Julia Swanson could not have been more disappointed.
In just the second set of her four-match Houston homecoming, Penn’s two-time kills leader sprained her ankle and missed the rest of the weekend.
Yet even without their star outside hitter, the Quakers exceeded coach Kerry Carr’s expectations. She planned the trip to Houston Baptist’s Husky Classic with the idea that her players would gain experience playing top-notch teams, but not necessarily win. Yet the Quakers beat Texas A&M; Corpus Christi, 3-1, Friday, and then knocked off Cal State Bakersfield, 3-1, and swept Houston Baptist Saturday.
“This is definitely not how I thought we’d end up down here,” Carr said. “I knew this was going to be a learning tournament no matter what … but in the end we found out that we have a very good team even without [Swanson].
“That’s a really, really good thing to find out — that you can … win without your best player because you’re such a well-rounded team.”
Even her club’s first loss of the season — a sweep Friday night at the hands of Lamar — did not deter Carr from those positive sentiments.
The Quakers (6-1) were tied at 20 with Lamar (4-5) in all three sets, but were plagued in the end by the inexperience of their all-freshman front line — outside hitter Lauren Davis, middle blocker Amanda Pacheco, and right-side hitter Lauren Martin. Penn had 21 errors compared to 13 by the Cardinals.
“I attribute that to our youth,” Carr said, “but you have to almost have that learning experience in order to take that next step forward, which we did immediately.”
After the initial loss, Carr noted overnight improvements from all of her players, especially the freshmen.
In Saturday morning’s game against Bakersfield (7-5), Davis notched her first 10-kill output and also recorded five digs, while Martin totalled 18 kills, including nine on .389 hitting against Houston Baptist (4-9).
Meanwhile, senior captain Elizabeth Semmens excelled as the team’s go-to attacker in Swanson’s absence, registering 30 kills Friday and another 34 Saturday.
“She’s our rock,” Carr said. “She’s the one that attacks … when Julia’s not in there. She’s the most experienced senior hitter out on the court.”
But the biggest change came from junior Madison Wojciechowski. The Quakers’ single-season digs record-holder was disappointed with her 40 digs over both Friday matches, so she studied film that night with Carr and assistant coach Ryan Goodwin.
She saw that she was getting “sucked in” to the middle of the court during long rallies, rather than staying back and preparing to react to the attack, Carr said.
When she made the adjustment against Bakersfield, she turned in the second-best performance of her career with 36 digs, the third-highest total in Penn history.
“That is the direct result of a player that does everything she needs to do to get better overnight,” an emphatic Carr said of Wojciechowski’s performance.
And she wasn’t just dominant on defense. Facing a potential 2-0 hole after a first-set loss and a 24-23 deficit in the second, the 5-foot-5 libero saved the day with her first kill of the season and just the fifth of her career.
Yet the kill didn’t stand out in her mind.
“I don’t really remember that play even though kills should be memorable in my book because it’s a rare thing,” she said. “I think we were just focused on the ultimate goal of getting a ‘W’ and that’s what we did.”
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