The season thus far has been tough for Penn volleyball, but the Quakers (3-13, 0-5 Ivy) will get the chance to make some noise this weekend with home matches against Columbia (9-6, 3-2) — Coach Iain Braddak's former team — and Cornell (9-5, 4-1).
These two opponents are the only Ivy teams that Penn has yet to face this season. Next weekend, the Red and Blue will begin the second round of Ivy match-ups with a contest at Princeton.
Both games at the Palestra will also feature special celebrations. In Friday's game against the Lions, the team will be commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness Month with its annual “Dig Pink” event. Against the Big Red, Penn's 1983 and 2003 teams will be honored to celebrate their past Ivy League championship seasons.
During Coach Braddak’s time as an assistant at Columbia, he had the opportunity to see first-hand the rebuilding process a team has to go through, as the team finished third in the league in 2016 and seventh in 2017. With Braddak now at the helm of Penn volleyball, he’s working to rebuild the program back to its former glory, with its most recent Ivy League title coming in 2009.
“The challenge that’s interesting this year between Brown and Columbia is that they have new coaching staffs as do we, and that changes cultures in gyms and changes program direction many times,” said Braddak.
Columbia is coming off a 3-1 victory over Brown, a team Penn succumbed to after building a 2-0 set lead. As for the Red and Blue's Saturday opponent, the Big Red are currently tied for first in the league with Yale and Princeton. Cornell had been by itself atop the Ivy League, but its loss last Saturday to Yale forced the team into the current three-way tie for first.
As for the Quakers, they’re coming off of an eight-game skid and have yet to garner a win from an Ivy opponent this season. Penn's largest struggles have seemingly come from finishing out sets. Even in matches the Quakers lost 0-3, many of their sets have been decided by small margins. If the team is able to close out sets stronger, Penn could begin to turn its tough losses into upset victories.
Despite the losses, the team has not wavered in its mindset.
“What we’re doing and what I like about our program now is that grit, it’s that tenacity, it’s that 'never give up' attitude,” said Braddak.
“Behind the scenes and the things people don’t necessarily see is the incredible human beings I get to work with," he added. "These players love each other and I think that’s incredible, and it says a lot about our culture, these student athletes, and who they are as actual human beings.”
That friendship and camaraderie between the players that Braddak mentioned could be key as the team looks to make progress as the conference slate reaches its midway point. If the Quakers can take care of the ball when it’s on their side and consistently build up and sustain leads for multiple sets, there’s still a good chance the Red and Blue can end the season better than how they started it.
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