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Michellie McDonald-O'Brien helped spark a quick start against Columbia.

Credit: Julio Sosa , Julio Sosa

The changing seasons bring about new colors around campus, with greens turning to oranges and browns, Red and Blue fading in favor of a shade of pink.

Penn volleyball hosted Cornell and Columbia in this weekend’s Dig Pink! Rally, donning pink instead of the normal Red and Blue to raise money for breast cancer research.

Despite a strong showing Friday night, the Quakers could not complete the weekend sweep on Saturday, falling to the Lions in four sets after a convincing win against the Big Red.

Against Cornell (4-11, 0-5 Ivy), the Red and Blue jumped out to a quick 12-5 lead. But Penn (9-8, 3-2) was forced to regroup as the Big Red stormed back out of a timeout, knotting it at 23. From there, outside hitter Alexis Genske took command with two kills that sandwiched a service ace by sophomore libero Michelle Pereira to give the Quakers the 1-0 lead.

Genske’s first-set performance was critical to Penn’s early success, logging 10 of the team’s 15 kills while putting up a .769 hitting percentage. For a squad reliant on energy and momentum, the senior captain’s presence was decisive.

“I think part of that was me just having confidence in my teammates,” Genske said. “And I feel like I could swing really hard because people were covering me, so I think that taught me that I really rely on that.”

The Big Red rallied back in a second set that saw seven ties before finally breaking away with five straight points to clinch the set, 25-20. It was in the second set that Cornell was able to take on the Red and Blue’s freewheeling offense, notching three blocks — more than it would throughout the rest of the match.

The last two sets saw the Quakers win the battle at the net, with the Big Red recording a single block and a .115 hitting percentage to Penn’s five and .227, respectively. The Red and Blue captured the third set, 25-19, before closing out the match, 28-26, to move into a four-way tie atop the Ancient Eight.

Alongside Genske’s double-double of 16 kills and 12 digs, senior setter Ronnie Bither put up 17 digs and added 38 to her league-leading assists total.

If success at the net was the key Friday night, however, it was cause for trouble on Saturday against Columbia (4-10, 2-3).

Once again, the Quakers took the early lead, with senior Michellie McDonald-O’Brien opening the match with a kill as the squad raced out to an 8-4 advantage. From there, a kill from Lions outside hitter Zoe Jacobs gave Columbia the first of seven consecutive points, allowing the Lions to grab momentum they would not relinquish in the set, winning, 25-15.

The Red and Blue failed to register a block in the opening frame, a reversal from Friday that would carry on throughout the night. The Quakers were out-blocked 11-7, and their .182 hitting percentage in the fourth set was the highest of the night.

“[Columbia doesn’t] make many mistakes. They just keep the ball in play a lot. And so I think they did a phenomenal job blocking us and did a great job using our block,” coach Kerry Carr said. “I think that’s all they work on, is blocking and using the block.”

Unlike Cornell the night before, the Red and Blue could not rally back from a first-set loss, falling into a 2-0 hole after a 25-22 second set defeat. Although Penn recovered to win the third set, 25-20, the deficit proved too large, and Columbia won the fourth set, 25-19, and the match with it.

“I think offensively we were strong,” Carr said. “It was just defensively that we’re struggling with a little bit both at the block, at the net and then behind the block.”

For the Quakers, the weekend split sets up a contest on the road on Friday against a usually tough Yale squad that finds itself with the same Ivy record as the Red and Blue. Next weekend’s doubleheader marks the halfway point of Penn’s Ivy slate, and — with two conference losses already — its title hopes are on the block.

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