This weekend, Penn volleyball found itself in tight matches with Ivy competitors — the two days of competition mirrored each other.
In Hanover, N.H., Penn paved a path to victory with Dartmouth on its tail throughout the match. The final set scores never exceeded a six-point spread, but the Quakers prevailed, 3-1. The Red and Blue held their own against Harvard on Saturday evening in Cambridge, Mass., ultimately falling to the Crimson, 3-1, winning only the third set in a series of tight and competitive sets.
In recent history, Dartmouth and Penn’s volleyball programs have been well-matched. In the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the teams held a 2-2 record against each other.
In this second win during Ivy play, Penn volleyball won its first and fourth sets against Dartmouth, 25-21. In the first set, freshman Autumn Leak dominated the court with four kills, two of which were set-winning hits, tallying a total of 15 kills throughout the match.
“I think we came in super confident yesterday,” Leak said. “I was given a lot of one-on-one situations which allowed us to get a lot of kills. We were spacing out our offense really well and our defense was picking up everything. It was a great night.”
The second set saw Penn flex its strong defensive side — the Quakers managed to keep Dartmouth under 20 points, concluding the set 25-19 — while the third set gave the Red and Blue some trouble, when they fell to Dartmouth by two points. Penn quickly picked up its game to secure the fourth and final victory of the match, thus heading to Harvard with a victory on its shoulders.
Two other Penn players besides Leak managed to get over 10 kills against Dartmouth, as sophomores Daniela Fornaciari and Margaret Planek registered 12 and 11, respectively, in the victory.
The Quakers did, however, struggle with errors on the weekend. Harvard capitalized on those mistakes, taking the first set by a score of 25-22.
In terms of the teams' rivalry, older histories and more recent ones tell different stories. Penn holds more than double Harvard's victories in the series, leading 45-21. However, in the last five years, Penn has fallen to Harvard in all but two of the eight matches. This year's win was Harvard’s fifth straight win against the Red and Blue, with only one of those matches having reached a fifth set.
Harvard repeatedly scored the first points of the set, and for much of the time, the Quakers couldn’t seem to get that point back to secure leads. Nearly halfway through the first set, Penn committed three service errors. The first successful block of the game gave Harvard a three-point lead at 12-9, the largest spread of the set. Harvard’s blocking then excelled throughout the night. At 18-16, half of Harvard’s points had come from Red and Blue errors.
“Unlike last night, [Harvard] had a really strong block on us tonight, and I just don’t think we were able to adjust as well,” said Leak. “We saw the consequences of that. Obviously we want the win, but that didn’t happen tonight so we’re just going to get back in the gym on Monday and keep working hard.”
The back-and-forth of the first set continued into the rest of play throughout the match. In a tight second set, while Harvard clung onto its lead at 24-23, an acrobatic dig and a well-buried kill sent the Crimson on a second-set victory lap.
At the beginning of the third set, the Quakers had racked up 10 errors, and Harvard continued to take advantage. However, keeping the competition close, Fornaciari sunk an impressive kill at the end of the set to make it 25-22 in Penn's favor.
The fourth and final set seemed to get away from the Red and Blue. The Crimson managed to widen their gap, winning the set 25-18.
“Entering the second round, we will be seeing these teams again and I think we’ll be making a lot of adjustments,” said Leak. “We’re taking what we’ve learned from past games and implementing that into our practices.”
The Quakers will continue Ivy League play on Oct. 25 when they seek revenge on Princeton (10-6, 6-1 Ivy) after an earlier defeat.