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Volleyball trounces Lafayette

(10/18/00 9:00am)

When the freshmen of one team outplay the starting lineup of another, it's obvious which team has depth on its side. That's what Penn showed last night as it defeated hapless Lafayette, 3-0, at the Palestra. Penn has now won five straight and 10 of its last 11 matches. In last night's match, Penn coach Kerry Major decided to start a lineup of six freshmen. "Everyone needs to be ready to play at all times as we near the end of the season," Major said. "By working on our depth, we're gonna become a better team in the Ivies than other teams that only have a starting six." Despite having six freshmen on the court, the Quakers were able to avoid letting the pressure get to them. "We've all been on top level club teams, and so we've all been starters before," freshman outside hitter Katie Brandt said. "You just have to take that in mind, step on the court and relax." Both Penn (17-6) and Lafayette (1-19) started the match sluggishly. Neither team seemed to be mentally focused. Capitalizing on a few Penn hitting errors, Lafayette jumped out in front, 7-4. It looked as if the Leopards might finally win their seventh game of the entire season. However, the Quakers would come back. As a result of great floor defense, which has come to characterize the Penn team, the Quakers obtained the lead at 8-7 and never looked back. The Red and Blue would go on to win the first game, 15-9. In the second game, Penn took the early lead, 8-1. Seeing that his team was struggling to sideout, Lafayette coach Jeff Corpora tried a variety of strategies. He tried using players off the bench; he tried rearranging the floor defense; and he tried to reorganize his blocking strategy. None of these tactics were successful, however, and Penn went on to win the second game, 15-8. The third game was essentially a repeat of the first two. Penn quickly obtained a 7-2 lead, forcing Corpora to use a timeout. At first, the timeout seemed ineffective, as Penn tacked on three more points to make the score 10-2. After some miscommunication on the floor by the Quakers, however, Lafayette ran six straight points to get within two of the Red and Blue. That's when Major decided her team needed a TO of its own. "We started losing confidence, not talking and not moving," Major said after the game. "It was a matter of a couple of players getting down on themselves." Major pulled a few players aside and told them to turn their emotions into positive energy, and her advice was very effective. The Quakers went on to win the third game, 15-12, and the match. The keys to success last night for the Quakers were their dominating blocking ability and agile movement on the floor. Another contributing factor was Lafayette's lack of height, with the team having no players over 5'11". Brandt's one solo block and four block assists equaled the blocking statistics for the entire Lafayette team. She also had 15 digs, three behind freshman Meghan Schloat's 18 digs. Penn spread out its offense the same way it has all season. Brandt led the Quakers in kills (12), and freshman outside hitter Emily Reynolds added 10 kills en route to leading the Red and Blue in hitting percentage (.333). Freshman middle blocker Lauren Purdo and freshman weak side hitter Lauren Carter added nine kills each. Despite being dominant the entire match, the players still feel that there is room for the team to improve. "[We need to work on] communicating on the court, being more aggressive and not so tentative," Brandt said. The two bright spots for the Leopards last night were senior outside hitter Michelle Calvo and freshman outside hitter Caroline Eshman. Calvo and Eshman combined for 22 kills and 30 digs. The Quakers will travel to Princeton on Friday to take on the Tigers at 7 p.m.

Volleyball hosts tough Ivy foes

(10/12/00 9:00am)

