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Is the third time really a charm?

After being blanked in its first two postseason appearances, that's what the Penn volleyball team is wondering as it heads to the NCAA Tournament.

For the third straight year, the Quakers have been slated by the selection committee to travel west to Penn State.

In Happy Valley, Penn (20-6) will face Big East Champion Pittsburgh (25-5) at Recreation Hall on Friday at 5 p.m.

Afterwards, host Penn State (28-4) -- the Big Ten Champion and the tournament's No. 11 seed -- will play against Northeast Conference Champion Robert Morris (23-11).

The winners will play on Saturday at 7 p.m. for a trip to the Sweet 16 in Gainsville, Fla.

Penn had expected to return to the home of the Nittany Lions, given the selection committee's desire to keep teams from traveling more than 300 miles from their home.

The Quakers had mixed feelings about returning to State College, Pa.

"We were a little disappointed that we were going back to the same site," Penn coach Kerry Major Carr said. "On the other hand, it's not a different time zone, we know how to get there and there's none of the stress associated with being in a new location."

However, the Quakers were very excited when their first-round opponent was announced.

"Our goal is to get past the first round," Carr said. "So this is the best draw that we could possibly ask for."

The draw is favorable because Penn will face an unseeded opponent in the first round for the first time.

In 2001, the Quakers were handed a 3-0 loss by No. 8 UCLA. Last year, the Red and Blue failed to take a game from No. 13 Penn State.

But Penn -- the lone Ivy League representative -- is optimistic about its chances this time.

"Not only are we not facing a top 16 seed, but we're also bringing a group of very seasoned veterans," Carr said. "The four seniors on the team have been to NCAAs before and have very high expectations of themselves."

Those four seniors -- Lauren Carter, Heather Janssen, Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan and Meghan Schloat -- are looking to take a game, and then a match in the 64-team, single-elimination tournament.

Neither has ever been accomplished in program history.

The 2003 Quakers, which conclude practice today in Philadelphia and travel tomorrow to Happy Valley, have a good opportunity to do both.

"They're practicing harder than ever, improving every day," Carr said. "They're ready to take the next step."

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