When defending Ivy champion Yale came to the Palestra at the end of last October, the Penn volleyball team, then undefeated in conference play, knew its quest for the title was on the line.
The Quakers eventually emerged victorious en route to their own Ivy title, but Yale kept the contest close.
While the Bulldogs are coming to Philadelphia earlier in the season this year — the teams face off Friday at 7 p.m. — the stakes may be higher, with Penn looking to earn its first Ivy win of the season and turn around a 2-8 stretch that spans the last four weeks.
This year’s contest also promises to be particularly competitive, as a core of new freshmen on both sides of the court will add a new twist to the rivalry.
Yale (8-5, 2-0 Ivy) in particular will have an ace up its sleeve: two-time Ivy Rookie of the Week Kendall Polan.
In the Bulldogs’ Sept. 25 match against Albany, Polan earned Yale’s first triple-double this season.
And she didn’t slow down. In the team’s next contest, a road match at Brown, Polan put up a double-double with 23 assists and 17 digs.
“She has a high volleyball IQ … and knows how to set and when to set them,” Yale coach Erin Appleman said.
But rather than being fazed by Polan’s impressive success, Penn senior Megan Tryon was more focused on her own team.
“She’s just a setter,” Tryon, a setter herself, said nonchalantly.
Coming off back-to-back losses against Princeton and Marquette, the Quakers (4-9, 0-1) are ready to show Yale what their own freshmen star, Susan Stuecheli, can do.
Measuring in at 6-foot-2, Stuecheli has given Penn a huge advantage; the freshman middle blocker leads the Quakers in blocks and has the third-highest hitting percentage on the team (.315).
But regardless of how talented Polan or Stuecheli may be, one player does not define a team.
Coach Kerry Carr was clear on that point, saying that Friday night’s game isn’t going to be a Tryon-versus-Polan, setter-versus-setter showdown
It is, howeer, going to be a fight between the past two Ivy League champs.
Tryon said Penn’s loss to Marquette was “a wake-up call,” and it will be interesting to see how the Quakers bounce back against a tough conference opponent who is coming off of back-to-back wins.
Because Polan or no Polan, the Quakers are eager to show Yale why they are the reigning Ivy champs.
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