As classes wind down for the week, the battle is just beginning for Penn volleyball.
The Quakers (3-4) will travel to Villanova Friday afternoon for the start of the Villanova Classic, looking to build off of the momentum of not one, but two five-set comeback victories on Sunday against both Temple and Weber State.
The Red and Blue will begin their first match of the Invitational at 4:30 p.m. against Norfolk State (4-7) Friday, before clashing with Sacred Heart (5-4) and the tourney host Wildcats (5-5) to wrap up the tournament on Saturday.
This tourney will be a challenge for the Red and Blue, as all three teams they will face come in with records hovering around the .500 mark.
Villanova may prove to be the biggest threat to the Quakers. Having won four of their last five games, the Wildcats have been on a roll after starting out the season 1-4.
“We always go five sets with them, they win, we win,” coach Kerry Carr said. “It’s usually a huge blocking match for both teams, they’re by far the best in this tournament … we will want to play well during those [earlier matches] and then still have the energy to get up and play our best ball at the end of the tournament, like we did in the last tournament.”
Recently, the Quakers have been playing their best ball at the end of matches. During last week’s Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West Penn Invitational, the Quakers faced identical 2-1 deficits to Temple and Weber State before rallying both times to come away with emphatic five-set victories.
Though the Red and Blue struggled early in both of those matches on Sunday, they were able to dig deep and reach a second level of play that teams normally don’t demonstrate until midseason.
“In both situations last weekend, we weren’t the better team until the end of the match,” Carr said. “Not only were we resilient to come back and play better ball than we did in the beginning, but we actually improved our level of play from what level we came into that match and what level we left it at.
“When you look at five set matches, it is all about at the end: Who wants to win it more? Who’s going to get it out? Who’s going to raise their level first? And we did.”
One of the stars of last week’s tournament was freshman outside hitter Arielle Winfield.
Against Weber State on Sunday, Winfield’s emphatic kill in the fourth set led to a four-point streak that generated enough momentum for Penn to emerge victorious.
Tallying seven total kills against the Wildcats, Winfield displayed poise beyond her years, perhaps a trait passed onto her by her father, Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield.
“We’re a very resilient team, we don’t like losing,” she said. “Because of our resilience, we do thrive in five set games but I don’t think we necessarily need to take it to five every time. Honestly, I feel like we’re good enough to take every one of these games in three but sometimes we get a little bit ahead of ourselves.
“If we just focus on the game plan we can take them in three, I have no doubt about that, but I’m not mad, at least when we do take it to five we win.”
If things go right for Penn this weekend, they won’t have to deal with a fifth set anytime soon.
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