Penn volleyball hit another bump in the road Friday night.
Coming off two promising victories against Cornell and Columbia, the Quakers looked to start the second half of the Ivy League season on the right foot against a Princeton team that had lost only once this year in conference play. Despite their momentum, the Red and Blue never settled into the match with the Tigers, as they fell in straight sets to Princeton for the second time this year.
Penn (5-14, 2-6 Ivy) dropped its seventh consecutive contest against the Tigers (14-5, 7-1), whom the Quakers last defeated in September of 2015. Errors plagued the Red and Blue, who failed to match the Tigers’ consistency over the course of the match.
“[Princeton] are an exceptionally strong passing team,” coach Iain Braddak said. “That was something we needed to match.”
Early in the first set, Penn hung with Princeton as both teams went back and forth. The Quakers’ attack errors began to pile up, though, and the Tigers capitalized on their ensuing service points. Princeton’s efficiency — the Tigers committed just two first set errors compared to the Red and Blue’s eight — helped close out the first set 25-16 in their favor.
After the early setback, Penn looked to recover in the second set by limiting mistakes. Princeton had other plans, however, as the Tigers opened the frame on a 9-3 run. Nevertheless, the Quakers kept fighting and won four consecutive points to bring the score to 16-12.
Junior opposite hitter Madison Goldstein, who led the Red and Blue with nine kills and 12 points, capped off the run with a block on Princeton sophomore outside hitter Alexa Underwood. Despite Penn’s comeback effort, the Tigers pushed to end the set 25-16 after an 8-3 run.
Having lost the opening two sets, the Quakers came into the third set eager to perform better.
“We tend to play our strongest sets later on in the match,” Braddak said. “We’re making adjustments and that’s the hope, to get better set by set and point by point.”
Princeton refused to give way though, and began the final set by winning three consecutive points. Playing from behind proved difficult for the Red and Blue all night, but Penn clawed back to tie the Tigers at eight points apiece early in the third set.
Despite their work to even the score, the Quakers were unable to take the lead. Princeton’s mini-runs were troublesome for the Red and Blue, who struggled to slow the Tigers’ roll throughout the match and eventually lost the final set 25-19. Penn rarely took advantage of Princeton’s mistakes and dropped numerous points because of communication failures.
Even after losing, Braddak and the Quakers are optimistic: the Red and Blue’s third set was still its best, as was the case in the first match of the year against Princeton, when the Tigers barely held off Penn to claim the last set 28-26. That in-game improvement continues to be a focus for the Quakers.
“The team has been really receptive and really takes ownership,” Braddak reiterated. “It’s been really incredible to watch the analytical thinking of our players.”
As they look toward next weekend’s doubleheader at Brown (8-9, 1-6) and Yale (12-4, 6-1), the Red and Blue will look to play at a high level more consistently against strong opposition.