The next time Penn volleyball takes the court, things will look quite different.
The Quakers finished their season with a pair of losses on the road this past weekend, falling in straight sets to Dartmouth (10-13, 6-8 Ivy) and losing 3-1 to Harvard (13-10, 8-6). For Penn (12-11, 7-7), the weekend sweep spelled an unpleasant end to an otherwise respectable season, as the Red and Blue finished over .500 for the first time since 2013.
The end of the season marks the end of an era for the program, as the "Two-Year Team" has played its final point. After losing zero players to graduation last season, the team must now bid farewell to seniors Kendall Covington, Sydney Morton, Michelle Pereira, Hayley Molnar, Emmy Friedler, and Aimee Stephenson.
"It feels really weird, it definitely feels surreal," said Covington, one of the team's captains. "I feel like I actually have practice on Monday and a game next weekend, so it hasn't really hit me yet. I feel like it won't really hit until it's 3 o'clock on Monday and I'm not at the Palestra practicing."
Covington had a career-high 15 kills in her final game, but the team as a whole couldn't find much traction despite entering the weekend on a four-game winning streak.
Penn got steamrolled in the first set against the Big Green on Friday. The next two sets were razor-thin, but the Quakers couldn't get the points they needed to extend the match beyond the minimum three sets, falling 25-14, 25-23, 27-25. Penn got off to a much better start on Saturday, jumping all over the Crimson and taking the first set, but the hosts bounced back and won three straight close sets to beat the Quakers by a score of 15-25, 25-22, 26-24, 25-20.
The Red and Blue, however, will be taking the positive feeling from that winning streak, and not the letdown from this weekend, into the offseason and beyond.
"I'm gonna remember this season by [the two preceding weekends], and I'm gonna remember the people, and how it felt when we beat Yale two weekends ago," said Morton, another one of the team's captains. "I'm not gonna remember this past weekend as how the season went, because overall this season was super positive, and it was— even though I won't be here next year— it's still a step in the right direction."
"I definitely think we still ended on a pretty positive and high note," Covington echoed. "It does suck that we didn't snag the two on the road that we should have, but in the past three weeks when we were playing so well, every one of us improved so much, like that was a different team than what we started the season with."
While some are wrapping up their time with the team, others are just getting started. Parker Jones wrapped up her strong freshman season with another strong game, posting 14 kills to bring her total to 319 (and falling just short of the school's rookie record). Another newcomer who figures to be around for a long time is coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley, who in her first year with the program led the squad to seven Ivy League wins, best in school history for a new coach.
"I can't believe it's over already, I feel like the season went so fast, but it was definitely an enjoyable season with this group," the coach said.
While the team failed to compete for an Ivy League title after getting off to a slow start, nobody in the program views 2017 as a wasted season.
"Over the season as a whole, I think this group got better, and that was our goal— we talked about it all the time in practice— to use every opportunity to get better," the coach said. "I truly believe we got the best out of each individual on the team, and they gave the best for their teammates. So on the whole I think we did some great things, and I also think it was a great learning experience for the returners, [to see] how important it is to be ready to go in the first half of the season, and get some wins in the first half. I think we learned some valuable lessons."
Schumacher-Cawley will do everything in her power to make sure her team gets off to a fast start next season and finds a way to get its hands on the league trophy. And even those who won't be able to impact matters on the court will be following along.
"I'm not gonna be on the court, but I'm gonna be cheering on my computer, and in the stands whenever I can," Morton said.
"I can see these girls winning an Ivy League championship in the next couple years, and that's really exciting."
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