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One of the best players during Penn volleyball's trip to Houston was sophomore middle blocker Taylor Cooper, who recorded 13 kills and six blocks in three games. 

Credit: Alex Fisher , Alex Fisher

The Quakers messed with Texas, and while their record is worse to show for it, morale is certainly not headed down south.

Penn volleyball went winless against some tough opponents on a trip to Houston to open the season, falling to Toledo in five sets before losing to Houston Baptist University, North Florida and Northern Colorado, all in straight sets.

The first match of the season was a nail-biter. The Quakers (0-4) lost the first set, 25-17, and fell just short in the second set, 25-23, but won the next two sets fairly comfortably to force a deciding fifth set. Toledo (4-2), however, recovered just in time, bouncing back to take the fifth set 15-10 and win the match.

Penn’s match against Houston Baptist (4-4) wasn’t as close (25-16, 25-20, 25-23), but the Quakers, after again falling down two sets to none, fell just two points shy of a third-set win that might have sparked another comeback.

Against North Florida (5-3), the seemingly inevitable 25-23 set-loss came in the second set, as the Quakers fell just shy of getting themselves back in the match once again. The fourth match, against Northern Colorado (3-3), pitted the Quakers against their toughest opponent, and also produced Penn’s most decisive defeat: a 25-18, 25-15, 25-17 match in which the Red and Blue never really threatened to take a set.

However, especially in the preseason (well, maybe only in the preseason), it’s not all about the score. In fact, the final performance — the worst one, on the scoreboard — was, to Penn coach Kerry Carr, the most encouraging.

“Even though the score doesn’t show it, we played them really well, and we did things in that match that we didn’t do on day one,” Carr said. “And we outblocked a tough Northern Colorado team. And that — if you had seen them, they’re taller, they’re bigger than us — to outblock a team like that, that was really fun to see.”

Carr admitted that Penn wasn’t on the level of the teams they were heading down to Houston to face, but did think that the Red and Blue certainly could have come away with at least one win.

“Our first match, I really would love that match back, because I think we did play better than them. We just didn’t know how to close it out. It being our first match of the year, their experience came through,” Carr said, noting that Penn’s foes had entered the weekend with previous game action under their belts.

That being said, Carr was by no means satisfied with a winless trip.

“I’m not saying that a win wasn’t the end-game of every single set we played. It was. It always will be, whether we’re in Ivy League play or not. I love to win, I hate to lose. But we were able to take a lot of good growing points from [the matches], and not bury them under the fact that we got beat this weekend. It’s super important to talk about, ‘Hey, here’s what we did well here.’ And exponentially, we grew every single match.”

This early in the season, one of the biggest priorities is to figure out whom the team can rely on when the regular season starts. One possible breakout player Carr singled out for praise was sophomore middle blocker Taylor Cooper, who was injured much of her rookie season. Cooper had 13 kills and six blocks in the three matches she played over the weekend.

Carr also praised the performance of the two main setters, junior Sydney Morton and sophomore Grace James, as well as the duo of junior liberos, Emmy Friedler and Michelle Pereira.

The coach felt the team’s kill totals were too low across the four matches, but was impressed with junior attacker Hayley Molnar (29 kills) and called sophomore Courtney Quinn (40 kills) “a cornerstone of our offense.”

Quinn was one of three Texans, along with Kendall Covington and Caroline Furrer, on the team making a trip home for the matches, and a fourth player, Kynnedie Maloz, hails from nearby Louisiana. But a warm southern welcome was extended to the team beyond that local quartet.

“I know it was a homecoming for only four of them, but it felt like a homecoming for all of us,” Carr said. “It really felt like home, especially because most of the people in the stands were our fans. All the parents were there, and they fed us, and they had an opening dinner with us. And we just had so much support and love and food that it did feel like a home gym that was just in Texas.

“It was like we just picked up the Palestra and put it in Texas. It was about that hot in there, too.”

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