Penn volleyball entered this weekend surrounded by a lot of questions. How would the team play together? How would it replace the players it lost over the offseason?
The team not only answered these questions — Quakers changed the entire course of the conversation.
On a characteristically warm weekend at the Palestra, the Quakers opened their season by going 2-1 in the Crowne Plaza Invitational, defeating Colgate and Cleveland State each in straight sets before being swept by Georgetown.
“I think we did a lot better than I thought we would,” coach Kerry Carr said. “I had no expectations, to tell you the truth.”
In its opening match of the year, Penn (2-1) took care of business, defeating Colgate (2-2) in straight sets on Friday night.
However, the Red and Blue got off to an inauspicious start, with junior outside hitter Jasmine DeSilva going down with an apparent knee injury. She would not return for the rest of the weekend, although she was able to walk gingerly off the court. Carr was unable to provide any further information on the severity of her injury.
However, the Quakers forged on, taking the first set relatively easily, 25-20, off the strength of some clean play and the firepower of junior outside hitter Alexis Genske .
Colgate fought back, but the Quakers put together a gritty team effort and were able to hold on to take the second set, 25-23.
Then the floodgates opened.
The Quakers — who were clearly the more athletic squad — put together a dominant final set, finishing the Raiders off, 25-15.
Penn’s second match featured a change of time — Saturday afternoon — and change of opponent — Cleveland St. (3-4) — but no significant change in result.
Much like in their first match, the Quakers easily won the first set, 25-15, battled to win the second set, 25-23, and then cruised through the third set, 25-21, on their way to victory.
However, the final game of the tournament on Saturday night would not go quite so well for Penn.
After having started mainly juniors and seniors at the beginning of the tournament, Carr made the decision to start freshmen Kendall Covington and Aimee Stephenson in Penn’s final match against the Hoyas (4-2).
Although the newcomers brought a lot of excitement and athleticism into play for the Quakers, Penn was clearly outmatched by Georgetown, which looked like the more seasoned and better conditioned team.
Ultimately, the Hoyas won in straight sets (25-17, 25-20, 25-23), winning the tournament in the process.
Penn’s 2-1 record was good for a second-place finish, which left the team in an optimistic mood despite its loss.
“Our attitude and composure was really awesome for a beginning of the season tournament,” Genske said.
Carr also noted that her team was a couple of weeks behind the others in terms of training and that it may have caught up with the squad in the final match.
“You could see a lot of the fatigue,” Carr said. “That hit the freshmen first.”
Throughout the weekend, the Red and Blue relied heavily on their two All-Tournament selections: Genske and junior setter Alex Caldwell .
“Alexis and Alex are the cornerstones of our offense,” Carr said. “We put a lot on their shoulders.”
Caldwell was the clear standout for the Red and Blue, registering phenomenally efficient play in Penn’s opener in particular, in which she registered seven kills, 17 assists, 13 digs and no errors.
Genske was not as efficient, but Carr attributes much of this inefficiency to “out-of-system” shots and the new responsibility Genske has taken on as a team captain.
“I’m really happy with how I played. I think I’m just juggling things right now,” Genske added.
Quakers answered a lot of questions with their overall team coherence, led in large part by new libero sophomore Rachel Baader .
“She owned the role, and that was cool to see,” Carr said.
Now the Quakers will look forward to their next game, this Tuesday at Delaware, where they will begin to answer the next logical question: Just how good can this team be?
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