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With the absence of top outside hitter Julia Swanson for the second-straight weekend, the pressure was even higher on Penn volleyball’s other stud outside hitter, Elizabeth Semmens.

And the senior captain continued to thrive this weekend at the Towson Invitational. She picked up her third and fourth 20-kill matches of the season Friday night as the Quakers defeated Ball State in four sets and Towson in five. But she could only manage eight kills as the entire Penn squad struggled Saturday and was swept by George Washington.

Although Swanson was last year’s Ivy League leader in total kills, Semmens has paced Penn (8-2) with 162 kills in 2009.

“She’s had to step it up with Julia out,” coach Kerry Carr said.

“[Swanson’s injury] was a downer, but I think it shows that as a team we’re really well-rounded and when one of our big hitters goes down we all will step it up,” Semmens added. “I think I felt like it was my responsibility as a captain to be a go-to hitter for the last couple of weekends.”

The Brooklyn, N.Y., native also notched 64 kills in Penn’s 3-1 finish at last weekend’s Husky Classic tournament at Houston Baptist, when Swanson went down early on with an ankle injury.

“For [Semmens] to go strong for seven matches in a row is really a testament to her leadership with everything else that has been going on,” Carr said.

And with the defense focusing on Semmens, it’s been harder for the senior to maintain her 4.05 kills per set since Swanson’s injury (Swanson’s 2008 clip was 3.53).

She said that teams have been picking on her in serve receive to keep her off the front line. (She committed four of the team’s 14 serve receive errors this weekend.)

The other added challenge — and the more significant one — has come at the net, where blockers are focusing most of their attention on her.

“People were camped out on her this weekend,” Carr said.

The coach explained that Semmens has adjusted her swinging strategy this season, which is part of the reason for her drastic improvement.

“She’s developed a couple different shots that allow her to hit not-perfect sets into kill areas,” Carr said

That development was crucial in the match against Ball State (7-6), which boasts a huge front-line and difficult blocking.

The Quakers had the Cardinals on the ropes with a 2-1 lead and 22-18 advantage in the fourth set. Ball State used a 5-0 run to pull ahead 23-22, but Semmens smacked consecutive kills to set up Penn’s victory.

In Friday’s nightcap against Towson (7-7), freshman Lauren Martin emerged as the hero. The right-side hitter notched two of Penn’s last three kills to help the Quakers stave off the Tigers in the fifth set. She also led the team with 11 kills on .333 hitting against GWU (8-4).

With Martin continuing to excel and Semmens continuing to step up, its no surprise that Penn is having its best pre-Ivy season in years. And things are only looking up.

“When Julia comes back it’s just going to make us stronger,” Semmens said, “because now we know that we have these other hitters that can step up.”

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