The turn of the calendar from 2016 to 2017 brought a change in leadership that threatened to throw a once-peaceful community into anarchy. I’m talking, of course, about Penn Athletics. But after three months of being coachless for the first time in 19 years, Penn volleyball is settling in with a new face at the helm.
Once longtime coach Kerry Carr stepped down at the end of November following nearly two full decades leading the program, it took the Quakers until the end of February to settle on a new coach in Katie Schumacher-Cawley. It took several weeks more for the new coach to arrive on campus, ending an unusually long period of self-government for a Red and Blue squad that will return the entirety of its roster from last year.
But now, with Schumacher-Cawley on campus, the Quakers are organized. Organized, and happy.
“She’s awesome,” junior captain Sydney Morton said. “She’s been making us so much better already, and it’s really exciting... She really has a high volleyball IQ, and she knows the words to say to get us motivated and to help fix a particular skill that we’re working on.”
Organized, happy, and sweaty. The new coach is not one to overlook the importance of fitness.
“Everyone is working so hard going for every single ball, everyone’s sweating so much, to just make a good first impression,” Morton said.
“I don’t think I’ve sweat as much since I’ve been here as I have in the past couple weeks,” sophomore outside hitter Courtney Quinn said.
“She is pushing us physically, which is definitely what we need, especially after being coachless for a while,” junior captain Kendall Covington said. “I mean, we definitely all held each other accountable during that weird transition period, but as soon as she got here she was like, ‘OK, we need to get back in actual D1 collegiate volleyball shape.’”
But while nobody likes running laps in practice, the team knows that it will pay off in the long haul.
“I mean sometimes games, when they go to five sets, it’s like two hours, two hours and fifteen minutes of straight volleyball, and in order to get through that you need a ton of endurance,” Covington said. “I think it will help us outlast other teams during games. And when other teams are tired, that’s when they start losing points.”
And rather than having her players just run up and down the gym, Schumacher-Cawley is finding a way to keep practices centered on the game.
“She’s definitely incorporating cardio into the drills. It’s not just regular conditioning and then volleyball, it’s volleyball and conditioning at the same time,” Covington noted. “So it’s really nice to be killing two birds with one stone, and getting in shape while playing volleyball.”
So while practices might not be easy, the players have instantly found the tremendous value in their new leader’s approach, and are handling the always-difficult adjustment to a new coach well.
“Everybody has completely embraced Katie,” Morton said. “We want to play for her, and we want to work hard for her.”
“She came in super-confident, she knew what she was doing right away,” Covington said. “It’s been go-go-go, we have not been wasting any time. And that’s exactly what everyone wanted. There have been zero complaints so far.”
“You can see the change in our program, and even the change in the vibe of our team. She’s really been working us out hard, but we love it,” Quinn said.
“We’re all-in, we’re all into it.”