Even though the volleyball season is canceled this fall, senior middle hitter Caroline Leng is making the most out of her newfound free time and continuing to grow both as a teammate and as a person.
Leng had a big transition her freshman year coming from her hometown of Poolesville, Md., a small town surrounded by an agricultural reserve, to the big city of Philadelphia. However, her move was easier because of the volleyball team, her instant family on campus.
“It felt like I had a support system at Penn even before stepping on campus, and I had more structure in my schedule because of practices, lifts, and games,” Leng said.
Leng’s game development from her freshman year to now is a result of her increased confidence and skill level. In her freshman and sophomore years, she played a total of nine matches. However, last season, she played in 19 matches and was on the starting roster, getting much more time on the court.
“I had to find where I fit in on the team and provided the most value,” Leng said.
In her freshman year, she played as a libero, meaning she played in the back row and as a serving substitute. She changed to playing on the right side during her sophomore year. She finally found where she fit best in her junior year, playing in the middle.
Unfortunately, Leng and the rest of the team did not get to play this season because of the pandemic. However, she is trying to make the best out of the situation by still keeping up with volleyball and staying in touch with her team.
“I have been doing workouts, both virtually and in person, but it’s been a bit hard since the gyms are closed,” Leng said.
While Leng is not living on campus this semester, she is hoping for a season in the spring and to play with her teammates again.
In the meantime, Leng and her teammates have been staying connected. They have weekly Zooms with their coaches, including game nights, Kahoots, and playing the new game Among Us. Leng said that these weekly Zooms have been a great way to stay in touch with everyone and come closer as a team.
“I am super close with my class,” Leng said. “I’ve been in touch with them all throughout quarantine in the spring and this semester.”
Leng’s favorite thing about Penn volleyball is the camaraderie, and she really values the supportive nature of the team. The team understands each other since they are all going through the same thing.
“It’s really helpful to ask the upperclassmen what classes to take during the season since they went through it already,” Leng said.
Leng’s favorite memory on the court was during her freshman year in a competitive match against Yale, which the Quakers won.
“The feeling of beating a really good team during a super competitive game and being able to celebrate it with my team was amazing,” Leng said.
Off the court, Leng’s favorite memory with the team are the road trips to away matches. Even though Leng has carsickness, she loves the bus rides to and from games because of the fun they have and talking with her teammates. To her, the bus rides are a great way to destress from the week and just spend time with her team.
As a senior in Wharton and Engineering, Leng has had to figure out a way to balance volleyball and her academics. Even though it is difficult to fit everything into her schedule, Leng says that it’s always worth it.
“I was a nerd coming into Penn, only focusing on school and volleyball. But over these three years, I’ve found a more holistic understanding of college and built deep relationships that will stay with me throughout my whole life,” Leng said.
This semester, since there was no volleyball or traveling to matches on the weekends, Leng has taken on more courses, a total of 6.5 credits. Many of her teammates are also in more courses than usual in hopes of a spring season.
“Usually, we take a smaller class load in the fall and then pile classes on in the spring because that’s our offseason,” Leng said.
Leng has still found it difficult to balance her classes this semester, but for a different reason. Since she doesn’t have scheduled practices, Leng has had to find the balance by adapting to this different reality.
“Without the strict schedule the volleyball season demands, it’s easy to sit on my computer and do no homework and the motivation to do schoolwork is a lot less,” Leng said.
Leng has found that she needs to be very self-driven this semester. Without scheduled practices, she has to take breaks from her classes and make the time to work out, which has usually been in the form of going on runs.
As Leng reflects on the impact she has had on the team, she likes that she has always been able to lighten any stressful situation and been someone that the team can come and talk to.
No matter what the decision about the spring season is, Leng wants to help the team build stability and put them in a good position to win an Ivy League championship.
Leng wants to end her college career by saying that she helped make her team stronger and in a better place than it started, and she hopes that volleyball will continue to be a lifelong passion.