If the outcome of every match was decided just by counting which team had the most number of veterans, the Penn volleyball team would be 0-23 right now. But the Quakers aren't winless. In fact, their 17-6 overall record is the best in the Ivies. So what does Penn have that trumps its lack of experience? Young talent, team unity and an admirable fearlessness. On a 15-person team with no seniors, the nine freshmen have looked to the three juniors on the squad for guidance. "They've been really supportive," freshman outside hitter Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan said. "They give us confidence [by telling us] that we all have the skills and talent to be here." Kwak-Hefferan certainly has the skills and talent. She is one of only two freshman starters for the Red and Blue, and has earned her spot with strong play. Currently, Kwak-Hefferan leads her team in kills (180), service aces (24) and digs (257). She is also fifth in the Ivy League in digs per game (3.29), behind junior teammate Stephanie Horan, who is fourth (3.82). Penn's other freshman starter, middle blocker Heather Janssen, agrees that the juniors have provided strong leadership. "[The juniors] have collegiate experience, so they've taught us to play at the college pace," Heather Janssen said. Clearly, Penn's upperclassmen have also taught its freshmen a thing or two about how to play defense. Penn is now ranked No. 1 in the Ivy League in all of the major defensive categories, including blocks (224.5), blocks per game (2.64), digs (1582) and digs per game (18.61). Janssen is a major reason why opposing teams are shut down at the net in matches against the Red and Blue. By learning effective blocking strategy from the Ivy League's leader in blocks per game, junior Kelly Szczerba (1.36), Janssen has moved her way up to sixth place in the same category (0.98). As a product of the coaching provided by the Penn juniors, the freshmen have also learned how to focus on the mental game, something Penn coach Kerry Major has stressed throughout the entire season. "They believe in us, and that really helps us believe in ourselves," Kwak-Hefferan said. "They help us with the mental aspect of the game, and help us not be overwhelmed." Junior setter Jodie Antypas is one of "The Three Musketeers" -- Penn's nickname for its three juniors -- who have helped the freshmen bond with each other and with the whole team. "There's one of each personality out there, and I think the freshmen have gelled really well and adapted," Antypas said. The Quakers do seem to get along very well with each other, and are always willing to help each other out both on and off the court. "I really like our team. We're a really good group of girls, and we have fun," Janssen said. Freshman setter Meghan Schloat agrees. "These girls are so great, and I wanna show them that not only am I their friend, but I wanna be a really great volleyball player with them," Schloat said. "I want us to mesh together so well." The feeling of team unity has been key in Penn's success this season, especially as of late. The Quakers have won five straight and 10 of their last 11 matches. "We're young and talented, and we're keeping our heart and our spirit in the right place," Major said. "We're doing a lot of things emotionally and mentally to make up for our lack of experience." Penn's "young and talented" volleyball team will travel to Old Nassau to take on arch-rival Princeton tonight at 7:30 p.m.Comments powered by Disqus
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