By most accounts, 2012 was just an “average” year for the Penn women’s volleyball team.
When asked one word to characterize the 2012 season, head coach Kerry Carr simply replied, “Growth.”
“We had freshmen that are going to play a key role for us for the next three years getting on the court for the first time and we had juniors that were developing into leaders that are now captains of the team,” she elaborated. “When I look back at how far we’ve come in the year, especially in the spring, the girls were super focused and I feel like we’ve grown a ton more than any other spring.”
Finishing 13-12 overall and fourth in the Ivy League, there were definite improvements over the 5th place finish in 2011 that was widely viewed as a big step backwards after tying current three-time champion Yale for the Ivy title in 2010.
Yet at the same time, there’s a sense that something was left on the table. The Quakers finished the season on a low note, getting swept by Cornell and Columbia on the road after sweeping them at the Palestra earlier in the season.
“We had a large senior class that graduated and I think [the end of last season] was a culmination of all their efforts and kind of being disappointed right before the last road trip when we found out that Yale had won the title outright,” Carr said. “It was hard to motivate them after that because we weren’t shooting for second place, we wanted first.”
This year, those loose ends figure to be tied up, and the results could be tantalizing.
“The younger kids were really disappointed about the end of last season,” Carr commented. “They’ve used that as motivation to make sure we never end a season like that again, or even be in that situation.”
2012 had its proud moments. The Quakers finished first in the Ivy League in kills, total attempts, assists, digs, digs per set and overall points. In addition, Dani Shepherd and Emma White ranked first and second, respectively, in digs, and Susan Stuechili finished second in blocks.
With all three league-leading players returning a year older and more experienced as leaders and the younger players such as Ronnie Bither and Alex Caldwell rounding into form, the hope is that the team’s record will reflect outstanding individual efforts.
The biggest challenge for the Red and Blue will be usurping Yale, which went undefeated in Ivy play in 2012. The Bulldogs only graduated one senior last season and have retooled with four strong freshmen including Shepherd’s little sister, former high school teammate and fellow libero Tori.
“Yale has gotten even stronger than last year,” Carr admitted. “However, there’s a tendency for teams who do win back-to-back championships to get complacent in the spring and not improve.”
The two sisters and teams will go head to head for the first time on Oct. 11 in New Haven in what figures to be one of many interesting matchups for the 2013 Quakers.
“Coming into this season, I feel like everyone from top to bottom is focused on winning the championship,” Carr said. “The competition across the net is stronger across the league — there’s no doubt. We have all the odds stacked against us. But I kind of like not being the favorite going into the season — we’ve won some of our best championships that way.”
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