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Junior middle blocker Amanda Pacheco has tallied 27 kills this year, second-best on the team. She expects Penn to “rise to the occasion” against OSU.

Photo: Kai Tang / The Daily Pennsylvanian

The two-time defending Ivy League volleyball champions have not gained their recent success by resting on their laurels. Instead, as in past seasons, Penn coach Kerry Carr has scheduled several preseason matches against some of the nation’s top teams, in hopes of challenging her team and helping it grow.

This year, Penn opens up the Rocket Classic in Toledo, Ohio with a matchup against a Top-25 team in Ohio State.

“I love playing teams that are better than us on paper because you play up to their level and you take a lot from them,” Carr said. “As a coach, it’s more challenging, but I appreciate that because then we take a little more time to think outside the box.”

The fact that the two teams have never played each other will also give Penn (2-1) more opportunities to try new strategies against a talented Buckeyes team.

Ohio State (4-3) concluded last season with a No. 19 ranking in the AVCA Coaches Poll and a regional semifinal appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes’ success carried over into the early part of the 2011 season, when they won the West Virginia Mountaineer Invitational without dropping a set. As of Sept. 5, they are ranked No. 25.

Although OSU did lose its next three matches at the Hawaiian Airlines Wahine Volleyball Classic, its fast-paced offense and hard hitters will keep the Quakers on their toes.

“This will be a very challenging tournament, especially the Ohio State match,” junior middle blocker Amanda Pacheco said. “[But] I think we will rise to the occasion and see what we’re capable of.”

And that’s what the Quakers are hoping to take away from this tournament — a better understanding of their potential.

Penn finished second at the Big 5 Tournament, its only set of matches so far this season. But more importantly, the team finally got a chance to see how its young squad fared in real-game situations after weeks of preparation and a lineup that has yet to be determined.

“[The Big 5 Tournament] was our first measure of how hard we worked during preseason,” junior right side hitter Lauren Martin said. “This weekend really showcased our strengths, but it also gave us something to work on this week.”

While the Quakers are hoping to leave Toledo as winners of the Rocket Classic, their eyes are also firmly set on creating a championship-caliber team.

“Before a match like Ohio State, I would tell the freshmen and sophomore classes to look at them as just another opponent that will challenge us and make the team better,” senior captain Logan Johnson said. “Every match before the Ivies is an opportunity to grow as a team and make us more of a threat.”

Ohio State will surely provide the sort of challenges that Carr is seeking.

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