The Quakers finally had a chance to play on their home court this weekend. In fact, they had several.
Hosting the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia Invitational, Penn volleyball defeated Fairfield in its home opener on Friday night before steamrolling Delaware State Saturday morning to extend its winning streak to four. However, the Quakers dropped an intense four-set battle to Towson later on Saturday to cap off the weekend.
In the first contest, Penn (4-3) was paced as usual by seniors Alexis Genske, who tallied 15 kills, and Alex Caldwell, who racked up 12 kills without an error. Sophomore Kendall Covington was solid as well, killing the ball 10 times and assisting on eight blocks.
The Stags (3-4) were led by junior Megan O’Sullivan’s, who had 12 kills, but lost the battle at the net, posting just a .163 hitting percentage and registering only five team blocks — compared to .245 and 13, respectively, for Penn.
The Quakers squandered a handful of set points in Friday’s opening game, but a kill from freshman Courtney Quinn righted the ship and stake Penn to a 1-0 lead.
The second set was another tight affair, but consecutive kills from Genske and a finish from Covington gave the Red and Blue a commanding two-set lead going into the break.
The Quakers struggled after the intermission, posting a paltry .026 hitting percentage in the third set. Fairfield took advantage, winning the set comfortably to get itself back in the match.
But after letting a two-set lead slip through its fingers in its season opener against Maryland, coach Kerry Carr’s squad was not about to let another match get away. Penn came out firing in the fourth set, maintaining control the whole way.
“We learned a lot last weekend, after being ahead and then losing. Even having to go five sets every time would be tiring on our bodies,” Caldwell said. “So we decided that we were winning that fourth game [against Fairfield] no matter what. We had a sense of urgency.”
Penn had little time to enjoy the victory over the Stags. After having gone nearly a year without playing a game at the Palestra, the Quakers took the court there for the second time in 14 hours as they battled Delaware State Saturday morning.
Fortunately for the hosts, the Hornets (2-8) did not pose much of a challenge, going down quietly in three sets. Quinn had eight kills for the Quakers, while sophomores Aimee Stephenson, Covington and Hayley Molnar combined for another 18.
“What I enjoyed most about that game was looking at different lineups, playing the younger people and seeing them be just as successful as everybody else was,” Carr said.
Penn’s toughest matchup of the weekend came in Saturday’s nightcap against Towson. The Tigers (9-1) had Penn off balance from the jump, but the Quakers found a way to match them point-for-point and had a chance to take a 1-0 lead after Genske’s kill at 23-apiece gave the hosts set point.
However, Towson answered with two kills and a block to steal the set before cruising through the second set to a 2-0 lead at intermission.
The Tigers, looking the part of the better team, took a 16-11 edge in the third set and appeared well on their way to a comfortable victory. But the Red and Blue rallied back, grabbing 14 of the next 18 points to grab the set and put the pressure back on the visitors.
After the teams traded points to begin the fourth set, Towson surged ahead 19-13 and once again put the Quakers on their deathbeds. But Penn responded with a run of its own, managing to get within a point at 24-23 with a chance to steal the set.
But a kill from Towson sophomore Annika Rigterink squashed the Red and Blue’s hopes of a comeback and locked up a Tigers victory.
“We obviously want to win every game, so it sucks to lose,” senior Ronnie Bither said after stuffing the stat-sheet with seven kills, 37 assists, 13 digs and an ace against the Tigers. “But it definitely helps that we’re getting all of these trials and tribulations out of the way before they actually [hurt us] in the [Ivy] standings.”
“When we run our offense risky and aggressive, like we did near the end, we can come out of any hole we want,” Carr said. “As long as we’re still learning and we’re not hanging our heads or giving up — and we didn’t give up tonight — it is a win for our ultimate goal.”
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