Preseason games don't count for the Ivy League standings at the end of the year, but the Quakers are confident that their momentum will prove to be very real.
Penn volleyball won two out of three this past weekend at the Robert Morris Invitational, bouncing back from a tough loss against Rutgers with wins against Robert Morris and Middle Tennessee State.
"I think it was a great tournament," coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley said. "We got better with every match."
Indeed they did.
The Quakers started their weekend the same way they ended the previous one: with a tight loss. Penn (5-4) dropped the first two sets by a combined five points before clinging to life by winning a close third set.
But the early hole proved too much for the Quakers to dig out of, as Rutgers ended the match with a slightly more comfortable win in the fourth set to produce the 25-23, 25-22, 24-26, 25-20 final scoreline.
The Red and Blue found themselves in another close match later that same night against the tournament's hosts, but were able to pull out a five-set win over Robert Morris (6-9). Penn won the first set rather comfortably before the hosts bounced back with a close win in the second set. This pattern repeated itself in the third and fourth sets, but the Red and Blue managed to avoid yet another close loss by prevailing over the Colonials in the fifth set to seal a 25-17, 23-25, 25-19, 22-25, 15-12 victory.
Saturday's match carried far less drama for the Quakers, as they coasted to a clean sweep of Middle Tennessee State (4-10). The Blue Raiders never led by more than two points in any set (with even those leads coming at just 3-1 and 6-4) in Penn's 25-17, 25-19, 25-17 win.
With the win over MTSU, the Quakers secured their first winning preseason record since 2013, when the team's current seniors were seniors in high school.
One of those seniors, captain Kendall Covington, had an absolutely phenomenal weekend, bouncing back from a pedestrian performance against Rutgers with dominant showings against Robert Morris (13 kills, two block assists and an remarkable .650 hitting percentage) and MTSU (nine kills, six block assists and a .600 hitting percentage). For her pivotal role in both of her team's wins, Covington was named the MVP of the tournament, and made the all-tournament team for the third time in as many weekends this season.
"It feels pretty good," Covington said. "I could not have done it without my teammates and coaches, so I think there's some other people that deserved the award as well. But it definitely felt good to know that my hard work was recognized... I definitely have a lot more confidence in my skills and play [this season], and a bit more swag on the court."
While there could only be one MVP, some of Covington's teammates did indeed receive recognition for their performances. Freshman outside hitter Parker Jones continued her terrific rookie season with a team-high 41 kills and a pair of double-doubles, and senior outside hitter Hayley Molnar had a career-high 16 kills against Rutgers and added 14 more over the next two games, finishing with 30 kills and a .409 hitting percentage on the weekend. Both players joined Covington on the all-tournament team, and Molnar's performance had her teammates raving:
"It was really fun to play with Hayley like that," said senior captain and setter Sydney Morton, who dished out a whopping 119 assists to Molnar and her other teammates over the weekend. "She had fire, you could see it in her eyes. Every time I set her, I knew she was gonna get a kill."
Several other Quakers finished the preseason with strong showings of their own. Junior outside hitter Courtney Quinn had a monster game against Robert Morris with 17 kills and 12 digs. Sophomore outside hitter Caroline Furrer had an incredible 22 digs in one matchup and 11 in another, while junior middle blocker Brooke Behrbaum received praise from the coach for her blocking and intangibles.
If the team is excited about anything, it's the fact that night in and night out, several different players are chipping in.
"That's one thing that we've been working on, [the mentality that] everyone will contribute to the success of this team," Schumacher-Cawley said. "I think we did well this preseason. We built on every weekend, getting better and learning to compete on a high level consistently."
After their strongest preseason yet as a group, this squad is trending in the right direction, and they know it. The wins have been encouraging and the losses, most of which have featured several very tight sets, have done little to dampen the team's spirits. Wins and losses are about to become all that matter when Ivy play tips off this coming weekend against Princeton, but the team is as confident as ever heading into conference competition.
"As a unit we were strong last year, but now we're even stronger," Molnar said. "If we play as well as we did this weekend, as consistent and as hard, we have every tool we need to win."