Before embarking on a quest to regain their once-held status as volleyball champions of the Ivy League, the Quakers will need to defend a smaller honor this weekend at the Palestra.
“This weekend isn’t necessarily about the wins and losses, but looking forward to the bigger picture,” coach Kerry Carr said.
Last season, going into the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West Pennsylvania Invitational, the Quakers were 2-4 and coming off three straight losses.
But superb play throughout the tournament by Lauren Martin, who earned MVP honors, and Susan Stuecheli, who was named to the All-Tournament team, propelled the Red and Blue to a first-place finish.
Although Martin and Stuecheli — now the team’s captains — have not played up to par yet this season, Carr is hopeful this tournament will once again be successful for the pair.
“They are captains of this team, and I don’t think their play has been a strong showing up until now about what they can do,” Carr said. “I’m hoping … they’ll put up the numbers like they did last year and really lead this team. I would hope that this is their breakout weekend for the season.”
Going into the weekend at 3-3, Penn will need similar performances from players new and old in order to defend its title.
In addition to the captains, freshman Ronnie Bither figures to have a big impact this weekend. She has been named Ivy League Rookie of the Week the past two weeks. She earned her first award for her play in the Big 5 tourney two weekends ago, when she tallied over 100 assists, and her second last weekend at the Molten Classic, where she averaged almost 10 assists per game.
With 209 total assists on the season, Bither will be relied on heavily and will need to continue to learn at a quick pace.
She will be aided on the court by sophomore Emma White, who leads the team with 63 kills on the season and is second in digs with 99. Her superior play on both sides of the floor will dictate the Red and Blue’s outcome in the three-game tournament.
Carr will call upon the young duo, along with others, to perform well this weekend.
“[White and Bither] have been the rock of our offense and I expect them to do the same,” Carr said. “They’ve stood out because they’ve been consistent, but I’d like for some other people to step up and try as well. I want other teams to worry about other players than those two.”
Penn opens the weekend against George Mason (2-8) on Friday night, followed by matches against Radford (6-6) and Rutgers (11-1) on Saturday.
“Whenever you get to run your own tournament, you get to put yourself into position to play the best team of the tournament at the end,” Carr explained.
With increasingly tough competition as the weekend progresses, the Quakers must come out of the gates quickly.
“I hope that we continue to grow and get stronger with each match so that our strongest match is at the end of the tournament,” Carr said. “That way, we will learn from previous mistakes and we also get to watch our opponent a couple of times, so that gives us an advantage.”
As this is the last tournament before the start of Ivy play, finalizing lineups, improving chemistry and performing well across the board will be essential takeaways from the weekend.
“I think we’re right where we need to be,” Carr said. “I haven’t finalized the starters, but that’s a good thing.
“There’s so much depth on this team that I do need a weekend to play around with lineups to see what people can do.”