College sports have two different philosophies when it comes to the buildup to conference play: some teams prefer to ease into the big games, building confidence, while others prefer to test themselves and raise the stakes.
Penn volleyball has taken the latter approach this year.
Over the next three weekends, the team will play in three tournaments against a myriad of opponents from across the country. During these tournaments, the Quakers will be often be playing twice in one day. The team will then play once during the week after the third tournament — and the following weekend, conference play will begin.
This rapid-fire, game-intensive approach is in contrast to years past, in which coach Kerry Carr tended to arrange individual games in the leadup to Ivy League play. For Carr, the most important thing was to maximize the number of matches and minutes for her players before the Ivy League tip-off against Princeton in just three and a half weeks.
“We have the opportunity for 22 matches, so you have to play every weekend,” Carr said. “The fatigue factor could set in, so then I look at my squad. This year it’s pretty big, so it’s not gonna hurt us to get more people in, see what they can do, try out different systems and see what’s gonna be best for the regular season.”
All the matches, Carr explained, will help her improve the depth of her team by giving freshmen enough playing time to settle into the squad. That tactic could pay dividends towards the end of the Ancient Eight season.
The first tournament coming up for the Red and Blue will involve a trip down to Houston, Tx. The last time the team traveled to Houston, coincidentally, was 2009 — the same year they last won the Ivy League title.
So on one level, there is a hopeful narrative with these tournaments and the season to come, but on another level, the players seem to see concrete advantages with the new approach of so many games in such little time.
“I think it helps us prepare because they’re different teams,” sophomore Courtney Quinn said. “In the Ivy League, we all kind of have the same play.”
This weekend, they’ll get four new teams to size themselves up against in Toledo, Houston Baptist, North Florida and Northern Colorado. The four matches will take place in just two days.
Second, the Red and Blue will head back home to host the Penn Invitational. The Quakers will host Howard, Bucknell, George Mason and Lafayette over a span of two days between Sept. 9 and Sept 10. The next weekend, Penn will partake in the Big 5 tournament, hosting La Salle, Villanova and Temple.
“It’ll prepare us for the season, because we play back to back on Fridays and Saturdays, so it’ll be a good assessment of how we are,” Quinn continued. “It’ll be good cardio-wise, to see if we can still be pounding balls when it’s the fifth set versus the first. In Houston, we’ll also play back-to-back games on the same day, too, so we’ll have to prepare ourselves for both games.”
More than anything else, a lot of the players are just looking forward to playing competitive games again.
“We’re all super pumped to get to play another team besides ourselves, because we’ve been playing each other for weeks,” Quinn said.
Junior Haley Molnar echoed a similar sentiment.
“I just wanna go out there, work really hard, and beat whoever we’re playing,” she said.
So while the team is chomping at the bit simply to be playing again, the nuanced difference in approaches to the regular season from years past could set them up for something that hasn’t happened since 2009 — an Ivy crown and a seat at the top.
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