Penn volleyball coach Kerry Carr always says that anything can happen in the Ivy League, and Saturday offered ample proof that she is right.
First, a Cornell squad with only six wins on the year was only two points away from earning a 3-0 sweep over a Penn squad that entered the match a perfect 10-0 in League play. Then, in a stunning turnaround, the Quakers wound up clinching at least a share of the Ivy League championship.
Down 23-20, the Quakers reeled off five consecutive points to win the third set, and then finished the improbable comeback with 25-21 and 15-12 wins in the fourth and fifth sets, respectively. Meanwhile, in a surprising upset, second-place Yale dropped a four-set match at Dartmouth, pushing the Bulldogs three games behind Penn with only three to play.
The Quakers provided less drama in a 3-0 victory at Columbia Friday night, their second sweep of the Lions (11-14, 2-10 Ivy) this season.
When Carr informed her players of the ramifications of Yale’s loss Saturday, she was met largely with indifference and had to persuade the team to celebrate.
“They were like, ‘To hell with that, we don’t want a share, we want it all,’” Carr said. “It was kind of bittersweet because they realized they were champions, but not the kind of champions they want to be.”
Even though Penn (20-4, 11-0) has already beaten Yale twice this season, the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament is not decided by a head-to-head tiebreaker.
Still, it’s close to a formality that Penn will finish in sole possession of first. To force a tie, Yale would need to win out while the Quakers must lose three in a row at home. Even then, Yale would need to beat Penn in a playoff match at the Palestra to steal the tournament bid.
Even though the Quakers swept Cornell (6-17, 3-7) at home just two weeks ago, the combination of a grueling bus ride and an emotionally-charged Cornell Senior Night helped the Big Red jump out to a fast start.
“They were playing amazing defense, picking up everything, and I think we just weren’t ready for it,” senior outside hitter Elizabeth Semmens said. “We had to make some adjustments to our game plan, and once we got settled and played our game, then we were back.”
Caught in an unfamiliar trailing position, the tenacious Quakers shook off tough nights from some of their starters and refused to give up. Facing a sweep in the third set, Carr made some personnel changes, and senior co-captain Anne Magnuson came off of the bench to provide an important energetic spark.
“It was some of the best volleyball we’ve played, and I think it was because we had our backs against the wall,” Carr said of the team’s comeback.
The Big Red consistently hit away from junior libero Madison Wojciechowski, which allowed Semmens to record a career-high 25 digs to go along with 17 kills.
Moving forward, Penn has a lofty goal of joining the 2007 Princeton team as the only squads to go 14-0 in Ivy League play since the inception of a double round-robin schedule in 2001.
“In my tenure when we won [the league] we always had one or two losses,” Carr said. “So that’s huge for me personally, and I hope the team realizes that that’s not something that any team does in any sport. You always drop a game somewhere, and it’s really something special.”
Sports Editor Noah Rosenstein contributed reporting to this article.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.