This weekend, Penn volleyball will have some intimidating guests at its Halloween party.
The Quakers will host the top two teams in the Ivy League this weekend, with matchups looming against Harvard on Friday night and Dartmouth on Saturday at the Palestra.
The Red and Blue (9-11, 3-5 Ivy) have lost four straight and five of their last six after a strong start to the season. None of those losses was more convincing than a 25-19, 25-13, 25-14 beatdown at Harvard (10-8, 6-2) on Oct. 3.
But the Quakers may have put on their most impressive showing of the season against the Big Green (9-8, 6-2), a three-set road win on Oct. 2 which, until a sweep at the hands of the Crimson last Friday, was Dartmouth’s only loss of the season.
Penn coach Kerry Carr admitted that the team prepares differently for rematches depending on the results of the first game.
“You want to look at what a team did to you last time, unless they didn’t do much — then you’d want to see what they’re doing to other teams," she said. "But you want to keep up what you did do well against them.”
To that end, Carr noted that Penn has spent the week preparing for the Big Green team that has baffled the rest of the league, not the squad the Quakers cruised by earlier this month. The team that will be looking at the Penn-Dartmouth tape, ironically, is Harvard, who certainly didn’t get a chance to see Penn at its best first-hand.
What the Red and Blue's Ivy rivals will see on the tape is a team that is anything but conservative. The Quakers, as Carr has pointed out throughout the season, play an outgoing, risky style of offense.
“It comes down to finding a balance between being aggressive and making too many errors,” senior captain Alex Caldwell said.
When the Penn is at its best, it looks unstoppable. Unfortunately, that ceiling hasn’t been reached very often this season, which is why the Quakers enter the weekend with a league-worst .148 hitting percentage. But Caldwell thinks the Red and Blue are ready to bring their best against the teams that have — so far — been the best.
“We’re all really excited. We had a great practice yesterday, and another great practice today,” Caldwell said on Tuesday. “We’re getting in the gym, getting better and really taking the time to scout those teams. And having the home-court advantage is something that I really think is going to help us.”
Caldwell isn’t too concerned with the recent success of Penn’s upcoming opponents.
“Everybody’s beating everybody. Because no one’s undefeated, I think we always have a chance to win,” she said.
Looking at the standings, it’s pretty clear that Penn has to win out if it wants to have any shot at an Ivy title. But Carr believes that attaching “must-win” status to any game falsely understates the importance of all games.
“When you say a ‘must-win’ game — in the Ivy League, we approach every game as a must-win game,” she said. “And if we drop it, every [following] game is still a must-win. I don’t care if you’re down to the last game, it’s still a must-win.
“Because it is the Ivy League. It is about pride, it’s about beating that team across the net. Whether you beat that team already once, or it’s your first time beating them, it’s a must-win,” the coach added.
The Quakers know they have to win. They believe that they can. All that remains to be seen is whether they will make good on this chance to remind the rest of the league that this is still a team to be feared.
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