Ivy League madness continues at the Palestra for the Penn volleyball team this weekend. Penn (14-6, 1-1 Ivy League) will play the Brown Bears (9-5, 1-0) at 7 p.m. tomorrow, and will take on the Yale Elis (11-4, 1-1) on Saturday at 4 p.m. Playing at the Palestra this weekend may help the Quakers avenge their straight-game losses to both teams last year. "We are on a home court, and that's a huge advantage," Penn coach Kerry Major said. "The wins are up to us playing all the way up to our potential as last weekend." Last weekend, Penn split its Ivy League matches, losing a marathon to Dartmouth, 3-2, and defeating Harvard, 3-0. The Bears, Penn's first opponent of the weekend, are led by 1998 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, Corre Myer. Now a junior, Myer has quarterbacked the Bears' offense from the setter position since joining the team her freshman year, when the Bears captured the Ivy League Championship. "I think it's gonna be a battle, and the team that plays their hardest is gonna win," Major said. Brown has most of its players back from last season, but the team will definitely miss the presence of outside hitter Tomo Nakanishi, the 1998 Ivy League Player of the Year, who graduated last spring. Nakanishi was Brown's go-to hitter, finishing first in the Ivy League last season in kills per game (4.29), and third in digs per game (4.30). "They're the same team as last year in my opinion, except they don't have Tomo," Major said. "We're expecting to be in the position to beat them, but we have to play our best." Penn junior outside hitter Stephanie Horan is also excited to host the perennially tough Bears. "We go in and expect to win a game. We don't go in cocky; we're not above the other teams," Horan said. "But we go in with the confidence that we can do it and I think that helps a lot." Penn's match against Yale will be equally tough, if not tougher. The Elis have outplayed all their opponents thus far in almost every category, including kills, digs and aces. Yale's go-to hitter on Saturday night will be junior outside hitter Vanessa Herald, who leads the team in kills (144), digs (152) and aces (25). Yale has been quite possibly the hottest team in the Ivy League, winning eight in a row -- all in straight games -- before losing to Cornell 3-0 last weekend. The Elis will be one of Penn's first opponents this year that can match the Quakers' prowess at the net. Yale currently leads the Ivy League in team blocks per game (2.70). The Elis' dominance at the net is in large part due to junior middle blocker Carissa Abbott, a second team All-Ivy selection last year. Abbott leads the Ivy League in blocks per game (1.34). Also contributing is senior middle blocker Colette Fitzgerald, a three-time All-Ivy honorable mention selection. In its match against Yale, Penn will also encounter tough serving. Yale has three players on the top-10 Ivy League service aces list. One of Penn's strategies against the Elis will be to wear them out. In their 15 matches so far, Yale has only played one match that has gone beyond three games. They may not be accustomed to the long, drawn-out matches Penn has come to expect lately. Penn will continue to rely on a spread-out offense to win. In Penn's starting lineup, all five hitters in the 5-1 offense average at least two kills per game, with Horan leading the way (2.44). "I think it's more like a well-rounded effort from everyone rather than one person or two people stepping it up," Major said. The Quakers will also rely on their dominating defense, which has been problematic for opposing teams all year. Penn is currently first as a team in the Ivy League in digs per game (18.18), and second in blocks per game (2.39). One reason why Penn has out-blocked their opponents 180.5 to 107.5 is middle blocker Kelly Szczerba. The junior from East Meadow, N.Y., leads the team in blocks (81) and blocks per game (1.27), and is currently second in the Ivy League in both categories.

Volleyball stuffs Villanova at home

(10/11/00 9:00am)

