The volleyball team has not tasted victory at Princeton’s Dillon Gym in over four years.
And it’s not just on the road where the Quakers have struggled, since they’ve dropped the past seven matches and nine of the past 10 to the Tigers.
But tomorrow night, when the Quakers (9-4) open Ivy League play and a five-game road trip they’ll face a struggling Tigers team that’s 2-9.
Coach Kerry Carr remains cautiously optimistic about the matchup this weekend, saying the defense-oriented, ball-controlling Tigers are stronger than their record suggests. Yet she believes the Quakers match up well against their rival.
“We have that Ivy League defense that will battle back and forth across the net,” Carr said. “[And] we also bring a better offense.”
Penn’s offense has been bolstered with the recent return of junior outside hitter Julia Swanson.
“It gives us another avenue for kills,” Carr noted. “Instead of three or four hitters, now [other] teams have four or five hitters to worry about.”
Swanson has averaged 2.76 kills and 2.24 digs per set this season, putting her fourth on the team in both categories.
After losing its long-time coach, Glenn Nelson, and four of its six starters, this year’s Princeton squad is hardly reminiscent of last year’s 18-4 (12-2 Ivy) team that finished second in the conference.
With four freshman starters this season, the Tigers’ most obvious weakness is inexperience. Early in the season they struggled to close matches, folding against Rutgers and George Washington in five sets after building 2-0 leads.
GW is one of two common opponents Penn and Princeton have faced this preseason (the other is Villanova). Penn lost in straight sets to GW and defeated the Wildcats, 3-2.
The Tigers’ only remaining upperclassman starter, two-time All-Ivy selection Sheena Donahue, is averaging 3.25 kills and 4.3 digs per set.
Sophomore Cathryn Quinn and freshman Lydia Rudnick have also emerged as threats, averaging 2.66 and 3.21 kills per set, respectively.
In practice this week, the Quakers have worked on defending against these hitters’ tendencies, as well as focusing on serving and blocking.
Despite one of its best starts in years, Penn enters tomorrow’s match after tough losses to Santa Clara and Albany at the Holiday Inn HD Tournament.
Princeton, on the other hand, heads in with momentum after defeating Juniata College in four sets last Saturday to snap a six-game losing streak.
The team approaches this match no differently than any other rivalry matchup, Carr said.
However, this match carries special importance for some players on the Penn squad.
“I’ve been on the team four years, and we’ve never beaten them before,” senior co-captain Elizabeth Semmens said. “I’m looking forward to finally beating them, especially at their home court.”
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