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Sophomore setter Kylie Kulinski (10) is just one of four players for Penn volleyball who hails from the greater Chicago area.

Credit: Izzy Crawford-Eng

Chicago: the city known not only for its windy summers and cold winters, but also its culinary scene highlighted by deep-dish pizza.

But what people don't know about Chicago is that it’s also really good at serving up premier volleyball talent, as nearly one in four players on Penn volleyball is from the Windy City: this year, freshmen Elizabeth Ford and Madeline McGregor, joining sophomores Margaret Planek and Kylie Kulinski.

The unpredictability of relationship-building in large, urban areas is very unique in that one may not know their next-door neighbor, but might connect with multiple people on the other side of the city. In the case of middle hitter Ford and outside hitter McGregor, living in the same city helped them get to know each other from constantly competing against one another.

“Elizabeth played at my rival high school, so it was always fun to play against her in that sense," McGregor said. "But I was also on the same team with her for club season … so it was always a big rivalry … but it’s nice to finally just be teammates."

For setter Kulinski and opposite hitter Planek, maybe fate is what brought the two together at the Palestra’s hallowed grounds.

“[Planek] and I were born in the same hospital two days apart, and we never met each other until we basically got here,” Kulinski said.

Credit: Izzy Crawford-Eng

Sophomore opposite Margaret Planek (3)

The two sophomores played against each other once during AAU volleyball, but they’ve been able to officially reunite by representing the Red and Blue.

Philadelphia hasn’t completely won over these athletes — and for good reason. Loyalties lie where they lie, and the four Quakers have stayed true to their Windy City roots.

“Chicago is just a bigger and better version of Philly,” Kulinski said. 

However, there is one redeeming quality of Philly that unanimously won over these athletes.

“Definitely the weather is a lot nicer and not as crazy compared to Chicago," McGregor said.

“The winter wasn’t as bad this year," Kulinski agreed. “It was negative 50 degrees in Chicago this past year and it was 30 degrees in Philly."

A typical stereotype surrounding the Midwest is the politeness that its residents have compared to other regions of the United States. There’s a different attitude when one transitions over to the East Coast after growing up in another region, and these athletes have learned to pick up on that difference.

“I think Midwest people are more likely to spend time talking to you, while the East Coast is doing a lot of hustle and bustle,” McGregor said.

All in all, the four  Quakers have been able to come together as one strong unit for the Red and Blue this season. Planek is first on the team in total points and second in kills behind junior outside hitter Parker Jones, who is also a DP staffer. In addition, Kulinski has been sharp from the get-go this season, tallying the most assists for the team to this point.

Hopefully for Penn, this group united by origin will continue to forge connections and capitalize on their talents for the remainder of the season.

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