After its best start since 2002 — including the most non-conference wins since 2000 — Penn volleyball will face its toughest test yet in the last weekend before Ivy play.
In the second game of this weekend’s Holiday Inn tournament at the Palestra, the Quakers (8-2) will take on Santa Clara (8-4), which coach Kerry Carr said is easily the best team on the non-conference schedule.
They also host St. Francis (Pa.) (2-10) today at 4 p.m. before the 7 p.m. showdown with the Broncos. The tournament concludes after tomorrow’s 7 p.m. matchup with Albany (5-8).
The Penn-Santa Clara duel, though, will be the highlight of the weekend. The California club — which has gone to the last 11 NCAA tournaments including a Final Four run in 2005 — swept the teams’ first and only matchup back in 1990.
This year’s squad has suffered three of its four losses to top-25 teams. It stars 6-foot-2 junior outside hitter Krista Kelley, who leads the team with 3.6 kills per set. The overall kills leader, though, is Katherine Douglas, a 6-1 freshman outside hitter who has 117 kills.
The Broncos have just two seniors, but one is the third most productive attacker, 6-3 outside hitter Lindsey Davigeadono who averages 2.4 kills.
At the same time, those numbers are a far cry from the statistics the Quakers have put up this season. Junior libero Madison Wojciechowski ranks 10th in the country with 5.50 digs per set, while junior setter Megan Tryon sits at 24th nationally with 10.88 assists per game. Santa Clara has zero players in the top 50 of any category, yet Penn senior captain Elizabeth Semmens provides the third top-50 name for the Quakers with a 39th-ranked 4.05 kills average.
The Broncos and Quakers each beat their one common opponent, Cal State Bakersfield, 3-1. But don’t let that result and the Quakers’ superior statistics fool you.
“If we’re playing well, we could go five [sets] and take it,” Carr said, “but we have to be playing the best of our games.”
So far this season, that’s exactly what they’ve been doing. Yet this weekend will be their last chance for some final tweaks before the Ivy season opens up next weekend at Princeton.
Carr said she still wants to improve all aspects of the team, yet admitted that blocking has been the biggest focus lately.
If it were up to freshman Lauren Davis, then all the blocking would be left to senior middle blocker Natalie Drucker.
“Natalie goes in and just goes crazy with blocking,” she said.
Davis, meanwhile, has been doing her part offensively. With junior Julia Swanson injured, the rookie outside hitter has stepped in and stepped up. She tied for a team-high 13 kills in last weekend’s 3-2 win against Towson and is fourth overall on the squad this season.
Even with Semmens on fire and Swanson returning this weekend, Davis will continue to see plenty of action.
“She’s challenging now for that starting spot,” Carr said.
With Davis in the fold along with fellow freshman phenom Lauren Martin, the coach has a glut of talent at her disposal and will spend this weekend finalizing her rotation for the Ivy slate.
But the team isn’t looking that far head.
“The girls are psyched to play Santa Clara,” Carr said. “Princeton’s next week.”
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