Two days. Six sets. One win. One loss.
For Penn volleyball this weekend, a pair of home matches offered starkly different results as the team fell in three sets to Harvard on Friday before sweeping Dartmouth the following night.
In the weekend opener, the Quakers (10-12, 4-6 Ivy) were plagued by an offensive inconsistency that has hurt them all year. The Red and Blue took an early lead against the first-place Crimson (11-9, 7-3), forcing a timeout by Harvard coach Jennifer Weiss with Penn up 11-7.
From there, the Crimson started a 16-5 run that the Quakers could not stop. Although the Red and Blue started to close the gap after falling down 23-16, it wasn’t enough, and Harvard took the set, 25-19.
The rest of the match flowed much like the first, with Penn keeping pace with the Crimson before allowing a scoring run that gave Harvard insurmountable leads. The Quakers didn’t crack 20 points once in the match, falling in the second and third sets, 25-17 and 25-18, respectively.
For the Crimson, the key to success was negating Penn’s high-intensity offensive attack. Not only did they control the game on the block, with 13 blocks to the Quakers’ four; they took the life out of the Red and Blue attack.
“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,” sophomore middle blocker Kendall Covington said. “And bringing energy brings us points every time.”
Despite out-attacking the Crimson, 150-130, Penn logged a hitting percentage of only .073. Senior rightside hitter Alex Caldwell was the sole player to notch 10 kills on the night for the Quakers.
And yet, whereas the Red and Blue struggled to maintain consistency Friday, it seemed like a different team was on the court Saturday against Dartmouth (9-10, 6-4).
Penn was noticeably more effective at controlling the game, both off the serve and at the net. Like the previous night, the Quakers opened up each set with a small lead except, this time, they managed to hold the line.
After a slog through the first set that saw the Red and Blue triumph, 26-24, the remainder of the game wasn’t nearly as close. A 25-19 second-set win made the match 2-0, and Penn finished things off shortly thereafter, dispatching the Big Green, 25-18, in the final frame.
With the win, the Quakers sealed a season sweep against the Ivy League’s second-place team — and they’ll be the only team in the conference to silence the upstart Dartmouth squad twice this year.
“I will say, our girls definitely rose to the occasion tonight,” Penn coach Kerry Carr said. “They trust the system, they see it works.”
The Quakers’ spread-out play was critical in the team’s bounce-back win. Although senior outside hitter Alexis Genske’s team-high nine kills weren’t eye-popping, five players on the team ended up with six or more kills, and four logged 10 or more digs on the night.
“If we get two or three of our hitters connecting like that, that’s when we produce the win,” Carr said. “It is about spreading out the offense and people not taking turns, but not everyone going off at the same time.”
Senior Ronnie Bither also recorded her 10th double-double of the year, with 16 digs and 36 assists.
On Saturday, the Red and Blue translated the energy that’s been present on the court into steady success and mental consistency that they have struggled to maintain all year.
Now, as the season winds down and an Ivy title sits out of reach for the sixth-place Quakers, the team has a chance to prove if that intensity can hold.
There are two weekends left. Four games to go. And who knows how many wins.
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