Losing close matches is no longer acceptable for the women’s volleyball team.
“In general, we start off strong and struggle a lot at the end of games,” senior captain Tori Manix said. “We need more competitiveness and aggressiveness at the end of games, so that’s really what we’ve been focusing on.”
Mental lapses have spelled disaster for Penn during the first half of Ivy play, with two five-set losses and a hard-fought three-set sweep at the hands of Yale last weekend.
“Many teams would be like, ‘We screwed up for the first half of the season, let’s pack it up,’” coach Kerry Carr said. “But these guys are like, ‘We want to go 7-0.’
“We know from playing these teams that we are all at the same level, and the girls are just not satisfied with knowing that and having other teams come out on top at the very end.”
To improve her team’s mental toughness, in-game durability and end-of-game execution, Carr and her coaching staff have taken an old sports adage to heart — practice how you play.
“The coaches sat in the office, watched film all day Sunday and came in Monday, saying, ‘We have to do something different,’” Carr said. “If it’s just mental toughness and we have the legs and the arms, then we need to put them in the exact game point situation and figure [out] how to do it. So we create a frustrating situation where things aren’t fair or going your way, and force them to win anyway. And that’s what they’ve done all week.”
After last weekend’s performance left the team even at 9-9 and in third-place with a 4-3 Ivy record, the coaching staff has completely revamped team practices.
“Our practices are a lot more competitive and high-energy and definitely more tiring, but it’s for the best because it’s more fun when we’re actually playing as opposed to doing drills,” sophomore standout Emma White said.
Focusing less on drills and more on in-game situations and strategy, the Quakers have been tirelessly preparing themselves all week for a rematch against Princeton on Friday.
“They’ve reacted very well,” Carr said. “We’ve hit the highest percentage, had more kills and just gone after certain point situations that we experienced last weekend [against Yale] and against Princeton and Harvard.”
Although the Tigers are responsible for one of the Quakers’ five-set losses, the hope is that these new practices will lead to improved results for the next half of Ivy play.
Carr noted an increased level of competition during team scrimmages.
“Monday was the most mentally fatiguing practice we’ve had all season because we are just tired of losing,” Carr said. “Finally people got in other people’s faces and really stepped up their game and that’s really hard for us. Our team is a nice team, but I think they’re sick of being nice and losing.”
Carr is hoping the intensified preparation bodes well for the second half of the season, noting that some players have already readily accepted the challenge.
“They really want to win, and are glad they have the opportunity to replay these teams both in practice and in games,” Carr said. “Especially the players who are extremely competitive. They want another shot at beating a Yale or Princeton.”
The Quakers will get their first shot Friday in Princeton, N.J., against the Tigers.