Tonight’s showdown between two elite Ivy volleyball teams could be the most important Penn sporting event on campus so far this semester.
Having already racked up seven wins against every Ancient Eight opponent, including wins against archrival Princeton and defending Ivy champion Yale on the road, Penn volleyball (16-4, 7-0 Ivy) faces its biggest game of the season tonight against second-place Yale (16-2, 6-1) at 7 p.m. at the Palestra.
With a second consecutive win over Yale (the first came Oct. 10 in New Haven, Conn.), the Quakers could position themselves as the clear favorites to win the Ivy League title, a feat they have not accomplished since the 2003 season when they tied Cornell and Harvard for the League’s best record.
After Penn wraps up its home stand this weekend with a match against Brown (5-13, 1-6) Saturday at 4 p.m., four of its five remaining opponents have Ivy records of .500 or worse. If Penn beats Yale tonight and Brown tomorrow, it will have at least a commanding two-game League lead entering the home stretch.
Penn comes into this match not having lost a set since Oct. 17 and has become accustomed to winning decisively. But having lost the home match after winning in New Haven last year, the Quakers prepared with urgency and intensity this week to avoid repeating history against Yale.
“We had the best practice [Wednesday] that we’ve ever had,” Penn coach Kerry Carr said. “We are not sitting back and saying we got this, but we’re not nervous either.”
Even Yale coach Erin Appleman believes Penn may hold the upper hand.
“I don’t think we have an advantage over Penn,” she said. “They came here and beat us. Their chemistry is good … Mojo [Madison Wojciechowski] is one of the best defenders in the conference. We are just trying to put up a good fight.”
Despite her team’s confidence, Carr will not be fooled by Appleman’s modesty.
“They are not the underdog,” she said. “They are the former Ivy League champions and have everyone back and added somewhat. They still have that mystique about them.”
Bulldogs’ senior outside hitter and 2008 Ivy League Player of the Year Cat Dailey, who leads the League in points and kills (4.88 and 4.28 per set, respectively) and junior libero Kelly Ozurovich, the League-leader in digs (5.69), pose an interesting challenge for the Quakers’ defense. Last time the two teams met, defense played a crucial factor in determining the winner.
“I knew it would be an offensive battle,” Carr said of the Oct. 10 match. “Whoever brought defense to the game would come out on top … whoever got the blocks and more digs would win. That’s something we haven’t forgotten.”
With the teams so evenly matched offensively, Carr considers the home Palestra crowd to be the X-factor for Penn.
“The fact that we have our fans in the stands instead of theirs. … I think that is the advantage,” she said.
Over 500 Yale fans watched Yale take on Penn this season at Payne Whitney Gymnasium. Carr hopes that Penn fans will bring the same intensity tonight, and urged fans to pack the Palestra as her team plans to secure an Ivy League title with a win. The Red and Blue Crew is right there with her, promoting the game as an official RBC event.
“I want that seventh man on the side helping us out!” Carr exclaimed. “It can be your Ivy championship … it’s not just ours.”
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