PHILADELPHIA - The Penn volleyball cruised to a pair of wins on Saturday, upping its record to 2-1 on the season in the fourth annual Big 5 Tournament. A three-way logjam at the top with the Quakers, Temple and Villanova all compiling a 2-1 weekend resulted in Temple being the official 2012 Big 5 champion based on overall winning percentage in all sets played.
Penn 3, La Salle 1 A shockingly easy second set victory for the visiting Explorers seemed to provide Penn with the spark they needed in Saturday's opener. After Penn took a 1-0 lead with a 25-13 win in the first set, La Salle came out of nowhere in the second set to tie the match with a 25-7 victory. After the break, the match grew much more competitive, but the Quakers closed it out, winning 25-22 and 25-19 to record their first victory of the year. A balanced Penn offense had seven players with at least three kills, led by Jasmine DeSilva's 12.
Just as they did last night, Penn came out on a mission, holding La Salle to a .000 hitting percentage in the opening set. Trina Ohms and Susan Stuecheli each powered down three kills while Emma White added in a pair of service aces to stake the Red and Blue to the early lead.
As quickly Penn took the lead, it evaporated. The Explorer pair of Samantha Tulskie and Jennifer Whelan combined for 11 kills and La Salle had six total blocks in the second set, at one point scoring 13 consecutive points as they cruised into the locker room with the 25-7 win.
The match's outcome seemed to hang in the balance as the third set got underway. The two teams traded short runs in the early going, with Penn rallying from a three-point deficit to take a 10-9 lead after a block from Amanda Pacheco and Ronnie Bither. Though La Salle stayed within striking range, the Quakers maintained that lead nearly to the end, pulling ahead 22-19 after a Pacheco ace. With the finish line in sight, Penn nearly stumbled. Three straight errors brought the set square for an eighth time and forced Head Coach Kerry Carr to use a timeout to settle her crew. The message she communicated worked wonders for the Quakers, Susan Stuecheli putting her team back ahead with a kill before teaming with Elizabeth Horner on a block to make it 24-22. Kristen Etterbeek closed it out a moment later with one of her three kills in the third stanza.
Playing loose and confident with a 2-1 lead, Penn took full advantage of some La Salle miscues in the fourth set to close out the match. The Explorers were whistled for five setting errors and added four errors on serve to give the Quakers all the help they would need. DeSilva had five of her kills in the fourth set alone, while Horner added three kills and a .750 hitting percentage as well as leading the team with five digs in the set.
Penn maintains its unbeaten streak against La Salle in the Big 5 Tournament, running the all-time mark to 4-0. The Explorers haven't picked up a win over the Red and Blue since the 1999 season.
Penn 3, Villanova 0 Saturday night's tournament finale turned into a battle of attrition with Penn able to take down Villanova in straight sets (25-14, 25-23, 25-23) despite a hitting percentage of only .102 in the match. Strong defense was critical for the Quakers, who had five players record double-digit dig totals. Lauren Martin had a match-high 11 kills while White came through with a double-double of 10 kills and 18 digs.
The first set was a near repeat of Penn's performance from earlier in the day against La Salle. The Quakers blitzed the Wildcats with a six-point run midway through to turn a 13-12 lead into a comfortable 19-12 advantage and coasted from there. Martin supplied four kills in the set while the front line blocked away five Villanova attacks en route to the 25-14 win.
The final two sets were a much truer test of Penn's resolve. After a back-and-forth second set that saw eight ties and three lead changes, the Red and Blue pulled away and seemed to be in control before a late four-point swing suddenly brought Villanova within one at 23-22. In need of a big play, the Quakers turned to one of their senior leaders and captains, Martin, who took a Bither pass and delivered a huge kill to break 'Nova's momentum. Moments later, a White kill staked Penn to a 2-0 lead after a 25-23 victory.
The third and ultimately final set mirrored the set that preceded it. The lead swung between the teams throughout before Penn tried to put the Wildcats away with a late four-point run spurred on by a Bither kill and Dani Shepherd ace. Villanova used its final timeout trailing, 22-19, and made one last push with CeCe Twitty delivering two kills and a block to reduce the Quakers' lead to one, at 24-23. With the Wildcats serving to stay in the match, Penn was gifted the victory as Villanova's serve sailed harmlessly into the net.
Penn spends next weekend on the West Coast, playing in the University of California's Molten Classic Presented by Hilton Garden Inn. The Quakers meet the Golden Bears on Friday night at 7 p.m. (PST) and conclude with a Saturday doubleheader of Northern Arizona (1 p.m. PST) and UC-Riverside (5 p.m. PST).
2012 Big 5 All-Tournament Team Chelsea Tupuola, Temple (MVP) Tiffany Connatser, Temple Ronnie Bither, Penn Emma White, Penn Samantha Tulskie, La Salle Mariah Henley, Villanova