Before yesterday, the all-time series between Penn and Villanova in volleyball stood at 12 wins to 10, in the Wildcats' favor. Refusing to bow to history, the Quakers defeated Villanova yesterday to narrow the gap between the squads -- and, more importantly, it wasn't even close. Penn (14-6) defeated Villanova (7-13) in straight games last night at the Palestra, 15-6, 15-4, and 15-7. This victory avenged last year's loss to the Wildcats in straight games. Villanova started the match with intensity, building a 3-0 lead in less than one minute. However, Penn bounced back on the strength of junior setter Jodie Antypas' selective use of the setter attack on the second touch. After Penn went up 5-4, it never relinquished the lead again. The Quakers took the first game running away, 15-6. Penn relied on a dominating presence at the net to roll over Villanova. The middle blockers for the Red and Blue, junior Kelly Szczerba and freshman Heather Janssen, were a problem all night for the Wildcats hitters. The two combined for 10 block assists, far surpassing Villanova's team total of four blocks. Penn's floor defense was also spectacular, led by Antypas' 12 digs. Sophomore defensive specialist Kai Gonsorowski and junior outside hitter Stephanie Horan also added nine digs each. In the second game, a Janssen swing attack from the weak side knocked Villanova sophomore Leah Matthews off her feet and sent the ball sailing into the stands. This was the type of play that characterized the second game, which Penn took easily, 15-4. Villanova's woes continued into the third game. The Wildcats' freshman setter Jennifer Edwards had problems all night finding her hitters, largely due to the fact that the team's back row players rarely gave her a decent pass. When Villanova's hitters managed to get some workable sets, Szczerba, Janssen and sophomore outside hitter Stacey Carter would shut them down at the net. Villanova got as close as 8-6 in third game. In an attempt to fix the team's defensive problems, Villanova coach Heather Hoehn substituted freshman outside hitter Kate Tucker for freshman defensive specialist Amanda Guralski. This action was to no avail, as Tucker would go on to shank four balls, including two Gonsorowski service aces. Penn eventually took the third game, 15-7, and the match. Despite leading most of the match, Penn maintained its level of intensity. "We came out and we didn't let up, even when we were ahead," Horan said. "We just pushed through the end, and I think that was a big part of us finishing the game." Penn's serving seemed to be more effective than usual last night. The team combined for nine service aces, including four by freshman setter Meghan Schloat. "I think we just kept it tough," freshman outside hitter Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan said. "If we just keep serving it hard and in, it takes them out of their offense." Another key to Penn's success was its continual reliance on a variety of players. In last night's match, no Penn player gathered more than eight kills, but five of Penn's six starters obtained at least six. "We don't rely on just one hitter," Penn coach Kerry Major said. "No one person is on the top 10 kill list, top 10 percentage list, because we spread out our offense so much." Major continued to stress the importance of the mental game. "I definitely think Villanova was off of their mental game tonight," Major said. "I don't think we played the best we could, but then again, if you're playing a team that is off so much it is hard to get psyched up." Kwak-Hefferan, who leads the Red and Blue in kills (158) and digs (240) this season, expressed a sentiment similar to Major's. "I don't think it was our top performance ever, but we played pretty strong and we didn't play down to the other team," Kwak-Hefferan said. "We kinda kept it at our own consistent level." One of Villanova's lone bright spots was senior middle hitter Tina Zitterich. She led all players in kills (10) and solo blocks (three). However, in getting those 10 kills, she also had seven errors and 34 attempts, resulting in a hitting percentage of .088. Villanova as a team hit a dismal .008 for the match, having almost as many errors as kills.

Volleyball opens Ivy play with Green

(10/06/00 9:00am)

The past 17 matches no longer matter for the Penn volleyball team. Everything goes right out the window, and what matters now is the beginning of the Ivy League season. The Quakers begin their Ivy League schedule tonight against a formidable Dartmouth team. Although the Big Green have struggled to obtain consistency throughout the beginning of their season, they still swept the Quakers in three games last season. "These upcoming matches are pretty much our first test to put it together with a team that's about the same level, if not better," Penn coach Kerry Major said. For Penn's freshmen, this weekend will also provide an opportunity to prove themselves in the Ivy League. The Quakers will also travel to Harvard to take on the Crimson tomorrow at 4 p.m. "We want to establish Penn as the team to beat this season and to show the other teams that we're something to be reckoned with," Penn freshman outside hitter Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan said. Dartmouth has thus far been a very streaky team. It opened the season with five losses, followed by five wins. Tonight the Big Green will be trying to snap their current four-game losing streak. Dartmouth will be depending on junior co-captain Ashley Dean, an outside hitter with a quick arm, to perform especially well. Dean, the first Ivy League Player of the Week this season and a first team All-Ivy selection during her sophomore year, will likely provide most of the offense alongside senior co-captain Jessica Wirth at the middle blocker position. Dartmouth, however, will certainly have its hands full against Penn. Heading into tonight's match, the Quakers are riding a five-game winning streak, dating back to their September 23 victory against Florida Atlantic at the Georgetown Invitational. "I'm looking for my team to really show what we've accomplished preseason, which is to come out strong on defense, passing and serving," Major said. "We've finally gotten into rhythm with our offense." A perfect example of the all-around play that Major has come to expect from her players this season is junior outside hitter Stephanie Horan. Horan, one of three juniors on a team with no seniors, currently leads the team in kills per game (2.37) and digs per game (3.70). In last year's match, Dartmouth convincingly defeated Penn, 3-0. The Crimson (7-7) also bested Penn in their last meeting, eking out a five-set victory in the opening round of the Ivy Tournament last year. Harvard went on to finish second at the league championship. Major will be looking to Kwak-Hefferan, Horan and junior middle blocker Kelly Szczerba to carry the team this weekend. Kwak-Hefferan has performed like a veteran during the pre-conference season, despite being a freshman. Going into tonight's match, she is leading the team in kills (122) and digs (201). "I've been working for this for a long time, and I can't wait to see how we're gonna perform," Kwak-Hefferan said. Penn has the skills and physical talent they need to match up well against other teams in the Ivy League. "All eight teams are pretty even this year," Major said. "So it's the one that's stronger mentally that will win this weekend."

