Allegations of both mistreatment and an unresponsive athletics administration cast a shadow over Penn volleyball last spring after the Quakers struggled to a 6-19 record in coach Iain Braddak’s first year at the helm of the program.
Eight players filed grievances against Braddak both during and after the season before participating in a team-wide mediation session, called restorative justice, at the direction of Penn Athletics.
Now a summer removed from the ordeal, the Red and Blue are 7-3 in 2019, good for the team’s best start since 2009, when Penn finished 23-6 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Winning seven matches out of 10 to begin the year has infused the Quakers with confidence, and while a 3-0 loss at Princeton to begin Ivy play might have brought them down to earth, Penn's match against Cornell at the Palestra on Friday night will provide an opportunity to gauge their ability to compete with the rest of the Ivy League.
Despite last year’s controversy, in the midst of the season — a potentially promising one, at that — the consensus around the program is that the team's focus is on playing volleyball and improving as a team. Players say they are attempting to move on.
Multiple players did not respond to The Daily Pennsylvanian’s request for comment.
After the Quakers began the season by securing two wins in three matches at Lafayette’s Crosstown Invitational, sophomore Margaret Planek, who ranks second on the team with 108 kills in 2019, expressed her excitement at the Red and Blue’s potential as a young group that had only the preseason under its belt.
“Preseason has been great,” Planek said after that tournament. “Given the time we’ve spent together so far, I think we all play well together, which I think is really awesome, and we’re only half of a month into the season, so I’m excited to see what another two months is going to bring and how much better we can get.”
Planek identified the arrival of Penn’s new freshman class as a factor in moving on from the spring, since the influx of youth helped to distract from some of the previous year’s unsettled feelings. Planek explained that she and the team want to take advantage of any opponents who pay too much attention to the group’s past struggles and relative inexperience.
“We honestly are kind of treating this season as a clean slate,” she said. “[We are] hoping to be kind of the underdogs: maybe someone will take us lightly, and we’ll prove them wrong.”
Caroline Douglas and Autumn Leak, both of whom are freshmen, noted the group’s cohesiveness after the UC Riverside Invitational, where the Quakers defeated Seattle and UC Riverside before falling in five sets to Cal State Fullerton.
“On the court, we all support each other; we’re all really engaged,” said Leak, who has 93 kills on the year. “Even if you’re on the side, everyone is cheering really loud. We’re known to be one of those loud, energetic teams. Off the court it’s the same energy. We keep the same vibe throughout.”
With the bulk of the League season left to play, it remains to be seen whether or not the Red and Blue’s winning ways are here to stay. Nevertheless, after a spring defined by conflict within the program, Penn volleyball is concentrating squarely on what lies ahead.