Off to an 0-4 start for the first time since 2006, it’s been a long week for Penn volleyball.
But if there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, there’s no better place than the Palestra to provide it.
Following a frustrating performance in Houston, the Quakers will return home in an effort to snatch their first win of the year. In this weekend’s Penn Invitational, the Red and Blue will host Bucknell (2-4) and Howard on Friday before taking on George Mason (0-6) and Lafayette (2-2) on Saturday.
“It’s the same as this past weekend; if we improve every point, every set, every game, then it’s a win for our endgame, which is the Ivy League Championship,” coach Kerry Carr said. “I think learning how to win when it’s 23-23, we need to learn how to close out those types of matches ... part of improving is learning how to win.”
Decimated by the graduation of four of their top five scorers and 2015 Ivy League assists leader Ronnie Bither, the revamped Quakers couldn’t put the pieces together at last weekend’s tournament. Penn won two out of 14 sets in four matches, going 0-3 in sets decided by the minimum two points.
“We could’ve done better honestly; I feel like we were kind of right there in a lot of matches, but the cool thing was we figured out so much about our team,” sophomore outside hitter Courtney Quinn said. “It was cool to see us growing as a team together, so I think we’ll be able to take things from those games heading into this weekend.”
Although Penn’s four opponents all didn’t participate in last year’s Penn Invitational, that doesn’t mean that the Red and Blue are entirely unfamiliar with them. The matchup with George Mason is intriguing not only because the two squads faced off in 2015 — with the Patriots ultimately winning a five-set thriller — but also because former George Mason assistant Scott Schweihofer has swapped sides, joining Penn’s staff this season.
“That’s a great advantage [to have Schweihofer’s inside knowledge of George Mason],” Carr joked, before clarifying her stance. “He’s a stand-up guy; he won’t tell any trade secrets. ... The great thing about Scotty is now we get film on everybody’s games from last weekend, so we can get all their stats and come up with a game plan. But there’s no super secret thing to beating [George Mason].”
Additionally, the Quakers faced Howard a year ago, dominating the Bison en route to a three-set victory.
But even when considering last year’s beatdown, the Red and Blue would be mistaken to sleep on the Bison in any capacity. Howard returns every starter from a team that reached the NCAA Tournament, including outside hitter Khalia Donaldson, who notched a remarkable 405 kills a season ago.
This season, the Bison are off to a 4-3 start, with two losses coming against opponents from Power Five conferences.
“[Howard] has been very professional on the court, and I totally believe they’re the strongest team to come into the gym this weekend,” Carr said. “They’re a very athletic team, and if they’re injury-free they are a huge force at the net.”
So for the Red and Blue to end their offensive troubles — the team ranks 287th nationally in hitting percentage at .135 — and finally crack the win column, all hands on deck will be needed to usher in Penn volleyball’s new era with a bang.
“Everyone just needs to find their role, because that way we can work together well as a unit instead of being focused on other things,” Quinn said. “We’ve been talking about getting 15 kills per set, so that’s been on our board all week during practices. I think if we meet that benchmark during the games, we can really come out with some wins.”
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