Within 24 hours, Penn volleyball played 10 grueling sets in New York. But it was to no avail, as the Quakers fell in two tight matches against rivals Cornell and Columbia.
“We played both matches really tough,” coach Kerry Carr said. “When it gets to the overtime set, and you’re on the road, it just gets a lot tougher.”
The Quakers’ campaign began at Newman Arena against the Big Red (6-8, 1-4 Ivy). The start seemed promising for Penn (7-10, 2-3); after holding a 12-point lead, a strong kill from junior Kendall Covington helped close out the first set, 25-17.
In the second set, Cornell upped their game and the two teams exchanged the lead eight times. But Cornell was stronger in the closing moments, recording three successive kills to close out the set, 25-23. They continued their good play into the fourth set, overcoming a seven-point deficit to win, 25-21.
Entering the fourth set, the Red and Blue faced a must-win situation. And, in a test of resiliency, Penn responded.
“It never felt like we were losing even though we were behind,” sophomore outside hitter Courtney Quinn said. “We were like don’t even look at the score, let’s just play volleyball.”
Jumping out to another seven-point lead, the Quakers controlled the fourth set. Sophomore Taylor Cooper slid the fourteenth kill of the set past the defensive line to close out a 25-17 set. The teams would play five.
But Penn’s comeback fell short. Trudy Vande Berg’s squad quickly opened up a 6-1 lead in front of the home crowd. A 0.500 hitting percentage in the final set helped Cornell cement a 15-9 finish.
Still, some of Carr’s players had a banner day. Quinn recorded a career high 22 kills and 19 digs, while junior Sydney Morton posted her own double-double, with 45 assists and 12 digs.
“When you lose a five-set match, it’s all about staying positive,” Carr said. “That match can go either way.”
Penn’s chance at redemption came the next day against a strong Columbia squad. From the outset it was another tight contest, as the two teams split the first two sets.
In the third set, both teams had their opportunities. After trailing by six points early, Sydney Morton used creative dumps to help the Quakers draw even. As the closing moments arrived, Caroline Furrer recorded an ace to give her team a set point. And Penn converted, capping off a three-point run to win the third set, 25-23.
Quinn commented on how common tight sets have become in the Ivy League.
“It’s just what has become typical Ivy League play,” the Texas native said. “All the teams are so even that it could really go either way each time.”
Middle blockers Cooper and Covington did well to keep Columbia (9-6, 4-1) out of system, posting 11 and nine kills respectively.
Unfortunately, this match wouldn’t go Penn’s way. The freshman pairing of Chichi Ikwuazom and Grace Campbell led a stronger middle attack for the Lions. After a comprehensive fourth set, Columbia pulled away in the decisive set, 15-11, committing only two errors.
When asked, Carr praised her team’s versatility.
“We can change our hitters around, we can change our passers around,” the 19th-year coach said. “That’s something that a young team has to get used to and I think we’re inches away from being able to do it consistently.”
The Quakers will take two intense matches under their belt as they prepare for a home series against Yale and Brown. Friday and Saturday’s matches at the Palestra highlight Penn volleyball’s Dig Pink Weekend. Fan donations will help raise proceeds to benefit breast cancer research.
In Ivy League volleyball, the margins have become so small. Carr and her team will look for those extra inches to help things fall their way.
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