Derailed from its quest for a perfect Ivy season, Penn volleyball now has its eyes set on a new path.
After Harvard played spoiler and took down the undefeated Quakers, 3-2, Friday night, Penn rebounded to defeat Dartmouth in four sets Saturday to punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. With the win, the Quakers (21-5, 12-1 Ivy) clinched the outright Ivy title, as they currently sit two games ahead of second-place Yale with just one game left to play.
Friday, freshman right side hitter Lauren Martin contributed a career-high 22 kills, junior setter Megan Tryon added a career-high 68 assists, and junior libero Madison Wojciechowski recorded a season-high 39 digs to break the team’s single-season record for the third consecutive year. But it was all in vain as the Crimson (12-13, 8-6) prevailed in five sets.
Senior outside hitter Elizabeth Semmens led the offense with 24 kills in the match, six of which came in the deciding fifth set. But despite a remarkable 82 kills by the Penn offense — the most since November of 1985 — Harvard ran away with the final set, finishing the match on an 8-3 run to pick up the set, 15-10.
Penn struggled with the Harvard block throughout the night. For the first time in Ivy play this season, the balanced Quakers attack met its match.
“Each rotation would commit to a lane,” Harvard coach Jen Weiss said. “Lauren [Martin] is a wonderful hitter, but we know she likes to go inside, and we told Taylor [Docter] to take that away. We tried to pinch our defenders in, forcing Penn to go down the line, and it gave them trouble.”
Docter, a freshman outside hitter, played a key role for the Crimson defense, taking part in seven of her team’s 12 blocks. Her presence relentlessly troubled the Quakers all night as Penn hitters piled up 27 attack errors.
“We made too many errors at the wrong time,” Semmens said. “And they took the close games. They pulled the tough points out. It made all the difference.”
Timely errors were enough to neutralize an otherwise impressive performance.
“That is highly unusual for us,” coach Kerry Carr admitted. “All year, it’s been our team that’s pulled out two-point victories. We had the tables turn on us a little bit. We didn’t have the pressure on for the first half of this season. But we had the pressure on us tonight. They played better at key times.”
The Crimson’s ability to win the close sets certainly proved decisive. The three sets they won were 25-22, 27-25 and then 15-10. For the match, the Quakers outscored the Crimson, winning their two sets 25-12 and 25-16.
Saturday, Penn seemed determined to finish out sets when it took on Dartmouth (11-13, 7-7).
Leading by example, Semmens stifled a Dartmouth comeback when she broke open a 24-24 first-set tie with two straight kills for the win. She would go on to record a match-high 22 kills.
Semmens was joined by Martin, who had another big day, adding 20 kills on .548 hitting. At 9-9 in the second set, the duo alternated kills on four straight points to break the tie and ignite a 4-0 Quakers run. Penn would go on to cruise to a 25-17 victory.
After falling to Dartmouth in the third set, 25-22, Penn jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the fourth and set its eyes on the Ivy championship. The Quakers went on a 5-0 run later in the set and quickly found themselves at match point.
A kill by senior outside hitter Julia Swanson started a joyous celebration. It marked the end of a long, tough road to the top of the league.
“In the second half [of the season] everyone brought their best match against us,” coach Kerry Carr said. “For us to come out and continue to play perfect was pretty hard, especially because in this league, from top to bottom, the teams are very close.”
The Quakers may not be perfect, but they are still the champions of a competitive league. And for the first time since 2003, Penn volleyball can now set its eyes on the NCAA Tournament.
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