The Palestra, the winter palace of Penn sports, is being renovated this fall so that generations to come may enjoy its hallowed halls even more. Similarly, the Palestra's fall tenant, the Penn volleyball team, is undergoing something of a renovation. It's not a rebuilding year per se, as this year's Red and Blue squad may actually be better than last year's. But with no seniors and freshmen outnumbering upperclassmen, the Quakers are clearly gearing up to excel in the years to come. That may be the best thing of all for the Quakers -- there is absolutely no pressure this season. It's nobody's final opportunity at Ivy League glory, no one's last chance to shine. Penn's opportunity this year is to go out and have fun playing volleyball, for many to learn the ropes of the game at the collegiate level, to prepare to seriously contend in the league next year and in the future. Having no seniors may be just what the doctor ordered for a program that has been writhing in mediocrity for the better part of 10 years, only occasionally lurching toward the top of the Ancient Eight for a gasp at moderate success. The problem is that Penn has never been truly bad. The Quakers have never had to stare at the rubble of an awful season and think to themselves that the best thing to do would be to simply start from scratch. This season, with three juniors, four sophomores and nine freshmen, the Quakers are all but forced to begin anew. That's not to sell Penn short. A team with nothing to lose is always a dangerous opponent, and the Quakers are not exactly starved for talent. Stephanie Horan was second team All-Ivy last year as a sophomore, and in just two seasons, setter Jodie Antypas has worked her way up to fourth on Penn's all-time assists list. The Quakers freshmen have also stepped right in to help propel their team to a 2-1 start. "Because [the freshmen] come from nationally ranked teams across the country, they're used to being on top," Penn coach Kerry Major said. "So anything less than winning will be a disappointment for them.... Any pressure comes from their experience. We're not putting any pressure on them at all." Major also said that she feels no additional pressure to lead or teach with such a young team. That's probably a good thing with a team that puts so much onto its own shoulders. "I've always felt not a pressure to lead, but that it's my job, my position," said Horan, who with 569 kills in two years is on pace to become Penn's all-time top hitter. "I've just always felt that I'm a leader on the team, and that's just the role I accept and that I'm used to taking. Having no seniors, for me it's no different than if there were seniors on the team." The Quakers need that kind of attitude this season, but they also need to allow themselves to have fun. With such a young team, there are sure to be ups and downs, and if the Quakers beat themselves up too much when things don't go right, they will be certain to find themselves deep in a rut. Last year's Quakers ran into similar problems. After a hard-fought loss against Princeton, Penn was very flat in a 3-0 loss later the same week to Stony Brook, and struggled mightily the next weekend to defeat inferior opponents at Cornell and Columbia. This season, the Quakers have gotten off to a good start with victories in two of their first three matches. They must, however, be careful not to get too far ahead of themselves. Patience will be a virtue for the Red and Blue this year in both victory and in defeat. "It was pretty easy-going this weekend," Major said. "If you made a mistake, it was alright, just do it differently next time. We're trying to have that philosophy with them because they come from organizations where they've always been the starter, always been the star." If the Quakers can keep up that theme, and spend the season improving, then by next season -- and maybe even before -- the renovation at the Palestra will be complete.Comments powered by Disqus
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