Heading into the fifth-set tiebreaker Sunday against Yale, a berth to the NCAA tournament looked like it might slip out of the Penn volleyball team’s grasp.
The Bulldogs had the momentum after rallying from a 2-0 deficit to force the tiebreaker, but the Quakers prevailed in the deciding set to keep their season alive.
“We put our heads together and realized that we really wanted this,” said senior libero Madison Wojciechowski, who was named first team all-Ivy before the match. “We knew it was going to take a lot of heart.”
Penn’s determination showed as it dominated the final set.Sophomore Amanda Pacheco, a second team all-Ivy selection, blocked an attempted kill to tie the game at 3-3, then rattled off two straight kills to give the Quakers an early two-point advantage.
From there, the Red and Blue never looked back and held on to the lead for the remainder of the set.
With the win, Penn (17-10, 12-2 Ivy) now rides a six-game winning streak as the team enters the postseason.
The Red and Blue will learn the name of their opponent when NCAA selections are announced on Nov. 28.
Though the Quakers handded the Bulldogs a loss in their first meeting — a 3-1 victory on Oct. 8 — it was co-Ivy League champion Yale who outplayed Penn three weeks ago.
With Sunday’s victory, however, Penn got the last laugh.
“We wanted to be the number-one champion, and beating Yale proved that we are,” Wojciechowski said.
The Red and Blue weathered a 9-0 Bulldogs run early in the first set and responded with a streak of their own, rattling off 23 of the next 30 points to win the set, 25-18.
“We took a step back and remembered to play our game, not to get sucked into theirs,” Wojciechowski said.
The Quakers traded points with the Bulldogs for much of the second set, but superior defense allowed the Red and Blue to go up 2-0.
Penn’s ability to keep rallies alive held the Bulldogs to just .102 hitting for the set.
But the Bulldogs refused to lie down. Yale kept the third set close, as neither team gained more than a four-point lead. A few attack errors and two nicely placed kills by Yale freshman setter Kendall Polan — who was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year — gave the Bulldogs the set, 25-23.
“Our passing fell off a little bit, and our sets weren’t as strong, but to give Yale credit, they did step up their game,” Penn coach Kerry Carr said.
With their fans all riled up, the Bulldogs rode the energy into the fourth. The Quakers misplayed a number of balls, while Yale’s shots began to fall. The Elis won, 25-17, and sent the game to a deciding fifth set.
And that’s where the Red and Blue clamped down.
“Against Yale’s defense, it’s hard to do, but the girls did step it up. They play their best when their backs are against the wall,” Carr said.
Offensively, sophomore Lauren Martin matched a career-high in kills with 22, while Pacheco added 11 kills, hitting .320 for the match.
Senior Megan Tryon, who received Ivy Player of the Year honors, had a game-high 53 assists in addition to her nine digs, three kills, and one service ace.
Classmate and first team all-Ivy selection Julia Swanson also had an all-around strong game with 10 kills, 21 digs and 5 blocks, while Wojciechowski tallied 24 digs.
Despite their accomplishments thus far, the Quakers are not yet satisfied.
“There was a high bar set by last year’s team, and we definitely reached that bar and now we’re hoping to exceed it,” Wojciechowski said.
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