Only one game into the Ivy season, is it too early to talk about the future of Penn volleyball?
Not when the future starts now.
As the Quakers took the court against Dayton on Sept. 28, three freshmen were part of the starting lineup: outside hitter Aimee Stephenson, middle blocker Kendall Covington and libero Emmy Friedler. Last weekend’s games proved to be a challenge for the young team, as it dropped matches to the Flyers and rival Princeton.
“Right now we need to learn how to take the things from these losses and use them to beat teams in the Ivy League,” coach Kerry Carr said. “We are focusing a lot on the positive things of the game rather than correcting [younger players] all the time.”
Centering on the positives of each game is vital for a team whose focal point is its mental game. The Red and Blue’s claim to fame has been its ability to dominate its opponents emotionally, which kept morale afloat at many points throughout its California trip and empowered the team to overcome a 10-point deficit against La Salle in the Big 5 Tournament. Largely responsible for this resilience is the Quakers’ chemistry, as their undaunted enthusiasm provides the freshmen with an excellent model moving forward.
“They come into practice every day saying we’re ready,” Carr said. “They came to practice a half hour early yesterday. … That’s something you don’t get from every year’s team.”
However, for a freshman lineup comprised completely of high school captains and three-time letter winners, the lack of tangible successes may be a morale deflator. At 3-9, the young Quakers have lost matches to nationally ranked teams, potential division winners and Ivy opponents alike while keeping their freshest, occasionally overmatched legs on the court.
“We’re letting them stay in longer and make a lot of mistakes and learn on the fly,” Carr said. “The freshmen get better the more time they get.”
If this logic holds true, the team has a bright future. Of 39 total sets played, the top three freshmen — Stephenson, Friedler and Covington — have played in 38, 37 and 32, respectively. To put that in perspective, star outside hitter Alexis Genske played 32 sets her entire freshman year.
“It’s great, so that by the time we’re all seniors we’re going to have so much experience and leadership on the court,” Stephenson said.
The middle blocker has taken advantage of every opportunity, recording the second-most kills for the Quakers thus far. Stepping into the starting lineup after an injury to Jasmine DeSilva, Stephenson has embodied the bounce-back behavior integral to Penn.
“[Aimee] did not have a good match against Princeton, and she came right back and had a very good match [against Dayton],” Carr said. “We’re very happy with how she’s responding to more playing time.”
Covington has also taken advantage of her experience, ranking second in blocks and sixth in kills for the Quakers. One of the team’s best athletes, Covington continues to grow more skilled and confident as she prepares to be a full-time starter in the future.
“[Playing time] contributes a lot, because I get so much experience,” Covington said. “With the more practice we get and the more times we get to step on the court, being freshmen, I think is going to be very advantageous in the future.”
This future — both the 2014 Ivy season and beyond — can be summed up in the words of Stephenson: “It can only go up.”
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