Penn volleyball may be a young team, but they’ve seen all they need to see. With one trip around the Ivy League complete, the Red and Blue are set to begin the rematches with now more familiar foes, starting with the Ancient Eight’s best.
On Friday night, Penn (8-11, 3-4 Ivy) will head to New Jersey to take on rival Princeton in their lone game this weekend. Princeton (13-3, 7-0) sit atop the league with an undefeated conference record.
In their first meeting on Sep. 24, the Ivy opener for both teams, Princeton edged out Penn in a five-set win at the Palestra, winning 21-25, 25-11, 25-15, 22-25, 15-5.
Since then, the Tigers have not lost a single set, winning each of their six subsequent Ivy matches 3-0. They have been led by senior outside hitter Cara Mattaliano, whose 3.78 kills per set in Ivy play are tops in the conference, and freshman middle blocker Maggie O’Connell, who ranks third with 3.30 kills per set.
The Quakers, meanwhile, have been playing some very close matches, with three of their four losses coming in five sets. Penn’s most recent action, however, was not as closely fought, with the Red and Blue falling to Yale 3-0 last Friday before ending up on the other side of a sweep in their 3-0 win over Brown on Saturday.
The match will be tough, but Penn coach Kerry Carr is as confident as you can be going up against an undefeated team.
“I think we’re in the best position to beat them because they didn’t have the best answer for us,” Carr said, recalling the first game. “We’re a much better team now [than before], and they’re slightly better but they’re not hitting any better than they did that match. I think they had their best offensive match that night. We’ve gotten better, they’ve gotten better, but we have a couple tricks up our sleeves.”
The most important tricks will be the ones Carr uses to try and stop Mattaliano and O’Connell. Carr thinks her team is up to the task, but wouldn’t get too specific about her exact plans.
“I can’t tell you, or I’d have to kill you,” Carr laughed. “We’ve made a couple of defensive changes that I think are going to take some of those kills away from them. But the primary thing is no matter what we do defensively to stop them, we just gotta get our offense on track.”
For Penn, an Ivy title is out of reach with four losses on the board just halfway through the season. But the team has its sights set on winning out, and the Quakers want this one a little extra.
“We want to be that team that gives them their first loss,” sophomore outside hitter Courtney Quinn said. “Our main goal is to win out, obviously, but we want to beat every team that we have lost to.”
While Penn usually plays a doubleheader every weekend during the Ivy season, this weekend will give them a chance to focus entirely on one opponent. Carr mentioned the benefits this offers from both a fatigue standpoint and a preparation standpoint, but of course, the Tigers will have the same thing going for them. Each team will get the other’s best punch, and Carr is both ready and excited.
“It’s going to take a strong effort, probably the strongest effort we’ve done so far, to beat this team,” the coach said. “It’s gonna be a huge fight, and not something you wanna miss.”