Be it ever so competitive, there’s no place like home.
That’s the mantra for the Penn women’s soccer and volleyball teams, which have both taken their strong Californian contingents to the Golden State in two of the last three years.
Out of the 22 players on the Penn volleyball team, 10 are from California and enjoyed a homecoming earlier this month at the three-game Molten Classic in Berkeley. The women’s soccer team has three Californians on its roster who just returned from matches at Cal and Sacramento State this past weekend.
Turns out that heading west is the best thing an Ivy League sports team can do.
“It’s home for most of our athletes,” Penn volleyball coach Kerry Carr said. “So we actually have more people in the stands in California than our opponents.”
Not only does it provide players with a homey respite, but it also has advantages for the team.
“We try to take players back to within their region, so their families see them,” Penn women’s soccer coach Darren Ambrose said. “And we can expand our recruiting.”
It doesn’t hurt that California is fertile ground for top-notch athleticism.
“We recruit from California heavily because the quality of play there is so good,” Ambrose said. “Recruits can come see us play and get a gauge of how we do against teams they’re familiar with. So from that standpoint it gives us far more outreach and makes us more visible.”
Visibility is the watchword for Carr, who has fought the ridiculous stigma of Ivy athletics where it all too commonly grows — among non-Ivy coaches and athletic administrators.
“I think there’s a stereotype about East Coast volleyball and Ivy League athleticism being not as strong,” Carr said. “I had all three coaches [from California, Northern Arizona and UC-Riverside] come up to me and say, ‘Don’t take this as a backhanded compliment, but you’re a lot better than I thought East Coast Ivy League teams are!’
“That to me is why we need to continue to play nationally.”
The Golden State holds in store not only the Quakers of the future but some of the most formidable opponents Penn can find in the present. Both teams squared off with Cal in Berkeley, exposing the Quakers among Pac-12 circles and in the case of women’s soccer, on the Pac-12 Network.
Travel fatigue is always a factor, especially for the women’s soccer team when it has to play its second game of the trip in a three-day span.
But it didn’t stop Penn from triumphing on the road over Sacramento State, 3-2, in double-overtime on Sunday, and it has never stopped Californian players from soaking up their supporters.
Penn women’s soccer junior and Hillsborough, Calif., native Laura Oliver made the most of her return west, having a barbecue at her house and playing in front of her internship co-workers at Gilead Pharmaceuticals in addition to her youth soccer team. Oliver also joined the team on its previous trip to California as a freshman in 2010.
“It was our first away trip — we bonded,” Oliver said. “As a freshman, I didn’t know the seniors that well, so personal ties off the field always translate to personal connections on the field. And I think that really helped with us.”
Sickness brought the Quakers together on the 2010 trip to California when 10 players got sick on the plane ride out, leaving only 14 total available players for Penn’s win over Cal State Northridge and loss to Loyola Marymount.
“Overcoming the stomach flu that we had was really a team effort, and I think we learned a lot from that experience,” Oliver said.
So the recruiting and greater competition may be the most logistical reasons for going to California, but the biggest travel perk is the perfect combination of family and team.
“When you’re spending time together in hotels and on planes, relationships change,” Ambrose said. “I think you develop team chemistry this way. That’s another reason for the trip.
“You’ve got to challenge yourself, and adversity brings you better character.”
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