Penn volleyball has a lot to prove this weekend.
Coming off a two-loss weekend against Yale and Brown, the Quakers (9-10, 3-4 Ivy) finished off the first half of Ivy League play a game under .500. Regardless, opportunities still remain for the team to make a comeback in its final seven games of Ancient Eight play, starting with its second match against Princeton on Saturday.
And the team remains confident and more determined than ever.
“Losing to both Yale and Brown was pretty devastating, but I think it just really inspired us to get in the gym on Monday and Tuesday, to really go after it,” senior Alex Caldwell said. “We have been working on some new things, and I’m really excited to put those to use against Princeton. Especially after beating them the first time, we’re just ready to do it again.”
The Red and Blue are hoping for a repeat performance of their 3-1 win over the Tigers (8-8, 3-4) on Sept. 25. In that game, senior Alexis Genske notched a double-double, while classmate Michellie McDonald-O’Brien and sophomore Kendall Covington combined for 19 kills.
With a roster of mostly freshmen and sophomores, there is definitely a unique dynamic to the team, which has developed since the beginning of the season. What the team has lacked in combined experience, it has made up for in growth and team chemistry.
“We’ve come super far [as a team]. Even though we’ve lost the last two matches, we have grown so much, all the way around from the floor to the bench,” senior Jasmine DeSilva said. “Our communication has really picked up, we’ve had a lot of switches with lineups, and everyone has just really stepped in to be whatever player this team needs them to be.”
“We’ve had ups and downs, definitely, but every time we’ve been down, we’ve definitely gotten back up,” Caldwell added. “If you have a team that’s on top all the time, you’re not really going to be able to learn and grow from those experiences, and I think that’s something that’s definitely helped us. Tough times only make us stronger and better.”
After playing in the upper Northeast this past weekend, the Quakers return home to host rival Princeton at the Palestra. Following intense practices earlier this week, Penn is looking forward to enjoying homecourt advantage.
“Princeton’s a big rival so we especially love having them in our gym,” coach Kerry Carr said. “They’re pretty rough on us in their gym, so we look forward to getting all the fans there, giving it rough back to them and just playing really good volleyball.”
The Penn-Princeton game will be a bittersweet match for seniors on the team, as it marks their last rivalry game in their time here with the Quakers.
“It’s crazy. Time has gone by so fast,” DeSilva said. “I’m just cherishing every moment of it. I wasn’t able to play last season, so it’s a lot of taking it as it is and living in the moment. I’m just living out these last four weeks of the season.”
Despite the lingering nostalgia, there is no denying the sense of excitement and competition that comes from rivalry games.
“I’m super excited,” Caldwell said. “One of my best friends is on the Princeton team, so we always have this rivalry going. But, just in general, the Penn and Princeton rivalry is really fun, and we’re always so pumped up playing them.”
“I think we’ve played some of the best volleyball we’ve played yet when we played them,” Carr said. “And I look forward to the team rising to the occasion.”
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