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Junior libero Michelle Pereira led the defense for Penn volleyball with 13 digs on Friday, but she couldn't stop the Princeton attack as the Tigers took the match in straight sets.

Credit: Pranay Vemulamada

Volleyball is all about working in system to get opponents out of system. For Penn volleyball, new changes to their system had mixed reviews against an unflappable Princeton squad.

On Friday evening, Penn lost a tough straight-set match to Ivy League-leading Princeton. Penn (8-12, 3-5 Ivy) traveled to Dillon Gym to try and hand Princeton (14-3, 8-0) its first conference loss of the season.

“We were trying a couple things out to see if they would work,” junior setter Sydney Morton said. "It’ll definitely be interesting to see what the coaches think about the new changes that we’ve made.”

From the outset of the match there was a high level of play from both teams. Each squad had to work hard to win extended rallies bolstered by impressive digs from the back line. Strong opening set play from junior Hayley Molnar and sophomore Courtney Quinn helped the Red and Blue split the first 26 points of the set with the Tigers.

“We were toe to toe with them in the first set,” Morton said. “We know how good we can be when we’re playing our A-game. We just have to make sure we’re always playing our A-game.”

Strong kills from junior middle blocker Kendall Covington and freshman outside hitter Caroline Furrer helped the Quakers pull even in the opening set. Other strong performances were recorded by Morton, who recorded 18 assists, and junior libero Michelle Pereira, who led the team with 13 digs.

Unfortunately, the Tigers’ defense found their rhythm, and the defending Ivy champs began to string together points against the Quakers, leading to a series of runs that would clinch the first set for Princeton. Princeton won 12 of the last 17 points en route to taking the first set 25-18.

The Tigers carried this momentum into a similar second set. After being up 7-6 in the second set, Penn saw another important string of points go in Princeton’s favor, eventually falling behind 17-8. The Quakers, who suffered a 10-point deficit at one point, would eventually drop the second set, 25-16.

“They’re just a very good first ball kill team,” coach Kerry Carr said. “When they were in system, we couldn’t stop them. They had all three hitters going.”

Princeton’s offensive prowess showed in the third set. After splitting the first 10 points of the set, Princeton took the lead and held it for the remainder of the set. A .296 hitting percentage from Quinn helped the Quakers maintain pressure in the final set. Unfortunately, Princeton was dialed in at this stage of the match. A pair of kills from freshman Devon Peterkin helped the Tigers record a 25-17 victory.

Tiger’s senior Cara Mattaliano recorded a game high 14 kills on the night. In doing so, the Illinois native became the 13th player to surpass 1,000 kills in the program’s history.

Still, Carr praised the improvements her team made.

“We improved our block so much from the last three weeks,” the 19th-year coach said. “We had eight blocks against two of their [Princeton’s] players, and it was fun to take them out of the game.”

The Quakers recorded twice as many blocks as their opponents. Carr made note of Penn’s effective blocking against Princeton’s right side, as they recorded four blocks against Princeton’s right side hitters. Usual playmakers for Princeton, like senior Brittany Ptak, were unable to attack efficiently against Penn.

Carr looks forward to making future improvements in practice this week.

“We need to bring up our offense,” the head coach said. “If we can keep what we learned and add to it, we’ll just get stronger. That’s what makes me so proud of this team.”

Carr is always looking to try new things to improve her team. The versatility of her team’s structure this weekend bodes well for future matches.