The story of the 2015 Ivy League volleyball campaign has been one of balance and unpredictability.
After one turn through the Ivy League, Penn Volleyball sits at 3-4. Four losses halfway through a season would normally knock a team out of title contention, to say the least. The Ivy champion has not finished with more than two losses over an entire season since 2004.
But this year is different. The Quakers may be 3-4, but so are half of the teams in the league (Princeton, Brown, Columbia in addition to Penn), and no team has managed to completely pull away from the pack.
So at the midway point of the season, the Quakers are down, but — somehow — not out.
“It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve seen this much parity, from top to bottom,” said Penn coach Kerry Carr, now in the midst of her 18th season at the helm for the Red and Blue.
And, as Carr pointed out, the crowded standings don’t represent any sort of a fluke.The teams themselves have, from point to point, proven to be quite equal. Any match is anybody’s match to win.
“There’s nobody that is outshining everybody else night after night,” Carr said. “There’s no one that’s dominated and, despite who’s on top and who’s on bottom, there’s no one where you can play average and still beat them. Anyone can beat anyone else in this league.”
The coach isn’t just being polite. Cornell, the only team mathematically out of the running at 0-7, put a scare into Penn at the Palestra, won the first two sets against both 5-2 teams (Yale and Harvard) and took the opening set against Dartmouth, which sits atop the Ancient Eight at 6-1.
And Dartmouth’s lone defeat? It didn’t come against Harvard or four-time defending-champion Yale, but at the hands of Carr’s Quakers, who swept the Big Green in their own gym in Hanover.
Dartmouth has dropped at least one set in all but one match, and even the lone sweep, over Brown, featured a 30-28 opening set. The trend is league-wide: Of the 28 Ivy matches played thus far, 17 have gone at least four sets and seven have gone the distance.
Dartmouth leads the league with 16.9 points per set, but three other teams are within a half-point of that total, and winless Cornell is fewer than two points behind.
“In a league that has a bunch of highs and lows, the most consistent team is going to be the one coming out on top,” Carr said.
If the Quakers want to be that team for the first time since 2010, they can start by tightening up their attacking play. Penn ranks dead-last in the league with a .156 hitting percentage.
“Our style of offense is pretty risky and aggressive,” Carr said after the loss to Brown last Saturday.
With one game remaining against each team, Penn will have a chance to avenge each of its four losses and build on its three wins. Having scoped out the competition firsthand, the Quakers will be prepared for the rematches. Their opponents will be ready as well, but Carr noted one advantage for which Penn’s foes won’t be able to compensate
“We’ve been on the road for the majority of the first half. And now we have three weekends [five games] at home, and we can get our fans back in the gym and get our home-court advantage going. I’m looking forward to putting against our opponents what was put against us.”
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