Volleyball takes fire out of Dragons again

(09/27/00 9:00am)

If the Penn volleyball team had any preseason jitters about youth hurting its ability to contend, those concerns continue to dissipate. The Quakers' young players performed brilliantly last night, defeating the Drexel Dragons three games to one. The Quakers (9-5) knew that the Dragons (5-14) would come out gunning for them. "We need to play Penn volleyball all the time," Penn coach Kerry Major said. Penn defeated Drexel earlier in the season in the Sheraton Invitational at the Palestra. The Quakers knew that Drexel would be looking for revenge yesterday. But it was the Quakers who came out on the offensive, acquiring a lead of 12-6 in the first game in less than 20 minutes. The Dragons would respond, however, with big kills from outside hitters Nancy Sgagliardich and Nadine Closs, the team's top hitters. Following a few botched exchanges between Penn's freshman setter Meghan Schloat and junior middle hitter Kelly Szczerba, Drexel found itself within reach of claiming the first game. The Quakers rebounded, going to Szczerba for the sideout. But Drexel continued its run and took the first game, 15-13. "We might've underestimated this team, and it definitely showed in the first set," Szczerba said. After the first game, Major took the "tough love" approach with her team. "People that [wanted] to play hard are gonna be the ones that are out here," Major said bluntly after the match. True to her word, Major started a flock of bench players in the beginning of the second game, including three freshmen. The Quakers heeded the advice of their coach and took the second game, 15-10. Freshman outside hitter Katie Brandt came off the bench to provide some much needed offense. Brandt, who led all hitters with 12 kills, hit a remarkable .455 in the match. The Quakers took the third game convincingly, 15-7. Penn outside hitter Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan dug the big Drexel hitters especially well in the third. She led all Quakers with 19 digs for the night. Kwak-Hefferan also added nine kills. In the fourth game, the Quakers quickly killed any chance of a Drexel comeback. The Quakers opened the set with a 10-0 run, the result of sparkling play at the net by Szczerba, who led all players with nine blocks for the game. Drexel, on the other hand, was unable to effectively use their size, amassing only 10 kills by the entire team during the match. While Penn appeared to dispose of the Dragons effectively, the Quakers were dissatistifed with their performance. "We won, but we should've taken more out of this game than we did," Szczerba said. "We weren't playing up to our potential, and that was one of our goals, to play consistent." It seemed that the Quakers were most disappointed with the mental game, and not their physical skills. "We can compete with pretty much anybody on our schedule, but mentally we have to work on preparing ourselves better," Szczerba said. Major agreed that the Red and Blue need to work on the mental aspect of their game. "We know how to pass, we know how to play defense, we know how to hit better than we did tonight," Major said. "Your physical game's here, but it won't go anywhere without the mental game." On a positive note for the Quakers, Penn's freshmen continued to show last night that they are ready to play at the collegiate level. "They all come from winning high school teams, so most people on our team are leaders," Szczerba said. Major even believed that her freshmen played a better mental game than the veterans, something that should bode well for the Quakers as the season progresses. The Red and Blue's Ivy League season begins on October 6 at Dartmouth.