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Penn football loses their first home game of the season to Villanova, 41-7. Credit: Zoe Gan , Zoe Gan

Over the summer, the libero jersey — and the keys to Penn volleyball’s defense — was turned over from one of the nation’s best defensive specialists to a freshman from a small town just outside of Chicago.

Emmy Friedler, one of coach Kerry Carr’s prized recruits, has filled in admirably for the recently graduated All-Ivy libero Dani Shepherd in her first month with the Quakers.

Friedler leads the team by a wide margin with 140 digs through 37 sets of play. The freshman also ranks third in assists with 14 and aces with five. She is quick to dive on the floor to keep a ball alive, and equally quick to pop up and play out the rest of the point.

“That’s why I recruited her,” Carr said. “Her willingness to just throw her body everywhere inspires people.”

Friedler’s apparent disregard for her own safety might make a casual observer cringe when she dives to save a would-be kill, but pain is the last thing on her mind when the ball is coming her way.

“It’s just kind of like second nature to me,” she said. “When I was younger, it was kind of hard to train that, but now that I’m older and I’ve been playing for so long, and I’ve even learned to dive in ways so it doesn’t hurt so much ... it’s just natural for me now.”

But the key to success at her position, Friedler asserts, comes well before the ball is smashed her way.

“Really, 90 percent of the work is done before the ball is hit,” she said. “It’s about reading the play, reading the set and the pass from the other side, before the ball is hit.”

As a freshman, Friedler is facing the same struggle that nearly all Division I athletes go through —transitioning from being a star in high school to playing on a team packed from top to bottom with former high school standouts. But Carr has been more than pleased with Friedler’s early showing.

“Emmy is probably one of the most coachable players I’ve had at the libero position,” Carr said after Friedler’s 13-dig performance against Dayton. “She comes in willing to listen and get better with every game ... I’m starting to see her take more of a leadership role with the passing and the defense, and people are starting to trust her.”

If assuming a leadership role so early in her collegiate career hasn’t been a problem, what has been Friedler’s biggest adjustment? According to Penn’s new defensive anchor, it’s the schedule.

Only having a couple games a week, and really focusing on those teams all week, and getting the scouting reports so early, it’s different from high school, where you’d have four or five or six matches a week,” she said. “It’s a really big adjustment, to spend a full week of practice prepping for one team.”

As for the expectations, Friedler views Shepherd’s legacy as a blessing, not a curse.

“I had seen her play a couple times, she was awesome. She had set such a standard for defense on this team, and for going all out, and so it was really cool to step into that culture of going hard on defense every day. [That culture] was already present from her, so it was really cool to be able to help fill that role.”

Friedler says that her main personal goal for her first campaign is to get more comfortable with her teammates.

However, if her performance through the first dozen games is any indication, Friedler has already commanded the respect of her fellow Quakers, and Penn may have once again struck gold at the libero position.

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