After losing six seniors to graduation — including three record-setting All-Ivy players — the two-time defending Ivy League Champion Quakers knew the 2011 season would be a challenge.
While the ultimate goal of defending the Ivy title did not change, the Quakers were forced to reinvent themselves.
“After losing six seniors last year, it was a matter of figuring out how the new girls on the team could contribute,” coach Kerry Carr said. “This was a growing season for us.”
In their first Ivy test, the Quakers lost a tightly contested five-set match against Princeton. While hopes remained high, the team’s next few matches showed a lack of consistency. Penn, which ultimately finished fifth at 6-8 in the Ancient Eight, lost multiple five-set matches by the smallest possible margin of two points, had difficulties holding leads and, at a low point in the season, lost five matches in a row.
The unusually high number of closely contested matches exemplified the team’s determination and perseverance, but was also a clear sign that this young team was lacking some small, yet key components to pull through in tough matches.
“I think during the toughest part of the season, our biggest struggle was finding our balance,” senior Logan Johnson said. “It wasn’t that we weren’t good enough to compete with the other teams, but it was just closing matches.”
Injuries to setter Kristin Schoonover and team-leading rightside hitter Lauren Martin forced unexpected lineup changes and greater expectations from players to step up.
“I do think that the injuries took away from our depth, which was one of our strengths,” Johnson said. “So it did hurt the team, but I think we learned to be adaptable and manage.”
Though it took the team some time to adjust, several players faced the challenges head on and worked tirelessly to improve their play.
Freshman Emma White surprised the coaches on a weekly basis, not only with her offensive skills, but also her instinctive defensive abilities. Both attributes made it difficult for Carr to take her off the floor.
Additionally, sophomore libero Dani Shepherd had a phenomenal year, setting a school record for digs in a match and also leading the league in digs per set.
The steady improvement from individuals began to culminate into team success, which shone through at last when the Quakers won their first five-set match in their second showing against Dartmouth. They then went on to finish the season on a three-game winning streak.
“By the end of the season, when we faced five-set matches, we were winning them,” Carr said. “So even though our record wasn’t the best we’ve had in the past few years, I think what we learned by the end of the season is absolutely going to help us next year.”
The Quakers will sorely miss the solid play and strong leadership of Johnson, their lone senior.
“How she dealt with her role as a player on the team was absolutely an example to everyone,” Carr said. “She not only talked about team first, she walked it, and that’s why we were able to grow this season and why we will be successful in 2012.”