What is Penn volleyball’s team identity?
It's a question that haunted the squad throughout its 2014 campaign. And the Quakers’ inability to answer it ultimately manifested itself in inconsistent play and a disappointing 8-17 overall record.
To open its season, Penn traveled to the nation’s capital to compete in the DC Classic. Despite a difficult start to the weekend, the team bounced back with some impressive offensive firepower to earn a four-game split.
On the surface, a 2-2 record on its the opening weekend doesn’t seem like it would lend much meaningful insight into such an apparently enigmatic team. But actually, it’s the first truly promising sign that the team is zeroing in on its exciting potential.
The Red and Blue seemed like they may be in over their heads from the very beginning, as their first matchup of the season came against Maryland — a well-regarded Big Ten squad.
“When I first went in, I was nervous,” freshman Courtney Quinn admitted. “It wasn’t an easy game that you could just get thrown into and kinda try it out.”
Despite the apparent mismatch, though, the Quakers actually had no problem establishing themselves as a worthy opponent, playing the Terrapins (8-0) into their only fifth set of the young season. Their nerves eventually did show, however, as they ultimately faltered in the final set.
Penn found itself in a similar situation against another tough opponent later in the day on Saturday — George Mason — with similar results.
Despite forcing the Patriots (4-3) to another fifth set and often hinting at their potential physical superiority, the Quakers were unable to find a way to win in the match’s final stretch.
“[In the fifth set] it’s the most experienced team that wins,” coach Kerry Carr said. “It wasn’t because we were outmatched.”
Despite many positive signs from her team’s play on Saturday, Carr admits to worrying about her team’s psyche following two tough losses to open the season. However, she was able to refocus her squad based on a simple mission.
“On Sunday, our mantra was ‘find a way to win,’” Carr said.
And her team would find themselves with a perfect opportunity to do just on Sunday against West Carolina. After once against splitting the match's first four sets against the Catamounts (3-5), the Quakers dug deep and pulled away in the game’s final stretch to take the set, 15-9.
Full of confidence from their first victory of the season, the Red and Blue brought everything together in their final match of the weekend, thoroughly dominating Howard (1-6) en route to a 3-0 victory. In that match, the Quakers showcased its explosive offensive ability, led by All-Tournament selection Alexis Genske.
“We told each other that we needed to take more risks,” Quinn said. “The day before we were playing more to the style of the other team. So we said, ‘We need to play our game.’”
"We're stepping up and showing up as a more mature team than people might expect," Genske added, referring to her squad's bounce-back Sunday.
Ultimately, despite the neutral record, Carr views her team’s opening weekend as promising. However, she is also quick to admit that her athletes plenty to improve upon moving forward, most notably blocking, which was not much of a factor over the weekend.
But what is more important to her is that her team continues to develop its freewheeling offensive identity.
“We were a little nervous here, and that comes with believing you can win,” she said. “[Moving forward] it’s about being comfortable being uncomfortable.”
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