Penn and Villanova have dominated the Big 5 volleyball tournament since its inception four years ago.
Both teams boasted 7-2 records at the tourney heading into this year, but for the past two seasons, the Quakers could not elude the Wildcats.
That wasn’t a problem this year, and with wins over La Salle and Villanova over the weekend, the Red and Blue improved their overall tournament record to 9-3.
The Quakers (2-1) got off to a rocky start Friday evening. After winning the first set against Temple (4-3), 25-20, they fell in the next three by scores of 25-23, 25-23 and 25-21.
“We came out Friday with a slow start, and I got on some particular players to have a better start,” coach Kerry Carr said.
Using a balanced attack, three Quakers had 10 or more kills, with junior Kristen Etterbeek recording a team-high 15. Sophomore Emma White had 14, and senior Lauren Martin added 12.
Etterbeek also led the team in digs with 22, while junior Dani Shepherd had the second most at 18.
Of the Quakers’ 56 assists, freshman Ronnie Bither had 44 — just one less than the entire Owls team combined.
Freshmen played a critical role for the team throughout the tournament, and four of the team’s five new players logged significant time.
“Being out on the floor for the first time, their composure was impressive,” Carr said. “I am used to freshmen having talent and competing for playing time, but for them to come out and have that composure was really nice to see.”
And although the Quakers were unable to open their season with a win, they used Friday’s game as a primer for Saturday’s success and a place at the top of the tournament standings.
Just 15 hours after falling to Temple, the Quakers bounced back to defeat La Salle (1-6) in four sets Saturday morning.
After Penn began the match with a 25-13 win, the Explorers handily beat the Quakers, 25-7, in the second set. It was the last time the Quakers lost in the tournament. They beat La Salle, 25-22 and 25-19, in the next two sets to take the match.
Freshman Jasmine Desilva led a similarly balanced offensive attack for Penn with 12 kills, while Etterbeek added nine and two others added seven. With 35 assists, Bither actually had one assist more than all of La Salle combined.
Penn has never lost to La Salle over the course of the tournament, and not overall since 1999.
Saturday evening, vying for a tie at the top of the standings, the Red and Blue knocked off Villanova (4-2) in straight sets, 25-14, 25-23 and 25-23.
“My initial impressions changed from Friday night to Saturday and that’s a good thing,” Carr said. “By the end of the weekend we … had a really great match against Villanova. That’s what the preseason is all about — being put in situations where you’re allowed to try out different lineups and get people experience.”
Led on both sides of the court by White’s superb play, the Quakers ended the tournament with a sweep of the Wildcats. White led all players with 10 kills and tied with Etterbeek to lead all players with 18 digs apiece. And this time, Bither out-assisted the other team by seven, 34-27.
White and Bither were both named to the all-tournament team. For Bither, in her first weekend, it should be a good indication of how she will contribute this season.
“My first weekend playing college [volleyball] was very exciting,” Bither said. “It’s a lot different, and a lot more fast-paced. It was kind of nerve-racking to start off but we finally started to mesh as a team and got better all weekend.”
Although Temple was officially awarded the Big 5 championship based on winning percentage of all sets played, three teams, including the Quakers, finished at the top of the tournament with 2-1 records.
While not a perfect weekend, it was a good start to what the Quakers hope will be a return to Ivy League prominence.
Penn resumes play next weekend on the West Coast as they compete in the University of California’s Molten Classic.
“We’re going to have our hands full next weekend,” Carr said. “But I am excited to take the team out to California and really test them.”