With five former captains having graduated this spring leading to an unprecedented senior-less roster, it’s no secret that turnover has been a constant storyline following Penn volleyball in 2016.
But, at least for one weekend, it seemed everything was the same for the Red and Blue.
At the Big 5 Tournament in Philadelphia this weekend, Penn finished with identical results for the third consecutive year, beating La Salle while falling to Villanova and Temple to finish the event with a 1-2 record.
“Definitely on paper, that’s the way it should’ve happened,” coach Kerry Carr said. “Temple and Villanova finished much stronger [than us] last year and both had really good returning groups, so we knew we were going to have to play our very best to compete.”
Penn (4-7) hadn’t lost to the Explorers (8-7) in program history prior to Friday night’s tournament opener at the Palestra, and the Quakers kept their unblemished mark intact with a comfortable victory over La Salle in straight sets – the team’s first sweep of the season.
After becoming Penn’s first Ivy League Rookie of the Week since 2012 following last week’s Penn Invitational, freshman outside hitter Caroline Furrer picked up right where she left off in Friday’s home showdown, setting the tone with seven kills in the opening set en route to finishing with a match-high 12.
But beyond Furrer’s continued offensive dominance, a stellar team defensive effort was the story behind Penn’s success on Friday. Middle blocker Hayley Molnar had a career-high four blocks at the net, while three Quakers had double-digit digs, led by junior libero Michelle Pereira’s 13.
Overall, La Salle was held to a miniscule .107 hitting percentage for the evening (compared to Penn’s .252), allowing the Red and Blue to keep any comeback efforts at bay in the 25-21, 25-21, 25-19 victory.
“La Salle was a lot better than last year, so I thought we did a good job in coming out, and we were able to beat them in three sets which is something that we haven’t done in a while,” Carr said. “I thought it was a really good performance for the weekend.”
Friday night was also notable for an intriguing off-the-court showdown – first-year Penn assistant Scott Schweihofer faced off against his wife and La Salle head coach Caitlin Schweihofer (née Rimgaila) for the first time in the former’s Penn career, enabling him to a bit of bragging rights for the night.
“Even during the whole interview process, Caitlin and Scott – Caitlin is a friend of mine as well – were strictly professional and never let any of that into our friendship,” Carr said. “They definitely downplayed it as well; I think it was nice that after it was all done, we could be friendly and chat again.”
Unfortunately, the emotional high for the Red and Blue would only last a day, as the Quakers proceeded to struggle on Saturday. First up, Penn took on a strong Villanova squad coming off of a 2015 NCAA Tournament appearance, and the team was outmatched from the start.
Although Pereira provided a bright spot for the Quakers with a match-leading 14 digs, Penn had few other answers to a stacked Wildcats’ offensive attack, as Villanova (9-4) managed to secure 46 kills with a measly seven errors, hitting .394 to cruise to an easy 25-14, 25-11, 25-22 win.
In the nightcap, Penn had a chance to play spoiler against Temple, who was 2-0 in the tournament entering the finale. But the Owls (7-3) wouldn’t allow any such lapse, making sure to take care of the Quakers early en route to clinching their first Big 5 Tournament title since 2014.
Outside hitter Irem Asci spearheaded the Owls’ effort with 14 kills and 11 assists, as Temple took a comfortable 25-18, 25-16, 25-17 victory to seal the tournament championship.
“I think that the Ivy League is getting better and better, so we really need to schedule those kind of teams,” Carr said. “We just take our lumps a little bit and see what we can get out of it, and we knew that we were playing with them; our offense worked against them when we were in our system. ... it’s not like we have to grow new players, so I think that type of confidence gets you ready for the Ivy League.”
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.