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Freshman Lauren Martin leads the Quakers with 3.53 kills per set this season. She tallied a team-high 21 kills against defending champion Yale in the Quakers’ 3-2 triumph, which moved them into the top spot in the Ivy League.

The most important Penn sports story this weekend was not the football team winning its final non-conference game and improving to .500.

It was not the field hockey team scoring five goals for the first time since 2007 and shutting out St. Francis (Pa.), as great as that game was for Val Cloud’s crew.

That’s not to take away from those teams’ accomplishments, but the most notable feat this weekend occurred in New Haven, Conn., when Penn volleyball conquered defending Ivy champion Yale in five thrilling sets.

I covered the team last fall and for those of you that don’t pay close attention — which is a much higher number than it should be — the Quakers got off to a tremendous start this season, going 9-4 in their pre-Ivy schedule. That mark was their best against non-Ivy teams since 2002, when they went 10-3 before their run to a League title.

Then they kicked off the 2009 conference slate with a 3-0 pummeling of Princeton — albeit against a 3-11 Tigers team that has struggled under a new coach — for their first defeat of their arch-rival since Sept. 30, 2005.

But beating the Bulldogs was the shining moment of this volleyball season, and it put Penn on the inside track to win the Ivy championship for the first time since the third leg of a three-peat in 2003.

Last year Yale marched easily to the throne, going 13-1 in conference play and losing just eight sets along the way. Five of those set losses came in the two games against Penn — the lone Ivy team to take down the Elis.

After knocking off its toughest Ivy foe in a repeat of last year’s five-set triumph in New Haven, the volleyball team has the best shot of any fall season club at bringing home a title in 2009. So while the football team (1-0 Ivy, tied-2nd) has a great shot to improve on last year’s third-place finish, the women’s soccer team (1-2, t-5th) still has a shot at returning to the top, and men’s soccer (0-1, 6th) is in the running to defend its crown, volleyball (3-0, 1st) is the sport to pay attention to right now.

* * *

One of the main reasons why this year’s volleyball club has improved so drastically and ascended to the top of the conference is the experience and maturity of talented upperclassmen. But the player that has stood out most to me is freshman Lauren Martin.

The talented right-side attacker has gone by the nickname “Fluff” since she was a baby, but this season there has been no fluff in her numbers. The Bedford, Texas native has followed the lead of Julia Swanson — a fellow Lone Star state hitting stud and 2007 Ivy League Rookie of the Year — to lead the team with 3.53 kills per set (Swanson’s team-high in 2007 was 3.43). Perhaps more impressive is her remarkable .315 hitting percentage, easily the highest of any Ivy rookie.

“She’s very comparable to Swanson,” coach Kerry Carr said. “We knew when we recruited her what she could do, but what surprised me about her was her maturity and composure on the court.”

That on-court aplomb led her to a career-high 21 kills in the pressure-packed game against Yale. If she keeps it up, she could win Ivy ROY just like Swanson did before her.

Even with arguably the most talented roster in the League and the toughest game out of the equation, Carr isn’t resting on her laurels.

“[The Ivy League] is the most unusual league that I’ve ever coached in,” the 12th-year coach said. “On any given night, the 8th team and the 1st team could beat each other … To me, every match is an Ivy League Championship match.”

At this rate, that could mean more than one Ivy ’ship this season for the Quakers.

Noah Rosenstein is a junior political science major from Hollywood, Fla., and is Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His e-mail address is rosenstein@dailypennsylvanian.com.

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