Penn volleyball will carry some momentum and added confidence into the fall of 2016 after a strong finish to the 2015 campaign. But it will also certainly be leaving plenty behind.
The Quakers finished their season with a pair of wins in New York over the weekend, sweeping Columbia before beating Cornell in five sets. The Red and Blue (13-13, 7-7 Ivy) won four of their final five matches to finish .500 for the year.
The end of Penn’s season brings an end to the careers of seniors Alexis Genske, Alex Caldwell, Michellie McDonald-O’Brien, Jasmine DeSilva and Ronnie Bither. The five captains all capped off their excellent careers with strong seasons: Bither led the Ivy League in assists, while Genske (fourth), Caldwell (14th), McDonald-O’Brien (17th) and DeSilva (34th) each finished among the league leaders in kills.
“I think it was important to finish strong,” Penn coach Kerry Carr said. “It would have been really easy to be like, ‘OK, these matches don’t matter,’ but it really did matter to us, and we showed how strong we can be.
“We always try to be improving every week, and we did that. I think it’s important to play every match like you’re going for the Ivy title.”
“It was a really satisfying, strong finish to the year,” Genske said. “Throughout the season, we really felt like the record didn’t reflect how well we actually played at times. So it was definitely a really satisfying way to end things and wrap it all up. It’ll probably give us a better sense of closure as seniors.”
The end came a bit later than expected on Saturday night. For the first (and obviously only) time in the 2015 Ivy campaign, the Quakers played five sets. The seniors turned their final match into the longest possible match. Coincidence? Carr has her doubts.
“That’s what I asked them when we got to the fifth set,” Carr laughed. “I said, ‘We haven’t played a fifth set all season long, is this just because you guys don’t want to stop playing?’”
“It seems fitting,” Genske added. “We were laughing about it after the game. It’s funny that our last match would get drawn out longer than all the other ones. It gave us a [chance] to play together for a few minutes longer. It was kind of like an extension.”
The captains didn’t disappoint in their final moments on the court. McDonald-O’Brien (12) and Genske (10) each reached double figures in kills against Columbia. In the finale against Cornell, it was Caldwell (11) and DeSilva (10) doing so.
All four benefitted, as always, from the excellent setting of the fifth: Bither had 74 assists in the two matches to give her 826 on the year, good for 175 more than her closest Ivy competition.
“I think the seniors wanted to make sure that they played well. I couldn’t get them off the court this week in practice,” Carr said. “Them going out and having, collectively, their best matches, it shows how much they love the game and how much they love the Penn volleyball program.”
The continued improvement of the captains, from the day they arrived on campus, is something Carr does not take for granted.
“The dream is to get your players from freshman year to senior year and see them have their best play while they’re seniors,” she said. “As a coach, that’s what you want to happen. It doesn’t always happen. In fact, it rarely happens. But I do think it’s really nice when a class can go through the years and show the strongest play at the end.”
Genske, Caldwell, McDonald-O’Brien, DeSilva and Bither have played their last point together, but they’re teammates for life.
“We all have each other, so we’re able to transition together, and try new things together,” Genske said.
“I don’t think any of us are scared. We’re lucky.”
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