Penn volleyball has a lot to look forward to after its first weekend of the new season.
In the team's first three matches of the year, at the Crosstown Invitational in Easton, Pa., the Quakers finished with a 2-1 showing. The two-day event saw the team pick up wins over Maryland-Eastern Shore and host Lafayette, but come up short against Lehigh.
The tournament was the team's first since players alleged mistreatment at the hands of coach Iain Braddak in the spring. Multiple players quit the team citing their mental and emotional well-being. Penn Athletics stood by Braddak despite protests.
"We got the new recruiting class and we honestly are considering the season a clean slate — nothing to lose, no pressure," sophomore middle hitter Margret Planek said. "Our chemistry I think is great."
The Red and Blue started their first match of the trio off strong, holding a 24-22 lead against UMES (2-5) in the first set, but they were unable to secure the opener, eventually falling behind 26-24. Penn quickly responded in the second set, winning five points in a row and evening up the match at 1-1.
After splitting the next two sets, the Quakers and Hawks went to a tie-breaking fifth set. None of the teams could take an early lead, but tied at 13-13, Penn scored two consecutive points to seal the victory — thanks to freshman Caroline Douglas’ ace and freshman setter Taylor Fourticq’s 50 assists over the match.
"Overall, I think we're really happy with how the freshmen are responding, they put in so much work and if there were any first-game jitters, we obviously didn't see them," Planek said. "We try to leave age off the court."
Less than an hour later, the Red and Blue were back into action against Lehigh. The teams traded points early on, before the Mountain Hawks (4-3) scored four points in a row, closing the first two sets, 25-15 and 25-14, respectively. The Quakers bounced back in a thrilling third set, led by junior Raven Sulaimon’s performance of 13 kills, but they were not able to carry the momentum into the fourth set, falling 25-23 and 3-1 overall in the match.
Penn stormed back the next day in the match against Lafayette. Once again, the Quakers had a close first set, with the Leopards notching the final two points to clinch the set at 29-27 and take an early lead.
However, the Red and Blue managed to flip the script in the remaining part of the match, rattling off three straight sets to come away with the win in Lafayette's home gym. Penn dominated the second set and pulled away late to win the third, but the fourth was where the Quakers really needed to dig in as a team.
After leading 20-12, the Leopards clawed their way back and brought Penn's lead down to one. After the Red and Blue called a timeout, they held firm for the final two points and their second win of the weekend.
While it may be too early to say, Penn volleyball showed signs of improvement after having the worst season in its history last year. Besides the freshmen’s impressive debut on Friday, Planek also led the team in kills (35), while sophomore libero Carmina Raquel had 62 digs over the three games.
"I'm just really excited to see what else we're going to do. For where we're at in the season, our first tournament with the jerseys on, I'm super excited for our growth even over those two days [of the tournament]," Planek said.
The Quakers will hope to continue the trend next weekend, when they host the Valley Forge Sports Invitational Tournament at the Palestra. Penn will try to grab its first wins at home against Duquesne, Chicago State and St. Francis Brooklyn.