The Penn volleyball team has thrived under pressure this year. But this time the pressure will be on a whole new level.
When the Quakers take the court tonight at the Bryce Jordan Center, on Penn State’s campus, to take on Army (26-5) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, school history will be on the line.
Penn is 0-3 all time in the NCAA Tournament, having lost in the first round all three times they qualified. All three losses occurred at the same site — the Bryce Jordan Center.
The team will arrive at University Park, Pa., today much the way they did in 2001, 2002 and 2003 — as Ivy League champions.
They are proud to repeat that much, but vehemently want to avoid a repeat of the tournament results.
“This is a chance to make school history,” coach Kerry Carr said. “Obviously we’re happy to have this opportunity, but more than anything we want to make something out of it.”
“It’s very exciting to have a shot at this; not every Penn team has had that,” junior Madison Wojciechowski added. “And I believe we have as good a chance this time as ever before [to win].”
The Quakers went 22-5 this year (13-1 Ivy) led by a conference record four first team All-Ivy selections. Senior Elizabeth Semmens was named the Ivy League Player of the Year, leading the team with 3.88 kills per set.
Wojciechowski led the team with 5.55 digs per set, and is now the school’s all-time leader in digs with 1,534 in her three-year career.
Junior setter Megan Tyron averaged 11.96 assists for the Quakers, contributing to a team average 14.64 kills per set, 10th best in the nation.
And rounding out the All-Ivy selections was freshman Lauren Martin, named the Ivy Rookie of the Year. She lead Penn with a .316 hitting percentage.
Army has won 18 of its last 20 games en route to a Patriot League championship. In the conference tournament the Black Knights swept their way to the title, dethroning second seed and eight-time Patriot League champion American in the process.
Army’s senior setter Maureen Bannon averaged 11.83 assists per set and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
The Black Knights are making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Four other teams in the 64-team field are in the same boat.
Bannon and freshman Ariana Mankus, who was the Patriot League Player and Rookie of the Year, perhaps form the Quakers’ greatest threat.
“We’re going to have to contain [them],” Carr said. “There is clearly going to be a need to limit what they can do out there. We will have to be tight on our defense, and go about our offense as usual.”
“We have to execute the way we have all year,” Wojciechowski said. “Our greatest way to success will be in continuing to do what we do best.”
The winner of this match will take on the winner of the Penn State and Binghamton match in State College on Saturday, but both teams are just hoping to get there without much hope more. The Nittany Lions (32-0) are the No. 1 team in the nation and have won 96 consecutive matches.
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