Under the bright lights of The Palestra, Penn volleyball showed sparks of brilliance. However, they were exactly that: sparks.
The Red and Blue lost to Columbia in three sets, falling to 0-2 in Ivy League play with Cornell coming to the Palestra on Saturday.
The Lions jumped out to 9-2 lead, forcing Penn to call an early timeout. The tone was set, and Penn couldn’t take control, losing the first set 25-12. Despite a strong showing of ability and tenacity in the second set, a 25-22 loss, the Quakers were unable to keep that momentum going into the third set as Columbia sealed the victory with a 25-13 win.
Junior outside hitter and captain Alexis Genske spoke to Penn’s inconsistency. “I think we lacked a spark of urgency. We saw that spark at points this week during practice, so we thought that we’d be able to bring it this weekend.
“Everyone was worried about who was going to hit the next ball and I told people, ‘You should want the next ball.’”
“We didn’t play our best tonight," coach Kerry Carr added. "Basically, our mental game is probably the most crucial issue right now: stepping up, holding people accountable and being tougher on each other when things aren’t going so well instead of just withdrawing.”
Penn (3-10, 0-2 Ivy) was shaken offensively by the strong defensive presences of the Columbia middles, sophomore Kesi Neblett and junior Katarina Jovicic. Combining for six block assists and two blocks, the two middle blockers for Columbia (6-5, 2-0) alone outdid the entire Penn team in both categories.
Heading into the second set, Penn made adjustments to Neblett’s slide and Columbia’s penchant for cross-court attacks from both the outside and opposite.
“Adjusting our defense quickly is one of the things we’re prided on,” Genske said.
In an offensive turnaround led by Genske, junior right side hitter Alex Caldwell, and standout freshman middle Kendall Covington, the Red and Blue put the pressure on the Lions to make mistakes unseen in the first set. Penn and Columbia traded points through the set, until a string of Columbia kills spelled the close win.
With a crowd of Penn supporters enlivened by the second set showing, the Quakers cooled off and quieted both their offensive and defensive success.
“To be honest, I just got a little angry. I’m not a very angry person, but I had enough,” Genske said. “I realized I needed to set the example in terms of stepping up to the plate.”
Genske did exactly that, taking the offense into her own hands and scoring five of Penn’s 13 points in the third set.
“There was no point in holding back," she said. "There wasn’t much on the line anymore—we either go for it and take the game or not.”
The Red and Blue will take the loss in stride, as they return to The Palestra tomorrow night to take on the Cornell Big Red (3-9, 0-2). Both Genske and Coach Carr are optimistic about tomorrow’s contest and the season at large.
“I definitely think the best is to come,” Carr said. “They’ve shown [quality play] in spurts, but holding and putting that together for a whole game is another thing. We’ve done it in practice, we’ve done it on the road.
“As soon as they start believing in themselves, I think we’ll be unstoppable. It’s just a little difficult right now.”
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