vballpreview

Penn volleyball boasts a talented five-woman senior class. Of the quintet, outside hitter Jasmine DeSilva is the only one not to see significant playing time in her first three years on the team due to an injury sustained in the opening set of the 2014 season.

Photo: Aaron Campbell

The Palestra may be known as the Cathedral of College Basketball, but this weekend its occupants will pay homage to another sport, as Penn volleyball will take to the historic floor for its first home games of the 2015 season in the Crowne Plaza Invitational.

It may be Penn volleyball’s first string of matches on their home court, but it is not the team’s first rodeo, so to speak. Last weekend, the Red and Blue traveled to Washington, D.C., for a four-game swing, splitting their matches.

In that tournament, Penn dropped its first two games in five hard-fought sets and finally hit its stride in the final two games to win over Western Carolina, 3-2, and Howard, 3-0. Although the split record may not indicate an immensely successful weekend, those four games gave the Quakers the momentum and confidence they’ll need heading into their home opener this weekend.

“This week we’re really focusing on keeping our offense fast,” senior outside hitter and captain Alexis Genske said. “That’s what worked for us last weekend when we took risks and kind of just went for balls even when they were tight.”

Staying aggressive and quick on the court will be key in a homestand that features three teams with three unique styles of play. First up for the Quakers is Fairfield (3-3), a team that Coach Kerry Carr describes as the biggest team in terms of stature Penn will see this weekend. Following Fairfield is Delaware State (2-5), which features an athletic and unpredictable lineup, according to Carr.

Finally, Penn will take on Towson (7-1) on Saturday evening to wrap up the tournament. Of the three teams the Quakers will face over the two-day invitational, their final matchup will undoubtedly be the biggest test. In addition to already having eight games under their belt, through all of their wins, Towson has only dropped three sets, proof that the Tigers take care of their opponents early and often.

“I think it will be very similar to last weekend where you have one team that was heavy offense, one team that was heavy defense and one team that is a combination of the two,” Carr said of her team’s opponents.

With such a large variety of opposing offensive and defensive schemes coming Penn’s way, it won’t be easy to prepare for every possible scenario. However, Carr treats the tournament as the perfect kind of early season glimpse into just what her squad is capable of.

“If we can also insert different people and try out different combinations to see what our strengths are and work on our depth it is really important,” Carr said. “We want to build on what we did, what we already accomplished.”

Thankfully, the six players in Red and Blue that walk onto the court to start this weekend look remarkably similar to the sextet from last year’s Crowne Plaza Invitational. In fact, the only face that will not return to the starting lineup is Trina Ohms, a 2015 graduate.

On that note, Penn can look to its powerhouse senior class for guidance. All five seniors racked up significant minutes and starts in their previous three seasons playing for the Quakers. The lone exception is outside hitter Jasmine DeSilva, whose junior season ended just one set into the 2014 season due to injury.

“Our seniors have grown a ton since their junior year,” Carr said. “I think it’s about putting them out there and watching their leadership grow.”

Genske concurred. “We definitely have a certain amount of pride that we’re bringing to this that we want to conserve,” she said.

Be it pride for their class, pride for the Red and Blue or pride for the Palestra, those five seniors and the rest of Penn’s volleyball team will have a lot to defend come Friday in the 2015 home opener.

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