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Credit: Linda Ting

While Penn students are on fall break this weekend, the school's athletic teams will remain in action in conference play. No matter how teams fared during their respective nonconference schedules, this weekend provides tough matchups with important outcomes for the Ivy League. Here are three athletes who are looking to rise to the occasion. 

Credit: Christian Walton

Freshman outside hitter Autumn Leak

Autumn Leak Volleyball

Volleyball has gotten off to a strong start this year thanks in part to outside hitter Autumn Leak. The freshman is third on the team with 112 kills, and she is one of only three players to record double-digit kills in a match this season. Her defense is not to be overshadowed, however, as she is also fourth on the team there with 16 blocks. 

“I only play front row, so I only have to focus on two things: hitting and blocking,” Leak said. “Eventually I want to become a fixed rotation outside, but I think it was a good start to get me introduced to the college game because it simplifies the game for me.”

Leak has transitioned quickly and effectively from high school to become one of the more dependable finishers on the team. 

“I took it upon myself to be the player that puts the ball away and score when my team needs me,” she said. 

Leak’s goal is to finish the season with an overall hitting percentage of 0.250, and with matches against Brown and Yale this weekend, she will look to approach that mark while helping the Quakers gain some ground in the Ivy League.

Credit: Son Nguyen

Freshman defender Elita van Staden

Elita van Staden — Field hockey

Also a freshman, Elita van Staden has been a standout performer this year for the Quakers. The defender is third on the team with two goals, and she was a key contributor in the team’s first victory of the season against Cornell. 

“Every single time I get put on the field, I try to do my best, and I know whatever I do, [the coaches] back me 100%,” Van Staden said.

Hailing from South Africa, van Staden has observed some differences in the physicality of American field hockey, which has been an important part of her transition to the college game. 

“For defense, [my biggest strength] would be to distribute the ball from the back," she said. “I have pretty good aerial skills if I’m in a situation [which is] difficult to come out of, and with offense, I have quite a strong drag flick [on penalty corners].”

Van Staden’s importance to the team on both offense and defense has allowed her to carve out sizable minutes for the Quakers, and she hopes to capitalize on those minutes in this weekend’s games.

With matches against Ivy League opponent Dartmouth and crosstown rival Drexel this weekend, the Quakers could use a strong showing from van Staden.

Alex Touche Men’s soccer

Junior defender Alex Touche has continued his strong play in his third season for the Quakers. Though he has only netted one goal this year, Touche, a team captain, has consistently provided stout defense and leadership, leading to a hot start for the team. 

“Since I’m a tall player, it’s easier in the air, so [I help] on set pieces defensively and offensively," Touche said. “Last season was big. I scored a lot of goals off corners from Brandon Bartel, so I’m hoping to get back to that this season — hopefully chip in a couple of balls. Luckily, this year [the offense] is doing a really good job, so I haven’t had to do as much of that."

While Touche provides an offensive spark from the back line, he prides himself more on his individual defense, twice being named Philadelphia Soccer Six Defender of the Week.

“If you look at the best defenders in the world, they don’t get beat [one-on-one], so I approach every game like ‘No one’s getting by me today,’” he said. “I want to go away from every game feeling like I dominated the [opposing team’s] strikers.”

With a tough game against Columbia looming, Touche feels confident in this year’s squad.

“This team has shown that we are capable of doing a lot, and we know that we’re a really good side. We just need to go in with the mentality that we’re capable of winning and getting a good result.”

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