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The Penn volleyball team is off to its best start since 2000, when it finished 22-8 and took second place in the Ivy League.

This weekend at the Towson Invitational, coach Kerry Carr's club will face its biggest test yet.

"We're playing three tough, consistent, seasoned, successful teams this weekend," she said.

The Quakers (6-1) take on Ball State (6-4) and Towson (7-4) today and then George Washington (5-4) tomorrow in the two-day tournament at the Towson Center.

"In all the tournaments we've always had one [game] that we could rest our top starters in," Carr said. "All three of these games we're going to have to put our best foot forward to win."

That could mean relying more on her experienced starters than she has so far this season. Carr has been rotating her lineups in the first two weekends to give experience to players up and down the roster, but with the tough upcoming matchups she will stick with her proven players.

Senior outside hitter Elizabeth Semmens epitomizes that type of talent. She has been dominant this year, having recorded three double-doubles in the last four matches and a team-leading 114 kills on the year.

The next most prolific Penn attacker, senior middle blocker Ashley Hawkins has 66 kills.

Of course, offense isn't everything for the Quakers. Carr credits the team's fast start to its staunch defense. Junior libero Madison Wojciechowski - the program's single-season digs record-holder with 511 in 2008 - is the biggest reason why "we [win] with our defense," as Carr explained.

Semmens and Wojciechowski form a tantalizing tandem: "those two combined show some leadership and drive to just take over," Carr said.

Semmens has stepped up in the absence of junior outside hitter Julia Swanson, who suffered an ankle injury and missed most of last weekend's Husky Classic. The 2008 first team All-Ivy selection is day-to-day, so Carr is preparing to play this weekend without her best attacker.

Were Swanson to return, the Quakers should see a boost in their kill production. But freshman outside hitter Lauren Davis has impressed with her courtside composure, strengthening the bench in the process.

The Quakers will need to be in top form as they try to end Ball State's streak of four straight sweeps.

"They're a lot bigger than us at the net," Carr explained. "We're going to have to figure out a way to hit around the bigger block."

They can't be too shortsighted though, as both Towson and George Washington boast winning records as well.

All four teams are on the rise and should compete for their conference crowns this season.

With more wins this weekend against challenging opponents, the Quakers can continue to put themselves on the map.

"We're starting to get nationally ranked," Carr explained. "It's a big matchup."

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