On the road against Lehigh, Penn volleyball lost in a hard-fought match in four sets, dropping its overall record this season to 3-4. Though the Red and Blue had their chances, they ended up losing 3-1 (25-21, 22-25, 27-25, 25-20) in front of an enthusiastic Mountain Hawk crowd.
In the first set, the Quakers fell behind early, going down 7-3 after a 4-0 run from Lehigh, and despite their best efforts to get back into it, they could not keep pace. Down 20-15, the Quakers started to mount a rally with a service ace by junior defensive specialist and libero Caroline Douglas to make it a 19-21 ballgame. From there on, Penn couldn’t seem to find its footing, however, and stumbled as the Mountain Hawks took the first set by four points, 25-21.
The second set seemed to be going the same way as the first for the Quakers. Lehigh once again took an early lead, and despite Penn briefly going ahead, Lehigh rallied and ended up leading 15-11 at the media break. However, from there on, momentum started to shift in the direction of the Quakers. Junior outside hitter Madeline McGregor spiked the ball right into the ground, as Penn completed a four-point run to tie it at 16. Subsequently, junior outside hitter Autumn Leak took over with four consecutive kills, and McGregor once again spiked it into the ground to give Penn the 22-21 lead. Lehigh tied it up right after, but three consecutive points by the Quakers, including a set winner that saw senior opposite hitter Margaret Planek get thwarted the first time but earn the kill on the rebound, gave Penn the second set 25-22 and tied the match up at one set apiece.
In the third set, the teams went back and forth from the beginning, with Penn taking a 15-13 lead at the media timeout on a failed relay volley from Lehigh off a Planek shot. The Mountain Hawks soon went on to tie it up at 18 apiece, but from there on, the game was once again dominated by Autumn Leak, as she led the Quakers to a 22-19 lead, causing Lehigh to call timeout. The Mountain Hawks were able to use that rest to their advantage, taking a 24-23 lead but immediately gave up a point on a service error.
On the next point, Penn’s sophomore outside hitter Emerson Flornes earned a kill to make it set point for Penn. The Quakers, however, were unable to capitalize, as Lehigh’s Hannah Wright hammered home a ball to tie it, and two costly attack errors by Penn gave Lehigh a 2-1 set lead, as it won the third by a score of 27-25.
The fourth set once again started back-and-forth, with six ties in total. Lehigh tried to pull away with an early lead, but Penn hung in tough, cutting the deficit to 15-13 at the media timeout. The Quakers were able to tie it up at 17 apiece, but that was the turning point in the set, as everything seemed to go wrong afterwards.
Kills by Lehigh’s Wright and Sabrina Lancaster, as well as a Penn attack error sandwiched in between them, gave Lehigh a 20-17 lead that it would never look back on. Penn got within two twice at 20-18 and 21-19, but the Mountain Hawks immediately scored back-to-back on two Emily Stewart kills and closed it out from there in front of their home fans, winning the final set 25-20.
Despite failing to take advantage of several chances to win the match, there were many bright spots for Penn to take away from the game. In a tough environment, the Red and Blue took a Lehigh team energized by its home fans to four nail-biter sets, and Autumn Leak tied her career-high with 21 kills, including six in the second set alone. Impressively, she hit 0.421 for the match overall. This was Leak’s third game out of seven played in 2021 with 20 or more kills. McGregor also had a strong overall performance with eight kills, seven digs, a service ace, and an assist. Planek led the Quakers with 14 digs, freshman setter Sydney Ormiston had 30 assists, and Flornes and Douglas each had two service aces.
Next up for the Quakers will be two matches on Saturday at Temple for the Owls’ City Classic. They will take on the hosting Owls first at 11 a.m. and will then face Villanova at 3 p.m. before opening up Ivy League play against Princeton on Sept. 24.