As we enter the final weekend of the 2015 season, Penn volleyball is already looking towards the future. But for the team’s five leaders, there is no tomorrow.
Penn (11-13, 5-7 Ivy) will travel to New York to face to Columbia (7-14, 5-7) and Cornell (6-16, 2-10) in what will be the final Ivy action for senior captains Alex Caldwell, Alexis Genske, Jasmine DeSilva, Ronnie Bither and Michellie McDonald-O’Brien.
“I think that realizing this is their last match will make them play even harder,” coach Kerry Carr said. “They realize this is it for them. I’ve been having to stop them at the end of practice, because they’re like, ‘We wanna play more!’”
“It’s our last game, our last road trip. We’re excited to get on that bus,” Caldwell said, before betraying some degree of sentimentality for the final trip. “Last week was the last time at the Palestra, but, we’ve also spent hours on that bus."
“Just like every weekend, we’re going to try to ball out, have fun. But as excited as we are to finish our season strong, it’s also kind of sad. We’ve been playing for four years now,” DeSilva said.
“Some of us longer,” she added, alluding to the fact that Bither and Caldwell played on a club team together back home in California, beating a young McDonald-O’Brien’s team on one occasion.
This isn’t an big-name football team. Penn isn’t sending any of these players off to the NFL, where they’ll play on an even bigger stage than they did in the NCAA. After this weekend, the athletic part of these five athletes’ lives will have, in all likelihood, come to a close. Carr knows that. But she believes that Penn Athletics is a gift that keeps on giving long after the student-athlete has ceased to be a student or an athlete.
“I think everything they do on the court with athletics helps them in their career, with their families, the ups and downs of life, the wins and losses in life, how you bounce back, just like how this team has bounced back every week from a loss and won the next game.
“That resiliency is something that life teaches you along the way, later on, that they’ve already got under their belts. So that’s why employers come from all over and hire our student-athletes. Because they know how to deal with disappointment and failure and get back the very next day, the very next set, the very next point, and start winning again.”
When the final point has been scored on Saturday night, it will mark the end of an era. But it won’t mark the end of the relationship between the captains and their soon-to-be-former teammates.
“This is a family we’ll stay in touch with throughout the years,” McDonald-O’Brien said. “But it’s sad to see us go."
Next season, there will be no bittersweet senior farewells. Other than the five senior captains, this team is comprised only of sophomores and freshmen, meaning that the Class of 2017 will not be represented on the volleyball court. Genske is confident that the current sophomores are ready to step up and lead a year early.
“They’re all really selfless people,” Genske said. “We’ve seen that this year, because our team is really deep. There are a lot of subs, and people were always willing to fill whatever role was necessary. They really want to win, and they’ll do anything that it takes, including not playing.”
So what will the team do for Senior Night next year?
“Nothing!” Carr exclaimed. “It’s gonna be great!”
But expect to see all five of the captains back as alumni.
“We’re already talking about plans for Homecoming,” DeSilva said.
“We’re not done yet,” McDonald-O’Brien added.
“We’ll be back,” Bither promised. “And then you can interview us again.”
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