In 2015 Ivy League volleyball, the only certainty is that nothing is certain.
Just barely through the midway point of conference play, all eight teams have at least two Ivy losses, and all but Cornell own at least three wins.
“There’s normally a team with a group of really experienced players, and I don’t think anyone right now has that,” Penn senior captain Alexis Genske said. “Every team is really deep this year, and there’s no super dominant team or player right now.”
Cornell has lost to Brown, who’s lost to Princeton, who’s lost to Yale, who’s lost to Harvard, who’s lost to Dartmouth, who’s lost to Penn, who’s lost to Columbia, who completed the chaotic cycle by falling to Cornell on Saturday — with six conference games still remaining for each team.
“We’re pretty young across the board as a league, and so when you have a bunch of graduations from a team [Yale] that dominated the league, you get some parity,” Penn coach Kerry Carr said. “It’s really fun this way, because you don’t know who’s going to win each night.”
While several individual games have had surprising outcomes, the biggest shocker so far has been the emergence of Dartmouth, a team that won only nine Ivy League games from 2012 to 2014 but is currently tied for the conference lead with Harvard at 6-2.
Led by fifth-year coach and 1998 ACC Player of the Year Erin Lindsey, the Big Green are on pace to tie the 2002 Harvard squad for the largest single-season jump in conference wins (seven) in Ivy history.
“Dartmouth has a great young coach, and I cheer for her,” Carr said about Lindsey, who played under both Carr and former Penn coach Joe Sagula during her career. “She has learned so much from all the other coaches, and I knew she would do well once she got all her recruits.”
However, even Dartmouth hasn’t been exempt from the upset bug, notching a season-low -.061 hitting percentage in a surprising 3-0 setback to Penn on Oct. 2.
“When we beat them up there, I felt like it was just a bad night for them,” Carr admitted. “It wasn’t anything special with coaches or strategies, just a really off night.”
With the momentum from that significant win, the Red and Blue looked to be the league’s darlings, starting 3-1 in Ivy play and briefly holding first place after finishing 5-9 in 2014.
The thrill was short-lived though as the Quakers subsequently fell to seventh-place Columbia in four sets on Oct. 10, starting an ongoing four-game skid for the Red and Blue.
“We don’t have a conference tournament, so every match means more and everybody’s more motivated,” Columbia coach Brie Katz said. “A lot of our focus has been on minimizing errors and winning the service game, and against Penn, we really just did that.”
The Lions kept their mojo as the league’s most dangerous underdog going briefly, topping Harvard, 3-1, on Oct. 16 for their second consecutive win over a squad ranked more than 100 spots higher in RPI.
But they too felt the sting of an upset soon after, falling to Cornell in five sets to give the Big Red their only conference win of the year.
“It was unfortunate that [setter] Jennifer Petrovich was out, and we needed to do a better job of overcoming that,” Katz said. “We let the momentum swing away from us, and we have to credit Cornell, because they closed when they needed to.”
All of this chaos has perhaps served as a distraction from the fall of Yale, which has returned to Earth after graduating first team All-Ivy players Mollie Rogers and Maddie Rudnick. The four-time defending Ivy champions were swept in a weekend doubleheader for the first time in five years, before falling to Brown for the first time since 2005.
“I’ve seen what I refer to as ‘cycles,’ where one team gets a really good player and wins the league for a few years,” Carr said. “It might be someone else’s turn now, although Yale’s not out of it by any means.”
Ultimately, even with the Quakers seemingly out of title contention — no Ivy champion has ever finished with more than four conference losses — 2015’s results so far have shown that nothing is out of the question.
“We still want to win every match for the rest of our season, it’s a matter of pride and going out on a strong note,” Genske said. “We know that everyone’s up for the taking.”
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