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Though only a junior, outside hitter Alexis Genske is a key leader for Penn volleyball on a roster that includes a whopping seven freshmen. Genske leads the Quakers with 3 kills per set, which is a tremendous improvement over her career 1.31 kills per set average entering the season.

Photo: Bill Streicher

Is it a coincidence that as the Penn volleyball starters were introduced before they faced Temple, junior outside hitter Alexis Genske was the first player announced?

Perhaps, but one cannot deny that No. 7 is one of the team’s best players and leaders.

“When it comes down to the games, we really just want to be there to pump [the younger players] up and offer them the leadership,” said Genske, who was second team All-Ivy in 2013.

As a junior captain, Genske is an anomaly. While there were six seniors at the helm for the Quakers in Genske’s freshman year and all three seniors on the 2013 roster were captains, things have changed. Now the squad is much younger than usual, carrying seven freshmen on its roster.

“We have a very different team this year,” Genske said. “Now, there are two or three freshmen on at a time. That changes things a lot, [but] we want to add the same stability we had last year.”

And add stability she has, as Genske brings a wealth of experience to the position. Even as a junior, she is one of the Quakers’ most tenured and well-rounded starters. Genske was the only player on Penn’s roster to win an Ivy Player of the Week honor last year. The six-foot junior even excelled at libero when star Dani Shepherd’s injury necessitated a shift.

Genske’s talent and experience as a sophomore convinced Penn coach Kerry Carr to name her one of the squad’s captains this year.

“She’s been there and ... knows how to handle the pressure,” Carr said. “I think that that’s something she can relate to the freshmen.”

Communication is key to Genske’s style of leadership. Her voice can be heard above all others before, during and after each rally, and her quick-thinking ability to sense the opponent’s intentions pre-play enables the Red and Blue to take other teams out of their systems.

“Yeah, I talk a lot,” Genske chuckled. “[Communication] is really important to our team, but it’s also really important to me. I’m, in Kerry’s words, a thinker — so I have to think about what I want to do that play and what I’m having people do around me.”

Aided by communication, Genske has guided her team through a rocky start to 2014. An unforgiving tournament against big-name programs in Stanford followed by a home loss to neighboring Villanova pushed her to, as Carr described, “[remind] people to focus on the process and not the outcome.”

This mental toughness will be vital heading into Ivy season, as Penn squares off against Princeton this Friday. Genske’s skills as an organizer, motivator and communicator will be vital as Penn hopes to topple Ivy powerhouses Yale and Harvard atop the standings.

“We’re trying to remember the things we did well, but also preparing [for Princeton] is really big,” Genske said. “We learned this weekend that we probably could have done things to prepare in other ways to make sure we’re not tired by the end of the tournament.”

The Quakers’ first set against La Salle last Saturday could serve as a rubric for how the team and its young captain must perform in the coming weeks. In a set where she herself recorded four kills and two digs, Genske maintained a positive — even smiling — demeanor as the Red and Blue fought back from a 10 -point deficit to win the set.

“We just had to believe that we could win and remind ourselves of all the good things we had done,” Genske said. “Our team was really mentally tough at that point, and ... I just kept reminding them that we can do this.”

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