If there were ever an argument that the Penn volleyball team was not the team to beat this year in the Ivy League, the Quakers would like to hear it.
In front of the largest crowd they’ve seen all year, the Quakers took down Yale Friday in four highly contested sets to sweep the season series with the defending champions. The next day they easily dispatched last-place Brown in four sets to improve to 9-0 in the Ivies.
The atmosphere was electric Friday night as the Bulldogs (17-3, 7-2 Ivy) entered the match trying to avenge their sole conference loss — a five-set thriller against Penn Oct. 10. A victory over the undefeated Quakers (18-4, 9-0) would have tied the two rivals at the top of the Ivy League with identical 7-1 conference records.
Yale came out firing in the first set but Penn responded early, refusing to allow an initial deficit to exceed two points. But at 10-10, the Bulldogs finally took advantage of a favorable rotation that freed senior outside hitter Cat Dailey, who led Yale to a 6-2 run.
A four-point lead was all the Bulldogs needed, as they held on to take the opening set 25-23, outhitting the Quakers .231 to .167.
Penn struggled early on with an unfavorable matchup against the Yale attack. Dailey, the Bulldogs’ best attacker, was playing opposite Penn setter Megan Tryon, the team’s smallest blocker.
“When we found out what they wanted to do, we tried getting one step ahead of them, which we did in games two, three and four,” coach Kerry Carr said.
Two straight kills to open the second set by senior outside hitter Elizabeth Semmens started a 10-3 Quakers’ charge. Penn went on to blast Yale for a .333 hitting percentage in the set behind the strong play of freshman right-side hitter Lauren Martin, who led the Quakers with 21 kills in the contest.
But it was the Penn defense that changed the course of the match.
In a third set in which seemingly every Yale swing was popped up, junior libero Madison Wojciechowski contributed 10 digs on her way to a match-high 25. But she was not alone, as Semmens, junior outside hitter Julia Swanson and senior defensive specialist Mary Russell all joined her in double-digit digs for the day.
On outdigging Yale 97-75 for the match, Carr said, “That was our gameplan. We really adapted to their offense. It was two offensive teams and whichever played better defense was going to win.”
Yale coach Erin Appleman agreed.
“The match was won and lost on the defensive end,” she said. “The difference was their offensive and defensive depth, and tonight it was too much for us to handle.”
On Saturday against Brown (5-15, 1-8), Penn decided to rest some of its starters.
Though the Bears took the third set against the Quakers’ second team, the Red and Blue bounced back behind another impressive effort by Martin, who led the team by recording 15 kills and hitting a blistering .444 percentage.
The Quakers haven’t started their conference schedule with a 9-0 mark since 2003, when they went on to seize the Ivy championship.
After another perfect weekend that included a convincing victory over its only legitimate challenger for the 2009 title, it is safe to say that this Penn club is once again at the top of the League.
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