"We gotta beat Brown," Penn volleyball coach Kerry Carr said after her team's loss to Yale on Saturday.
But must-win scenarios aren't always met with compliance by the opposition.
The Red and Blue had a rough weekend on the road, dropping a hard-fought match with the four-time defending-champion Bulldogs, 3-1, before Brown handed Carr's squad one of its most convincing defeats of the season, a 25-18, 25-18, 25-23 sweep in Providence.
With the losses, Penn (9-10, 3-4 Ivy) saw its record dip below the .500 mark for the first time since Sept. 19, while the Bears pulled even with the Red and Blue in the Ancient Eight standings. Yale (10-6, 5-2) kept itself in good position to win yet another league crown, but even the Elis are behind Dartmouth's 6-1 mark in conference play; the red-hot Big Green are threatening to pull away from the pack after five straight wins.
The match against the Bulldogs was by no means a poor effort from the Quakers. The two teams traded points in a tight opening set before the Elis finally reeled off three straight points at 22-20 to grab a 1-0 lead.
Yale then took leads of 7-2 and 19-14 in the second set, but the Quakers came roaring back each time, grabbing a 23-22 edge on a kill by sophomore Kendall Covington. But once again, the hosts took three straight points to win the set and go ahead 2-0.
Penn came out firing in the third set, seizing an early 9-1 advantage and holding off the Bulldogs to win, 25-18, and get back in the match.
"In volleyball, it's really important to take one point at a time," said senior captain Michellie McDonald-O'Brien, who had 24 kills over the two games. "We go back to this one key phrase that we always tell ourselves: 'We can get one.' If we're down, or we tie it up and we're looking to push forward, we feel like we can get one."
Yale bounced back with a hot start in the fourth set and appeared to have the Quakers put away with a 21-14 lead, but the Red and Blue rattled off eight straight points to go ahead 22-21 on an ace from freshman Courtney Quinn.
"One thing that you won't see on the score sheet is her serve," Carr said of her star rookie. "She added a big jump-serve to her game, and she has been able to go on runs. Aces only show up on the score sheet when only one person touches them, but she had a few where, maybe another person got a touch on it, but then it died on the service line."
Despite the comeback, the long-reigning champs held it together, taking four of the next five points to seal their victory.
The loss to Brown was much more of a struggle for the Quakers. The Bears took the first two sets without much trouble, and while Penn showed fight in the third set by erasing an early deficit and tying the set at 23 apiece, Brown was able to take the next two points and keep the match from going to a fourth set.
"We played a team that didn't make many errors," Carr said. "That's something that Brown has learned to do really well. Our style of offense is pretty risky and aggressive, and their strategy is pretty safe, to bring it back in and let us make errors. We just made too many mistakes."
Penn heads back to the Palestra on Saturday to host rival Princeton, who it beat in its Ivy opener on Sept. 25. If the Red and Blue don't want to see their Ivy title quest effectively come to an end, they need to get back to what worked in that match.
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