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In Penn volleyball's match against Georgetown early this season, freshman hitter Margaret Planek racked up 13 kills and 13 digs.

Credit: Varun Sudunagunta

Age is but a number — just ask the Penn volleyball freshmen.

Daniela Fornaciari, Kylie Kulinski, Margaret Planek, and Carmina Raquel have all been playing significant roles for the Quakers, and they have not let their inexperience hold them back. In at least one match this season, each has led the team in a statistical category, giving new hope to a squad in struggle.

The Red and Blue (3-8) have had trouble gathering momentum before jumping into Ivy League play, which begins on Friday at home against Princeton. However, the aforementioned freshmen have given the team reason for optimism as it searches for more consistent success.

Leading the team in total blocks at the middle position, Fornaciari did not expect to provide  such a significant contribution to her squad, having only arrived on campus a few weeks ago to start her freshman year.

“I’m glad I can be contributing to the team so early in my career,” Fornaciari said.

She is also fifth overall in kills, showcasing a versatility that allows her to make an impact defensively as well as offensively.

Fellow rookie setter Kulinski has also been a surprise contributor, leading the team in another statistical category: assists. At the beginning of the season, Kulinski rarely saw the court, but after getting her number called, she hasn’t looked back.

Despite only playing in 22 sets out of a possible 41, the Illinois native has racked up an impressive 204 assists and counting.

In one game, she dished out nearly 50 assists, finishing with 48 in a win over Delaware State.

“To be completely honest, [leading the team in assists] is surprising. I didn’t expect it coming in, but hopefully I can keep it up,” Kulinski said.

Hitter Planek has also stood out on the team despite her relative youth. In the second match of the season, a win against host Georgetown, she recorded 17 points – the second most on her team – on 13 kills and 13 digs.

Also making a quick impact is outside hitter Raquel, who sits at third on the team in digs, highlighting her natural defensive skill. The freshman has put up double-digit dig numbers in multiple matches and has been a vital contributor in many games as well.

Raquel, who plays a position that requires her to help transition the team from defense to offense rather quickly, puts a special focus on communication and developing connections with upperclassmen teammates.

“As a freshman, I’ve had to learn how to build relationships quickly on the court, to build trust,” Raquel said.

These instant-hit rookies have made good on their attempts to gel within the overall team dynamic. If they continue to grow as a unit — they'll need to, given that up to four of the six players on the court at any time are rookies — the team might be able to make a splash come Ivy play, despite a disappointing start to the season. 

“Pre-season was tough, but I think we’re going to be stronger as a team because of it,” Raquel said.

Preparing to go up against a tough slate Ancient Eight, these rookies are unfazed by the challenge to make an impact on or off the court. That just might come in handy with 14 grueling in-conference clashes lying ahead.