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Penn senior Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, shown against Brown, and the Quakers have the opportunity to clinch a share of the Ivy title this weekend. [Rana Molana/DP File Photo]

Once again, the Penn volleyball team controls its destiny.

Having torched the opposition in their first nine Ivy League matches, the Quakers' magic number is three, with five Ancient Eight matches remaining.

Two of those matches take place this weekend, as Penn (16-4, 9-0 Ivy) travels to New York to face Cornell (18-3, 8-2) and Columbia (0-17, 0-9).

If the Quakers win both of these matches and the Big Red defeat Princeton (13-6, 6-2) tomorrow, Penn will clinch at least a share of the league title for the third straight season.

"We definitely feel that it's getting closer," Penn senior outside hitter Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan said. "We're really excited about that, but we also realize that we've got a really tough road ahead, so we're trying to be disciplined about it, too."

While the Quakers are currently sitting on a 1.5-match lead over second-place Cornell, that is anything but comfortable in the highly competitive Ivy League.

"There is no such thing as a cushion in the Ivy League," Penn coach Kerry Major Carr said. "We still have the stronger opponents -- Cornell, Harvard and Princeton -- left to beat. Two years ago, I can remember it coming down to the wire, having a 'cushion' and blowing it."

That season, the Quakers were 10-1 in league play with three matches remaining, and held a 1.5-match lead over second-place Brown. But Penn dropped two of its last three contests and ended up sharing the 2001 Ivy crown with the Bears.

While the Quakers went on to defeat Brown in a sudden-death playoff contest that gave them their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth, Penn would rather not have to play that extra match this season.

In fact, simply winning the league title outright this season won't even meet the Red and Blue's high expectations.

"Our goal is to go undefeated this season, so a cushion doesn't even matter at this point," Carr said. "Every match is the Ivy League Championship."

Penn's next obstacle to going 14-0 in the Ivies is Cornell, which it will face at 7 p.m. tonight at Newman Arena in Ithaca, N.Y.

The Quakers will first look to establish the middle, which will force Cornell's frontcourt to respect and defend this attack.

With the opposing middle hitter committed, Penn senior setter Meghan Schloat -- who has effectively orchestrated a balanced attack all season long -- can establish one-on-one matchups for her outside and right-side hitters.

The focus of this contest, however, will not be on the strategical aspects of the game.

"The biggest challenge of this match will be mental for both teams," Kwak-Hefferan said. "I think we're the more confident team, and we have the mental edge, and that's going to show in our play."

The Quakers will then face Columbia tomorrow at 4 p.m. at Levien Gymnasium in New York.

Having dropped a game in its 3-1 victory over the Lions last month, Penn was disappointed with its play against the perennial cellar dwellers, and will be looking to blank them this time.

"We weren't motivated and we weren't intense," Penn sophomore middle hitter Michelle Kauffman said. "After dropping a game to them last time, we're going to be fired up when we play them this weekend."

While the Quakers have stated throughout the season that no team can be overlooked in the Ivy League, the focus this weekend must still be on Cornell.

"We have a very tough match ahead of us in Cornell," Carr said. "It's just two strong teams, and we're going to have to play our best game ever."

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