The Ivy League isn’t just for intellectual students. It’s for intellectual athletes as well.
For the Penn volleyball team, this becomes especially true once the conference season begins Friday night against archrival Princeton.
Game strategy becomes much more important during Ivy League competition, as the teams’ familiarity with one another demands specific plans of attack rather than a simple mindset of fundamental volleyball.
“Everything goes up a notch as far as the scouting report and the scholastics of the game,” coach Kerry Carr said. “The academics of the game go way up with Ivy League matches.
“Which is fun for coaches,” she continued, because they enjoy studying the matchups and determining the best offensive and defensive systems for each Ancient Eight foe.
It’s even more fun for the players, who Carr described as “cerebral” compared to the athletes she has coached at other schools. Before coming to Penn in 2000 she was an assistant coach at Georgetown and Hawaii and a head coach at Alaska.
“With the girls at Penn on the team now, I think they prefer more information than less,” Carr said. “That’s one reason I love coaching at Penn. At any other school that I’ve coached at, it would be too much.”
Up to this point in the season, practices have focused more on fine-tuning basic skills like the placement of an attack or defensive positioning.
“It’s not easier or more difficult,” said senior co-captain Megan Tryon, who directs much of the offensive strategy as the setter. “It’s more dependent on energy and really getting everyone to work towards the common goal of beating the team by carrying out the scouting report.”
Playing just two games per weekend during the Ivy slate, compared to three or four in nonconference tournaments, gives the players and coaches more time to master a new strategy for each contest.
“We practice differently when we have fewer matches because we can fine-tune techniques at the beginning of the week,” Tryon said. “Then, as we get closer, we really prepare for certain aspects of the opponent’s game.”
Carr said the one specific element of the game that changes the most during Ivy League play is the defense. Since the Ivies tend to have fewer players than many of the nonconference teams that they play, they make up for it with better liberos.
“Defense is extremely important in the Ivy League,” she said. “I think the best defenders in the country are in the Ivy League.”
Four of the Ancient Eight teams are in the top 20 nationally in digs per set — Dartmouth is third, Yale is sixth, Princeton is 17th and Penn is 18th. Individually, Dartmouth’s Amber Bryant ranks fifth nationally, Penn senior Madison Wojciechowski is 12th and Yale’s Kelly Ozurovich is 18th.
The combination of stingy Ivy defenses and familiarity with each hitter’s tendencies highlights the challenges that make strategy so much more important in October.
But for the cerebral Ivy League student-athletes, it’s a struggle they look forward to.
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