In four of the last six seasons, volleyball's pre-Ivy schedule has included a trip to California, a state that boasts the best volleyball recruits (including nine of the 23 current Quakers).
But the Golden State girls won't be enjoying any home cookin' in 2009.
Instead, the Quakers (3-0) will make their first ever trip to Texas to face four schools for the first time in program history. They begin play in the Houston Baptist Tournament today against Texas A&M-Corpus; Christi (4-4) at 11 a.m. EDT and then take on Lamar (2-4) at 4 p.m. The tournament continues tomorrow when they face Cal State Bakersfield (4-4) at 11 a.m. and host Houston Baptist (4-5) at 6:30 p.m.
With the help of assistant coach Ryan Goodwin, Penn head coach Kerry Carr has been focusing more on recruiting top Texas talent, which led her to schedule this year's big road trip to the Lone Star state.
"[This trip] is definitely because of our Texas recruiting strategy," Carr said. "Some of the best players in the nation now are coming from Texas."
So far, the strategy has paid off. Houston native and junior outside hitter Julia Swanson burst onto the scene in 2007, leading the Quakers with 298 kills and winning Ivy League Rookie of the Year. She followed that up by leading the league with 359 kills last season, earning first team All-Ivy.
Meanwhile, freshman Lauren Martin comes to Penn from Bedford, Texas as a second team high school All-American. She already has shown flashes of brilliance with 14 kills last Saturday against La Salle.
Goodwin played a major role in Martin's recruitment.
"Ryan sent me a really, really long e-mail, and that's when I was like 'I've gotta start looking at Penn,'" she said.
It was relatively late in the process, near the end of her junior year, when she heard from Goodwin. But it didn't take much to convince her.
"I came on a visit and I told my parents when I left that this was the school," she said.
Her decision came down to Kansas State, Ohio, and Penn. Ivy League academics were the deciding factor in her choice.
While Penn has never faced any of its four upcoming opponents, its Texas twosome will have some familiar faces. Houston Baptist coach Kaddie Platt coached Swanson on her Houston Juniors club team, while Martin will try to hit away from former Texas Advantage teammate and now Lamar libero Kaleigh Wright.
As for the rest of the Quakers, Carr likes the idea of facing fresh opposition.
"It's actually going to be good for us because we like to have completely different people on the other side of the net," she said. "They expose our weaknesses and we get to show our strengths against a team that we haven't played before."
Swanson and Martin will show their strengths in front of family and friends, but their favorite part of returning to Texas will come off the court.
"Her and I both have talked about how we miss Texas food so much," Martin said. "Tex Mex is the best!"
"You'll never find better food than in Texas," Swanson added.
You might not find better volleyball players, either.
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