While Penn volleyball will certainly be hoping for this season to play out differently than last, some things are best left unchanged.
Senior captains and star hitters Alexis Genske and Alex Caldwell return as the anchors of this year’s team after pacing the Quakers in kills a season ago.
Genske had a career year last season, finishing fourth in the Ivy League with 282 kills. She also made her presence felt on defense, finishing second on the team with 254 digs.
What makes Genske so good? Her co-star praised her ability to come through when she’s needed the most.
“She puts balls away. If we’re down, and we need to kill the ball, or if it’s game point, we can count on her,” Caldwell said.
Coach Kerry Carr echoed the sentiment.
“On game point, we want to get her the ball. As a serve receiver, against their ace server, she’s going to take that ball,” Carr said. “Alexis is the glue that holds the team together. We need her in the front row, we need her in the back row.”
What does Caldwell do that makes her so special? The better question is: What doesn’t she do? In 2014, Caldwell set a career-high in kills with 195 and stuffed the stat-sheet on a regular basis. In addition to finishing second on the squad in kills, she finished second in assists, third in blocks, digs and hitting percentage, and led the team with 17 aces.
“Because she’s played a couple different positions — a setter and a hitter — she’s versatile,” Carr said. “She’s always willing to do whatever we need. [Due to] her flexibility and versatility, we can throw her in at any time. She can see the game from everybody’s perspective, both setters and hitters, so it makes her an easy choice for captain.”
Carr praised the two Californian captains for their ability to step up and shoulder the load in support of their younger teammates when needed.
“They know that if they’re next to a new passer, they’re going to shoulder the majority of the responsibility. Or even as a hitter, they’re going to take a majority of the swings.”
Both players were rewarded for their efforts in 2014. Genske earned honorable mention All-Ivy honors, her second consecutive conference nod after being named second team All-Ivy as a sophomore in 2013. Caldwell, on the other hand, was named second team All-Ivy for the second straight year.
Carr is always quick to talk about the leadership qualities of her two stars, but both players predictably downplay their own contributions to the team’s chemistry. They are, however, eager to rave about one another.
“Alex has the most confidence out of anybody on the court, she never seems to be rattled,” Genske said. “She never gets quiet or looks intimidated. And that gives everybody else confidence.”
“Alexis is a natural leader. She makes everybody around her feel comfortable,” Caldwell said. “She’s my best friend off the court, so it’s easy to communicate with her.”
To call Genske and Caldwell reliable would be an understatement. Genske played every set for the Quakers last year, while Caldwell has missed just one set in the last two seasons combined.
"[They are] a known, not an unknown in our system. We know what we’re gonna get out of them,” Carr said. “We’re pushing them to give more, but we also can have a baseline of expectations that they’re going to be playing at a high level.
But while Carr admires her stars’ talent, their relentless pursuit of perfection sticks out to her even more.
“To me, it really is about what they do for other people around them, more than anything else. The fact that they want to help and learn and change their game all the time really sets an example for the younger kids that we’re asking to do things that are new,” she said.
“It’s not about your ability being better than everybody else,” Carr said. “It’s what you do with that ability.”
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