It’s time to say goodbye.
After four years and 432 combined matches, Penn volleyball’s five senior captains played their last matches in the Palestra this weekend. In their final home weekend of the season, the Quakers took down Brown in three sets before falling in four against reigning Ivy champion Yale for Senior Night.
Friday night against Brown (10-14, 4-8 Ivy), the Quakers (5-7, 11-13) managed to record their second straight sweep, winning consecutives matches for the first time since a three-game streak from Sept. 19-26. Despite the first meeting between the two squads going the Bears’ way in straight sets, the Red and Blue dominated the season series finale from to start to finish.
“We studied them a lot, watched a lot of film and looked at our game from last time to see what areas we could improve in practice — just being patient during the games,” senior setter Ronnie Bither said. “They’re a really scrappy team that doesn’t make a lot of errors so just sticking with that, it worked out well.”
Key to Penn’s success was a strong first set — the Quakers converted 15 kills on 32 attempts, good for a .344 hitting percentage. The Red and Blue took the set, 25-16, their best performance of the night.
Although Brown would make the second set close to start, Penn pulled away midway through, winning it 25-22. The Quakers hadn’t gone more than three sets in three of their last four matches, and that wasn’t going to change Friday. In the decisive third set, the Red and Blue dispatched the Bears, 25-17, taking the match with ease.
Penn dominated on both sides of the ball, holding Brown to a .069 hitting percentage and only five blocks. Stat by stat, the match was one-sided: The Quakers totaled more kills (47-28), assists (45-28), digs (69-54) and blocks (8-5) than the Bears, in one of their most all-around dominant performances of the season.
Leading the way individually for the Red and Blue was senior Alexis Genske. The outside hitter recorded her 10th double-double of the year with 14 kills and 16 digs. Her fellow seniors all played large roles in the winning effort, as Bither logged 36 assists, and Michellie McDonald-O’Brien, Alex Caldwell and Jasmine DeSilva put up 11, six and five kills, respectively.
Sophomore Kendall Covington also continued to be a force at the net for Penn, leading the team with a .357 hitting percentage and 3.5 blocks.
The Quakers managed to carry into Friday a level of intensity established last weekend in a loss to Harvard and win over Dartmouth, and the energy on the court went far toward translating the Red and Blue’s high-powered offense into points.
Covington noted the team’s reliance on its energy after the win over Dartmouth last week. “We are a very mental team, so physically we are up there with every team, but if we aren’t there mentally, then it kind of gets us down so we have to bring energy all the time,” she said. “And bringing energy brings us points every time.”
With that momentum, Penn returned to the Palestra for one final time in 2015, hosting a Yale squad (12-9, 7-5) it hadn’t beaten since 2011.
The Quakers got going in a hurry, taking the first three points of the match. But the Bulldogs quickly showed why they’re four-time defending Ancient Eight champions, pulling ahead at 16-15 on an ace from freshman Kelley Wirth and never looking back, winning the set, 25-20.
Set two began much like the first, with an early 6-2 advantage going to the Red and Blue. And once again, the lead was short-lived. Yale tied the score at seven, but Penn wasn’t willing to replay what had happened in the previous set. Although the set stood tied at 19,
Genske launched a scorcher out of a timeout to take the 20-19 lead.
This match was one that would not be decided in three sets — the Red and Blue took the set, 25-22, guaranteeing that the night would see at least a fourth one.
At the break, the Quakers honored the 2010 Ivy League-champion team, perhaps with the hope that the last Penn team to defeat the Bulldogs would offer up some good mojo for the Red and Blue. And for a while, it seemed like it just might happen.
Coming back out of the locker room, Penn just kept on pushing. Once again, they opened play with three straight points, but once again, Yale tied it at seven. The set stayed close until Yale opened up a 16-13 advantage before Carr called a timeout to try to rally her squad. From there the Bulldogs only extended their lead, taking set three, 25-18.
Armed with a 2-1 set advantage, Yale asserted itself early in the fourth set, going up 12-6. The Quakers refused to go down quietly, but Senior Night would not end on the note Carr and her underclassmen had in mind for their five captains: The Bulldogs took the fourth set, and the match, 25-12.
Senior Night was truly that for the Red and Blue. Bither and Genske each recorded their 11th double-doubles of the year, and all five seniors other than Bither had 10 or more kills. Even then, the senior setter paced the team with a .333 hitting percentage to go along with her 36 assists and 15 digs.
“They’re the heart and soul of our team, and even when things are bad, they just always try to pick the team up in a positive energy and be like, ‘Hey, remember why we’re doing this. We’re doing this to have fun,’” Carr said of the seniors. “And I mean, having fun is winning, too, but it’s also playing our best, and I think we did do that tonight.”
“I guess [we just wanted] to leave it all out on the floor,” Bither said. “We have nothing to lose at this point, so just kind of going out there, having fun, knowing what we can do and actually putting it out on the court.”
For many athletes, the gym is like home. Eventually, the time comes where each must leave that home. They can all come back, and many do — one can look for proof at the 2010 team's return Saturday or Kendall Turner, who graduated last year yet continues to serve as a manager of the team. But even for those that return, the gym is no longer home. Instead, they're just visiting.
And next time the five seniors come back for a volleyball match at the Palestra, it will be as visitors.
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