Heading into the 2006 season, the University of Pennsylvania volleyball team knew it would face a difficult road. With a tough preseason schedule, the always-demanding Ivy League schedule and a number of young players stepping into the spotlight for the first time, the Quakers had their work cut out for them.
After taking its lumps early, Penn rebounded nicely winning three straight matches heading into the Ancient Eight slate. In the process, head coach Kerry Carr saw the development of a few promising freshmen and day-in and day-out consistency from a number of experienced upperclassmen.
Despite losing the first five matches of the season, Penn’s success on the court was not indicative of its results. The Quakers managed to stay in a number of games against tough competition, showing resiliency that would prove beneficial later in the season.
After going winless in Charlotte at the Comfort Suites Invitational, the Red and Blue came out much improved the following weekend. At the Holiday Inn Buena Park Fullerton Classic, Penn played a more talented Cal State Fullerton team as well as they could have. After losing 30-20 and 30-21 in Games 1 and 2, Penn picked up its play. On the verge of facing a sweep, the Quakers did not go quietly in the third set. Holding a 28-23 lead, a victory seemed imminent for the Quakers. However, the Titans scored the next five points to tie the game. Then junior Linda Zhang stole the show, delivering a kill to put the Red and Blue up by one and serving an ace to give Penn the 30-28 victory.
Despite squandering a seven-point lead in the next game, Penn used the momentum it built against the Titans to sweep Lipscomb later that day for their first win of the season. Establishing big leads early and playing intense defense keyed the Quakers to their first win of the season.
After six road matches to start the season, Penn finally came home for a six-match homestand that opened with the Sheraton-Penn Invitational. The Red and Blue dominated their opponents, going 3-0 on the weekend by beating Binghamton, Quinnipiac and Fairleigh Dickinson. Junior Laura Black was named tournament MVP, while Elizabeth Semmens and Kathryn Turner earned all-tournament honors.
The Ivy League Season
Penn went 4-6 to start the season and it was time to enter into the 14-match Ancient Eight schedule. First up for the Red and Blue was archrival Princeton at The Palestra. Althoughthe Quakersultimately lost, 3-1, they gave the then-unbeaten Tigers all they could handle. The Quakers won a thrilling Game 1, 32-30, but dropped the last three 30-16, 30-17 and 31-29. Trailing 20-11 in Game 1, the Red and Blue hung tough, making small runs of their own and limiting Princeton’s runs. Penn eventually took the lead back, 25-24, thanks to a 4-0 run. The game went back-and-forth, until Penn committed two attack errors. The Tigers helped Penn out by committing 10 attack errors in the game, including two late that gave the Quakers Game 1. Despite losing the next three games, Penn played tough until the bitter end. In the end, Penn tallied 27 blocks on the night.
The Quakers bounced back, beating Harvard, 3-2, on Oct. 6 in what became a familiar theme for the Red and Blue. Trailing in Game 1, Penn mounted a comeback after being down 20-13. The Quakers started to chip away at the deficit, and managed to tie the score after an Anna Shlimak kill and a Harvard attack error. The Crimson served game point at 33-32, but consecutive kills by Penn followed by a block gave them Game 1. After losing the next two games, Penn took Game 4 thanks to a late run, then ran away with Game 5 after building an early lead.
Penn lost to Dartmouth the following night in three games, but returned home Oct. 13 to sweep Columbia for its second Ivy League win. The Quakers ran into tough roadblocks the next two matches against defending champion Cornell and Yale, who was in first place at the time. Even after falling 3-0 to both, Penn played well against Brown.
Both teams exchanged 30-25 scores in the first two games. The Bears had a leg up with a 31-29 victory in Game 3. However, Penn forced Game 5 by taking the fourth set 30-27. The Quakers ran out of gas in Game 5, falling 15-7. One silver lining in the loss was Black’s career-high 20 kills.
Penn returned home for a four-match homestand to close out its home slate. The Quakers got revenge on Dartmouth, taking them to the limit, 3-2. The following day, Penn found themselves in another five-game match with Harvard. The Quakers won the first two games handily and had a sweep on their minds, faltered in the next two games, but showed their resiliency and won Game 5, 15-12.
Once again, the Quakers exacted revenge on an opponent that got the best of them earlier in the season. This time it was Brown, who bested the Red and Blue, 3-2 in their first meeting. The Quakers built a comfortable 2-0 lead, and even though they lost Games 3 and 4, maintained their cool to score the final four points of Game 5, fueled by two kills from Turner.
Although Penn lost to Yale, 3-0, the following night, the Quakers had a remarkable run that included a three-match win streak and four-consecutive five-game matches. More importantly, the Red and Blue pulled to within a game of .500 in the League with three matches remaining and had an opportunity to finish with a winning record.
Cornell put a halt to those plans by beating the Red and Blue, 3-1, on Nov. 10. Penn answered back the following day with a sweep of Columbia, 3-0. In the match, senior Elizabeth Hurst reached a personal milestone by surpassing 1,000 career digs. She joined Meredith Damore, who accomplished the same feat on Oct. 13, as the first Penn teammates to reach the milestone in the same season.
With a chance to finish 7-7 and take sole possession of fourth place in the Ivy League, Penn fell to Princeton, 3-0 in the season finale. The Quakers hung tough, losing Games 1 and 3 by only two and one points, respectively.
At the conclusion of the 2006 season, two Quakers received All-Ivy recognition. Black was named second-team and Turner earned honorable mention.
“I am pleased that the Ivy League coaches recognized two of our best players who performed great this season,” Carr. “They were our go-to hitters and they played well when they were counted on.”
Black led the Quakers with 276 kills, including 174 kills in Ivy League matches. She also tallied 231 digs and 69 blocks. The right side hitter registered double digits in kills in 12 matches, including seven of her final eight. Black reached a career-high with 22 kills in Penn’s 3-2 win over Dartmouth on Oct. 27.
Turner compiled 218 kills on the season, 129 in League play, and 63 blocks. She reached double digits in kills in eight of 12 matches she played in, including four straight from Oct. 27-Nov. 4.