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W Volleyball v Yale 12 Megan Tryon S Credit: Michelle Bigony

It’s hard to improve on a 23-6 season that included an Ivy League title, but that’s exactly what Penn volleyball is attempting in 2010.

Opening their season with the Big 5 Classic for the second year in a row, the Quakers swept Temple Friday night and topped La Salle 3-1 on Saturday before dropping a five-game nail-biter to Villanova at the Palestra.

Although the team just missed replicating last year’s three-game sweep, which jump-started Penn’s fantastic 2009 campaign, coach Kerry Carr thinks this year’s squad may be off to an even better start.

“I do believe we’re better, but I try not to make comparisons because we’re just such a different team,” Carr said. “This was an up-and-down weekend for our team as a whole, getting used to new people on the court … I think that we grew so much from that, that the wins and losses really weren’t the priority this weekend.”

The Red and Blue lost two key seniors from the 2009 championship team: Ivy League Player of the Year Elizabeth Semmens and starting middle blocker Ashley Hawkins. But another strong recruiting class is already paying dividends and easing the transition.

In the middle, where the loss of Hawkins is compounded by an ankle injury to senior Britt Danneman, the Quakers got key contributions from freshman Susan Stuecheli and sophomore Amanda Pacheco.

Stuecheli, the team’s tallest recruit at 6-foot-2, was its most efficient attacker against Temple, with five kills on six attempts to go with a team-leading two block assists. The Michigan native dominated the net against Villanova with eight block assists and one solo, the most total single-game blocks by a Quaker since Kathryn Turner notched 10 block assists on Nov. 7, 2008 against Harvard.

Pacheco, Penn’s most experienced middle after Danneman, was second on the team with 32 kills over the weekend, including a team-high 15 against the Wildcats.

“Amanda has a range that I don’t think I’ve seen in a middle hitter on this team in quite a time. She has even a better range right now than Ashley Hawkins ever did,” Carr said. “I think she is definitely going to be our go-to hitter this year. She also has a maturity and calmness about herself that settles the team when she comes in.”

Pacheco also complemented Stuecheli with three solo blocks and one assist of her own against Villanova. All together the Quakers racked up 13 total team blocks in the contest, matching their season-high total from last year’s game against Villanova.

“To have that in one of our first matches, I think bodes well for us for the rest of the season,” Carr said. “It’s definitely a growth point and when you see improvement in your team in the very first weekend, rather than just figuring things out, it’s a win.”

Carr also identified freshmen outside hitter Kristin Etterbeek and libero Dani Shepherd as impressive performers who could find spots in the rotation moving forward.

Among the key returners from last year, seniors and team-elected co-captains Megan Tryon and Madison Wojciechowski remain steady forces for Penn. Tryon tallied 115 assists while Wojciechowski notched 61 digs.

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