There’s no place like home. There’s no time like Homecoming.
That is the attitude of Penn volleyball as it enters the final stretch of the season with weekend matches against Brown and Yale at the Palestra.
The Quakers (10-12, 4-6 Ivy) certainly need positive results from their Friday and Saturday Ivy League contests, as they currently sit in sixth place along with the Bears (10-12, 4-6). These matchups come on the heels of the team ending its five-game losing streak, and, with only four games left, this weekend is of the utmost importance.
Discussing the team’s outlook, coach Kerry Carr emphasized the determination of her squad.
“We want to show this weekend that we are better than these two teams coming in, but it’s not going to be easy, and we’re going to have to play our best volleyball on both nights, back to back,” Carr said. “That’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to, and I think the team and the players are really looking forward to showing what we can do.
“I think that’s why we come out stronger at the end of the season.”
The aforementioned losing streak included a bitter straight-sets loss at Brown and a tough four-set defeat at Yale the weekend of Oct. 16. This pattern continued through last weekend with a clean sweep by Harvard on Friday before Penn turned the tables on Dartmouth on Saturday night.
Senior Alexis Genske was one of Penn’s big hitters against the Big Green, racking up nine kills and 14 assists. Rather than focusing on her personal excellence in the matchup with Dartmouth, the veteran gave plenty of credit to her teammates.
“I think whenever my numbers are high it’s because other people are hitting really well too, and they’re drawing the blockers away from me,” Genske said. “In order for anyone on our team to be successful, we all have to be gelling. We don’t have any star players; everybody makes everybody else look better and play well.”
The Red and Blue will likely need to be at their very best to overcome the double threat of Brown and Yale.
The Bears have been playing well of late, and, although they lost in five sets to Cornell in their last outing, the team was led by a pair of incredible individual performances. In that match, freshman Sabrina Stillwell notched 20 kills for the second time this season while posting a .319 hitting percentage.
Senior Shannon Frost also logged her third double-double in the last five games with 10 kills and 21 digs.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (11-8, 6-4), who are perched in a three-way tie for second place in the Ancient Eight, suffered a five-set loss at Columbia on Saturday after taking down Cornell the previous night. In New York City, freshmen Kelley Wirth contributed 15 kills and 15 digs, while fellow rookie Kate Swanson added a team-high 26 digs in the narrow defeat.
To some members of the team, these matches might be of unparalleled importance. That’s because the doubleheader will feature the final two home games for Penn for this season.
Senior Alex Caldwell, who put up seven kills versus Dartmouth, explained the mental approach to the bittersweet outing.
“It’s the end of the season and we’re excited, but it’s important to treat it like any other match,” Caldwell said. “Saturday night is our Senior Night and our last time playing at the Palestra, which will be pretty sentimental. But at the same time we have to focus on the game plan and really get down to business.”
This year, Senior Night coincides with Homecoming for the Red and Blue, something that adds a whole new level of excitement around the big weekend. This is the first year Penn volleyball will have home-court advantage over Homecoming weekend since 2012.
Carr is excited to welcome home some alumni over the weekend.
“This is great because we decided to have a celebration ... recognizing the fifth-year anniversary of our 2010 championship team and the 25-year anniversary of our 1990 team,” Carr said. “We are also having a celebration of all 40 years of men’s and women’s volleyball so we have men’s volleyball players coming back, we have women’s players coming back and we’re having the men’s club volleyball game after ours in the Palestra.
“It’s just gonna be a whole party.”
So, with the overlapping of Homecoming and Senior Night, the Quakers just might be getting the boost they need to fight to close out their season on a high note.
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