When there’s a will, there’s a way.
Down 14-12 in a fifth set and facing two match point opportunities for Harvard, Penn women’s volleyball showed the resilience that has made it so dominant over the past few weeks.
The Quakers (14-9, 8-4 Ivy) won the next two points, saved two more match points and pulled out an improbable five-set win to pull even with Harvard (13-8, 8-4) in second place in the Ivy League.
Despite spending Homecoming weekend away from the Palestra, where they are 7-2 this season, the Red and Blue found a way to pull out two crucial Ivy League victories on the road against Dartmouth and the Crimson.
The Quakers opened the weekend with a four-set victory over the Big Green (10-14, 3-9), reminiscent of an early season victory that saw a nearly identical result. Penn lost the first set, but rebounded nearly immediately, winning the next three sets to clinch the match.
“We started off very slow in the first set. We had to remind ourselves that every team in the Ivy League can beat any other team unless you play your best,” coach Kerry Carr said. “Every night, we’ve been able to bring it and turn it on like that.”
Following such a dominating finish, the Red and Blue found themselves in a much closer match on Saturday night.
The Crimson entered the match having won seven of their past eight Ivy League matches, including a five-set thriller that handed Yale its first conference loss since November 2011.
“We tried to prepare for Harvard’s offense, we changed our defense around,” Carr said. “We practiced hard this week to try to break them”
Harvard began the match with a dominating first set, pulling away by winning 11 of the final 14 points in the set. Yet the Quakers were not intimidated.
“We’re very good at staying calm in pressure situations. At the beginning of the season we went to a lot of fifth sets and played well during them,” sophomore outside hitter Alexis Genske said. “We just did the same thing here, we stayed calm. We figured we’d gotten this far, why would we be scared to go for it now?”
The Quakers and Crimson would go on to trade the following three sets, setting up a decisive fifth set that would affect the rest of the season.
Harvard leapt to an early lead, 6-4, in the set, benefitting from a pair of Penn errors and kills from a few key players. Penn would keep things close, but find itself unable to claim the lead as Harvard appeared to be headed towards victory.
Senior captains Kristen Etterbeek and Susan Stuecheli and Genske had something to say about that, though, hitting for four match-saving kills as Penn would come from behind to claim victory.
Etterbeek and Genske paved the way for the Quakers on both nights, leading the team in kills on both occasions, with Genske hitting for 20 in Saturday’s match, the most of any Penn player this year.
“[Genske] was on fire. When she’s hitting well and digging well, no one can stop her,” Carr said. “She still makes some mistakes, but how she comes back from it is amazing.”
Penn is now on a six-game winning streak and remains undefeated through the second half of its Ivy League slate. The final weekend of the season will see the Quakers face Brown and Yale at the Palestra, with the potential to finish in second place in the Ivy League.
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