Volleyball Fights, But Falls Twice on Saturday
Penn-Radford Box Score (pdf)
Penn-Rutgers Box Score (pdf)
PHILADELPHIA - The Penn volleyball team lost a pair of matches on Saturday afternoon at The Palestra, falling in four sets to both Radford and Rutgers in the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West Penn Invitational. With a 3-0 record over the weekend, Rutgers took home the tournament title, winning its 12th match in a row and improving to 14-1 on the season. The Quakers (4-5) were led by libero Dani Shepherd, who was named to the All-Tournament team with 97 digs in three matches.
Radford 3, Penn 1
Though freshman Alex Caldwell notched a rare triple-double (13 kills, 11 digs, 10 assists) in the match, Radford shrugged off Penn's domination of the second set and won Saturday's opener, 26-24, 9-25, 25-22, 25-17.
The back-and-forth nature of the first and third sets was indicative of how close these teams matched up. In each, the score would be squared away eight times with four lead changes, but Radford came out on top in both. The first set featured a number of short bursts from both squads but neither backed down as the set point neared. Trailing 23-22, Penn received the last of five first-set kills from Kristen Etterbeek to tie the score and then earned a set point after a Radford attack error. Realizing the critical juncture they were at, the Highlanders used the first timeout of the match and promptly scored three straight to claim a 26-24 win.
Penn fell behind 3-1 early on in the second set, but a Caldwell kill made it 3-2 and earned them the side out, giving the ball to Shepherd on serve. That was all the opening the Quakers needed to knot the match at a set apiece. Penn's junior libero had three aces and Radford continually struggled to string together passes, allowing the Red and Blue to score 14 unanswered points. Though a Penn attack error finally ended the run with the margin at 15-4, the Quakers cruised to the finish line and into the locker room with the score tied.
Radford rose to the occasion in the third set after no-showing for much of the second. With the teams trading leads early on, a 4-0 run from the Highlanders opened up a 13-9 lead as the set neared its midway point. After a timeout, Penn wasted little time in responding, two Michellie McDonald-O'Brien kills and one from Caldwell helping to erase the deficit and tie the set up once again at 13-13. But from there on, Radford would have the answers. A rare error from setter Ronnie Bither put the visitors out in front at 14-13, and the Red and Blue failed to pull even the rest of the way. Emily Carlin had five kills in the set for the Highlanders, who hit .260 in the third to take the 2-1 lead.
If the third set was a showcase of each team's offensive arsenal, then the fourth was a display of defensive prowess. Points were not easy to come by throughout, but eventually Penn's errors began to show through. The Quakers committed nine attack errors in the fourth set, hitting -.022, and gave Radford three additional points on service errors, allowing the Highlanders to pull away for the 25-17 win. Shepherd tried to keep Penn in it - notching 11 digs in the fourth set alone - but it wasn't enough to keep Radford from closing on an 11-4 run for the win. Improving to 8-7 on the season, Radford secured a second-place finish in the tournament with the win.
Rutgers 3, Penn 1
Coming into the tournament finale riding an 11-match winning streak, Rutgers cast an imposing shadow on Saturday evening, even if five sets were needed to escape the upset bid of George Mason in the afternoon. With fatigue possibly in play as the teams clashed to decide the Penn Invitational champion, hopes were high for a repeat of two weeks ago, when a Quaker victory over Villanova forced a three-way tie at the top of the Big 5 Tournament.
The match started out as planned from Penn's side, a 25-22 first-set victory setting the Quakers up for success. A balanced offensive effort was key from the Red and Blue in the set, with four regulars in the front row amassing three kills each. Defensively, Penn stymied Rutgers' big hitters with 26 digs, led by Shepherd's eight.
But the first set was just a precursor to the fireworks of the second. In position to take a 2-0 lead, the Quakers stayed even with the Scarlet Knights throughout. The teams battled to an amazing 16 ties and 10 lead changes, setting the stage for Susan Stuecheli to extend the set with back-to-back kills that tied the proceedings at 24-24 after Rutgers had a pair of set points. The Quakers would erase two more set points before it was done, but unfortunately the fifth time proved to be the charm for Rutgers, who tied the match with a 28-26 win. Both the Quakers and Scarlet Knights had at least 40 digs each in the set.
Emma White hit .667 with six kills in the third set to try to keep the Quakers in it, but she was matched with six kills from Kylie Orr and Sarah Schmid of Rutgers, who took a 2-1 lead with a 25-19 win in the third set. Penn trailed 7-6 early, but a 6-0 run from the Scarlet Knights gave them a commanding lead they would never relinquish on their way to the victory.
It was a similar situation in the fourth set. The Quakers mixed up their attacks well, getting kills from their outside hitters and middles to claim an early 5-3 lead. But from there, Rutgers reeled off seven of the next nine points to grab a 10-7 edge. Penn wouldn't get closer than two points from then on, as the Scarlet Knights pulled away to end the tournament with an undefeated record.
The Red and Blue will look to rebound from Saturday's losses when they travel to Delaware on Wednesday night for their only mid-week game of the season. Penn will begin Ivy League play with a home match on Saturday against rival Princeton.