The Penn volleyball team is ready to reclaim its place atop the Ivy League, and it starts with plenty of new additions.
After winning back-to-back Ivy championships, the Quakers found 2011 to be a more challenging year, as they finished in fifth place.
This year, however, coach Kerry Carr believes an infusion of new faces both on and off the court will propel Penn to the front of the Ancient Eight standings.
“It’s good to get a little bit of fresh blood every year,” she said. “I feel like we got a lot this year … and the girls really like the energy.”
After losing just one senior, the Red and the Blue will add five freshmen to the squad, four from California, who come to Penn with a wealth of experience.
“Even though they’re freshmen, they’re not playing like freshmen,” Carr said. “Contending for national championships [in high school] has given them the experience they need to compete for starting squad spots right away.”
But the freshmen aren’t the only new elements of the 2012 Quakers. Casey Shingler and Zhiyu “Charley” Chen will join coach Carr and assistant coach Seth Rochlin on the staff this season.
Before coming to Penn, Shingler worked for one year as the head coach at Arkansas-Monticello, a Division II program.
“As a young coach, it’s not everyday that a Division I program calls,” Shingler said. “Coach Carr built it so that a lot of people want to come here, a lot of coaches want to coach here and she’s proven that we can win here.”
“He’s really going to help us as far as having just another set of eyes,” Carr said. “He’s someone that’s been in my shoes and has another world view of the court.”
Chen, who played indoor and beach volleyball professionally in China and served as a member of the Chinese national team, will be a volunteer assistant coach while working on his master’s degree in applied geoscience. Chen played at Arkansas Tech, where his team advanced to the 2011 Division II NCAA Tournament.
“He brings international experience,” Carr said. “He’s constantly questioning what we do and why we do it, which is good for us to get better and look at different things.”
Though the new faces are an important factor to the 2012 squad, Carr also believes the veteran players will have a huge impact on the Quakers’ success this season.
“There are two things this year making us play already at a better level and one is the experience,” Carr said. “Everyone has a full year under their belts together.”
The Quakers are returning 13 letterwinners, including junior Dani Shepherd, who was selected first-team All-Ivy, and senior Amanda Pacheco, who was selected honorable mention All-Ivy and led the team with kills and hitting percentage last season.
“Dani and Amanda are really kind of leading the team along with our captains,” Carr says. “I think when you have players of that caliber that come to the gym and they’re fit and they’re in shape, they set the tone at practice as to what is expected and the level of play.”
The Quakers will open the season with the Big 5 Tournament, where they finished second behind Villanova last year. While this will be Penn’s first challenge, all three of the teams they face will already have played in games this season.
“It’s just getting the jitters out, just getting everyone out there, seeing how we flow,” Carr said. “The next weekend we fly out to California and play the big dogs [California-Berkeley, Northern Arizona and UC-Riverside], so it’s important for us to have a good tournament. But also the focus will be on finding the right system for us and cutting back on mistakes.”
“I don’t think there’s anything we can’t handle,” Shingler said. “But it’s going to be how do we put it all together with new faces.”
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