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Senior outside hitter Alexis Genske is the star for Penn volleyball, but the now-seasoned sophomores will be the team's X factor.

After nearly 10 months with no competition, Penn volleyball will suddenly find itself very busy this weekend.

The Red and Blue will head down to Washington, D.C., and Maryland to play four games in two days as part of the DC Classic. Penn's first action of the season will come in a Saturday doubleheader against Maryland and George Mason in the nation's capital. The Quakers will then make the short trip to Maryland's campus on Sunday to take on Western Carolina and Howard.

While this weekend will bring a fresh start for the Quakers — who went 8-17 last year and 5-9 in the Ivy League — Maryland (4-0), George Mason (2-1), Western Carolina (2-2), and Howard (0-4) have already begun their 2015 campaigns. 

That being said, this year's Penn team brings far more experience into its opening matches than last year's squad. The 2014 Quakers were forced to rely heavily on their freshmen, tasking many of them with key roles. 

And while most of the Class of 2018 played impressively in their first year, their lack of seasoning certainly showed at times. Now, those players return with a year of experience under their belts.

Of course, each new season brings a new crop of freshmen. Coach Kerry Carr said that she would use these nonconference games as an opportunity to throw her eight first-year players into the mix and see what they can do. But Carr was quick to emphasize the difference between this season and last.

"Now we can insert the freshmen not because we have to, but because we want them to get experience, so we can put them better situations, knowing that we have plenty of depth at every position via experienced leaders," she said.

Carr's newest recruiting class is impressive, but the core of this team is formed by its returning players, led by seniors Alexis Genske and Alex Caldwell. Each has high expectations for what they and their teammates can accomplish.

Genske is targeting an Ivy League title this season and hopes that Penn's new high-octane offense will help make that a reality.

"We've been speeding up our offense a lot recently," Genske said. "We worked really hard this weekend with the setters and middle and outside hitters on splitting the opponents' blocks by setting really fast balls, so we're trying to shoot it outside faster to create holes in their defense."

It has been said that a good offense is the best defense; Genske stressed the importance of preventing the Quakers' upcoming opponents from executing their own game plans. 

"We've been working on serving tough, to keep them out-of-system as much as possible," she said.

Just like Genske, Caldwell is optimistic about the team's potential. She believes the team is ready to finally win an Ivy title, and wants to accomplish it with an undefeated campaign. 

But while Genske was focused on tactics, Caldwell highlighted improved mental preparation as something that she believes will pay off when the games begin.

"It is a very different ballgame in college, but the sophomores that were freshmen last year are now completely ready to play at this level," Caldwell said. "They know what to expect. There are a lot of things [they needed to] learn and adapt to, but everyone is finally getting on board to the level that we need to be at to win." 

Carr said that her primary goal is to see the team improve with every single point, just as it has been in preseason practices. But the coach couldn't fully contain her competitive spirit.

"It's really exciting to play someone besides ourselves," she said. "We're super stoked to see someone else across the net and think about someone else besides our teammates — someone to kill."

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