Coming off an 0-4 trip to Houston, Penn volleyball needed a strong showing at home in the Penn Invitational. The Quakers certainly answered the call, going 3-1 over two grueling, action-packed days in the Palestra heat.
The Red and Blue started off the tournament with a four-set win over Bucknell for their first win of the year in their home opener. Penn quickly grabbed the first two sets, 25-20 and 25-14, and after the Bison (2-7) took the third set 25-15, the hosts won a tough fourth set 25-22 to ice the match.
Penn battled a heavily favored Howard team in the second match, but fell in three close sets, 25-20, 25-22, 25-19. The Bison (8-3) went 4-0 over the weekend.
On Saturday, the Quakers took both of their matches. First up was a George Mason team that, after losing seven games to start the year, had won its last two. The match was a fierce battle, with the two teams splitting the first two sets before Penn dominated the third set, 25-12, and pulled out a thrilling 33-31 fourth-set victory to end any threat of a comeback from the Patriots (2-8).
“When we go overtime like that, it was almost like we were into the fifth set already,” Penn coach Kerry Carr said of the marathon fourth set. “I was confident we were going to win. We weren’t tense, we weren’t going after things non-aggressively, we went after things like we were gonna win. To me it was just a matter of time.
“I was more worried about running out of subs,” Carr continued with a laugh. “We had three more rotations before running out of subs. We had just witnessed a match in Houston that went all the way to 45-43, and they ran out of subs and had their little defensive specialists in the front row, so I was trying to make sure that didn’t happen to us.”
The biggest story from that match, and perhaps the weekend, was the performance of Caroline Furrer. The freshman had struggled in her NCAA debut down in Houston, but excelled over the weekend and put up a massive 20 kills in the George Mason match.
“We’ve seen it in practice,” Carr said of Furrer’s dominance. “When we see that in practice we know it’s just a matter of time before it comes out.”
“I think I matured a lot between last week and this week,” Furrer reflected. “I found more mental strength, and that came a lot from the team and the girls supporting me every single day in practice. So I think mentally I stepped it up a notch.”
“She’s a freshman!” exclaimed junior setter and captain Sydney Morton when Furrer’s performance was mentioned, as if it couldn’t possibly be true. And it is hard to believe — a freshman playing in her seventh career match (and only a four-setter, to boot) notching the highest single-match kill total by a Penn player since 2014.
The fourth and final match of the tournament saw the Red and Blue go up against Lafayette. The Leopards grabbed a close first set by a score of 25-23, but the Quakers would have the last laugh, yet. A tense 25-22 victory in the second set turned the tide of the match and, from there, Penn remained in complete control, winning the final two sets 25-16 and 25-17 to beat Lafayette (2-5) and finish the weekend with a 3-1 record and a two-game winning streak.
“Right now we’re in high spirits because we did just win our last two,” Morton said. “I wish we could have pulled out Howard but we had a winning weekend, so I’m very proud of the team.”
They key to the weekend success, Carr said, was the massive offensive improvement.
“This week we came back [from Houston] and our offense was about .100 and we had about 10 kills per set,” the coach recalled. “I said, ‘We’re gonna get the kill number up and we’d like to get the percentage up, but we at least need the kill number up.’”
Those goals were certainly met. The Quakers averaged 13.2 kills per set on the weekend (although Carr would like to see 15) and hit over .200 in three of the four matches, posting percentages over .400 in multiple sets.
“The girls were so focused. For us to be so focused in the practice gym and come out with that much improvement in three days really speaks volumes about this young team. So I think that is the most important thing. When they set their mind to it they can do anything.”
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