-back Ivy League Player of the Year awards and currently stands 11th all-time at Princeton in kills with 1,101.

But as senior star Mattaliano reflects on her individual achievements, she knows that her success is the product of a joint effort.

“It is part of being on the team, I would never have 1,000 kills if I didn’t have people next to me who were passing often or a setter that was giving me the opportunities,” said Mattaliano.

“All the individual accolades in volleyball are just a testament to the team around you because I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything without them.”

The Tigers have accomplished a lot collectively this fall, going 19-4 overall and 13-1 Ivy on the way to winning the league title outright and punching their first ticket to the NCAA tournament since 2007. This Friday, they start NCAA action by playing at 13th-seeded BYU (27-3) in a first round contest in Provo, Utah.

For Mattaliano, helping the Tigers win the Ivy title and earn a spot in NCAA is a fitting swan song to her college career.

“I feel like I have grown as a player and a leader,” said Mattaliano. “I feel like every single person on this team has felt this sense of intensity and urgency and that we really wanted to win the league. The fact that our team is all on the same wavelength and everybody wants it as much as the other person has really contributed to our success. It has been a phenomenal season, an awesome way to end my career.”

A native of Glen Ellyn, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, Mattaliano started her volleyball career at age 12, following the lead of older sister Val, a member of the Boston College program.

“I grew up going to my sister’s volleyball games and I was pretty much into the sport when I was younger; I knew I wanted to go on and play it,” said Mattaliano. “Volleyball is a fun sport and at every single level there are fun things about it.”

Mattaliano had a lot of fun in her high school career, helping Benet Academy to two 4A Illinois state championships.

“In my senior year, I came into my own as a volleyball player,” said Mattaliano.

“I just became more confident. I had been playing since I was 12 and had developed a lot of skill. You kind of jump around with these club teams and they are all great experiences. They really shaped who I am as a person.”

Making the jump to Princeton and college volleyball in the fall of 2013, required some adjustment on Mattaliano’s part.

“I was trying to figure out who I was as a player; the team was supportive from the beginning,” said Mattaliano, who earned first-team All-Ivy League honors in her debut season after ranking second in the league in kills per set (3.35) and third in points per set (3.82).

“I have always loved playing for and being a part of the Princeton volleyball program. In my freshman season we didn’t have as many victories as we wanted. I was going in and trying to do as much as I could, there were less reservations as a freshmen because people aren’t expecting freshman to do anything. I didn’t have that much pressure so it was a little easier. It was really fun, it was a learning experience.”

The Tigers started turning the corner during her sophomore season, experiencing more success as they improved to 9-5 in Ivy play after going 6-8 the year before.

“We had a sense of confidence and also we put volleyball as a huge, huge priority,” said Mattaliano.

“We made a commitment and that is a testament to everybody on our team; everybody working really hard and that has how we have gotten to the place we are now.”

Last season, that commitment led to an amazing late surge as Princeton overcame a 0-3 start in league play to go 10-4 Ivy and tie Harvard for the regular season title.

“When we had those really tough losses, I think it took a lot of the pressure off,” said Mattaliano, who earned her first Ivy Player of the Year award for her role in helping to key the Tigers’ run.

“That stretch when we won all of those games in the second end of playing those teams, we were just playing as hard as we could. We weren’t thinking about anything else other than playing with each other and for each other.”

Although the Tigers fell 3-1 to Harvard in the playoff for the league’s berth to the NCAA tournament, Mattaliano thought the defeat served as motivation for this season’s success.

“Losing the match to Harvard just means that we had something else to work for the next season,” noted Mattaliano.

“We had confidence and we knew we could do it; we had the mentality. We had such a larger goal this time around.”

Princeton displayed that confidence as it started 10-0 in Ivy play this season as part of a 14-match winning streak.

“Things were just clicking at the beginning of the league; we were just playing confident but also not taking any teams for granted,” said Mattaliano.

“All Ivy League teams are good and we know that. It is a unique challenge. That was a really fun part of it, we were just really playing as a team.”

Princeton clinched the crown in dramatic fashion on the final Friday of the regular season as the Tigers rallied from a 5-0 deficit in the fifth set against Cornell for a 3-2 win, and then found out minutes later that Yale had lost to Harvard to secure the NCAA tournament berth.

“The Cornell game was unbelievable; we were down 5-0 in the fifth game; it was a testament to how we really never give up,” recalled Mattaliano.

“We didn’t just look at that score and say alright if we lose this we can still tie for the Ivy League. We didn’t play like that, we fought for every point. When we were on the comeback, it was quintessential team volleyball. When we found out that Yale lost, it was a very exciting scene, jumping up and down and hugging each other. It was really awesome.”

Mattaliano has relished the manner in which Princeton battled throughout its run to the title.

“It is just so special, that was our goal from the beginning,” said Mattaliano.

“It is an amazing feeling because when we won our first few games, it was like we are a good team but there were still so many teams that we had to beat. It was a hard road. It was a tough mentality. When Yale lost, it was incredible. Our hard work has really paid off.”

While playing at BYU in the NCAAs will be a hard test, Mattaliano is confident that the Tigers will give it their all as they look to make it to the second round against the winner of the UNLV-Utah match, the other first round contest in Provo.

“It is going to be really fun and we are going to train like we did to get to that point and go in there with confidence to play because any team we play is going to be good and it is going to be a really great challenge,” said Mattaliano.

“I think that playing with heart is something that our team does well and that has truly made the difference in tight situations.”

No matter what happens this weekend in Utah, Mattaliano is leaving with indelible memories of her Tiger volleyball experience.

“The one thing that is going to stand out the most is that Princeton volleyball is a really neat program in that everybody deeply cares about everybody else,” said Mattaliano, who will be taking part in the Teach for America program in the Chicago area
after graduation.

“I really appreciated all of the girls on my team, my coaches, and everybody that supports our team and that are just so caring. It is so fun to be able to have an experience like this where I am very excited to go to practice every day because I want to see everybody. We work hard but we also are there for each other. As a player, I have learned it is really all about every single person on the team and working with each other and motivating each other. Volleyball is such a team sport and you can’t do anything without your teammates on the bench and on the court.”