Ashley Hawkins is not a local Philadelphia product. Rather, she hails from all the way across the country in Heyward, Calif.
So it is difficult to explain the apparent homecourt advantage the senior middle blocker has enjoyed this season. In five matches played at the Palestra, she has recorded 57 kills at a robust .417 hitting percentage. But in seven contests on the road, Hawkins has had only 47 kills at a .203 clip.
“Maybe it’s the white [home] jersey; I’m not sure,” Hawkins mused, “but having the fans here is a huge support, and having the entire team here … it’s a huge help. They’re there to help us see things we can’t see on the court as well as just encourage us.”
Despite playing in Hawkins’ favorite venue, the Quakers greeted junior Julia Swanson’s return from injury with a 1-2 record as hosts of the Holiday Inn HD Tournament. Penn beat St. Francis (Pa.), 3-0, but fell 3-0 to Santa Clara and 3-1 to tournament champion Albany.
The Quakers (9-4) fell behind 2-0 to Albany in two close sets before making various adjustments, which coach Kerry Carr conceded should have been made after the opening game.
“We started hitting crosscourt instead of [down the] line, we started picking up the tip and the dump more often … and we started waiting on the block,” she said.
In the final set, the Great Danes (8-8) built a 24-18 lead to put Penn on the brink of defeat before Hawkins led a spirited 5-0 run with three of her eight kills in the set to cut the lead to one.
“We definitely felt a sense of urgency and were making amazing defensive plays that enabled the front row to do what they were going to do,” Hawkins said.
After a timeout, Albany ended the furious comeback attempt, but Carr was happy with the Quakers’ resilience after falling flat against Santa Clara (10-5), whose players were especially focused after being upset by Albany.
“Santa Clara had a huge block, and I think they got in our heads a little bit and made us a little bit timid,” Hawkins said. “We really focused on getting aggressive and attacking the block, and really going after the kills instead of playing it safe.”
Freshman Lauren Martin excelled going after the kills, racking up 29 in just two matches on her way to an all-tournament team selection.
While the matchup against a weaker St. Francis (2-12) squad allowed Penn to give playing time to the rest of its deep bench, the Santa Clara and Albany games were especially important tests heading into Ivy League play. Those teams have some similar characteristics with league favorite Yale, Carr said.
Hawkins said that Santa Clara’s big, powerful outside hitters were especially reminiscent of the Bulldogs’ front line, though Swanson said the style of play will be different in conference play.
“These two teams are very offensive, and a lot of the Ivy teams have very good ball control and they’re very defensive,” she said. “Volleyball is a game of matchups, and I think that we match up against the Ivy teams better because that’s who we’re training to beat.”
Although the Quakers finished their non-conference schedule this weekend, they may not have seen the last of the Great Danes.
“They’re in our region, so we hope to see them again after we win Ivies,” Hawkins said.
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