For the University of Pennsylvania women’s volleyball team, the plan was simple in 2005 return to the top of the Ivy League. Although the Quakers did not reach those heights, they showed flashes that hint of prosperity for 2006. The Quakers took their lumps early in the preseason, playing four eventual NCAA Tournament teams. Those losses paved the way for come-from-behind wins over Princeton and Dartmouth and showed the resilience this team had. Despite a five-match losing streak in mid-season, the Red and Blue rebounded to upend the League’s top team in a late-season showdown at The Palestra.
The Quakers started the season by traveling to the Empire State to play in the UAlbany Classic. After dropping matches to Albany and Ohio, the Red and Blue picked up their first win over Iona 3-1.
Penn then went to Happy Valley to take on three seasoned teams, and the Quakers were swept by No. 4 Penn State and Marshall before losing in four games to Seton Hall.
The Red and Blue rounded out their preseason schedule hosting the Penn-Sheraton Invitational. Penn picked up two wins on the weekend, over St. Francis (N.Y.) and Canisius. Penn battled West Coast power Pepperdine but fell in three games and lost to a very tough Towson team.
Ivy League Action
Although Penn’s preseason did not go as hoped, the Quakers quickly forgot about it as they opened Ivy League play. The Quakers defeated Princeton in the League opener. After dropping the first game, Penn swept right through the Tigers in the next three games for a 3-1 win. The Red and Blue stayed hot, winning their next two matches over Harvard and Dartmouth. In the victory over Dartmouth, Penn reeled off seven straight points to win game four and take the match 3-1 to remain unbeaten in the Ancient Eight.
However, the Quakers lost momentum when they ran into a five-match skid including losses to co-Ivy League champions Cornell and Yale.
A Big Finish
The Red and Blue bounced back by winning two of their next four matches and set up their biggest match of the season. On Nov. 11, Cornell came to The Palestra riding a perfect 12-0 mark in the Ivy League with dreams of becoming the first team in the league to go undefeated in a 14-match season. After losing game one, Penn rebounded to take the next two and gave itself a chance to put away the Big Red. The Quakers dropped the fourth set but were still in position to knock off the first-place team. The Red and Blue got out to an early led that proved to be enough to win the decisive game 15-10 and pull off the biggest upset of the season in the Ivy League. It was a match that was a total team effort, as four Quakers reach double digits in kills, two of which recorded double-doubles. Junior Liz Hurst set a season high with 33 digs in the match.
Riding high off the upset of Cornell, the Quakers used their momentum the next night to avenge a loss to Columbia earlier in the season. With two-straight wins, Penn had a chance to finish the season two games above .500 in the Ivy League, but the Red and Blue fell to Princeton in the season finale 3-1.
A Fond Farwell
Despite a knee injury at Columbia on Oct. 14, senior Michelle Kauffman returned to the Penn lineup late in the season to finish her career. In the Quakers’ thrilling victory over Cornell she contributed seven kills.
Fellow senior Cara Thomason finished her career in style. On Oct. 8, she entered the Penn record books as the all-time leader in digs. She finished her career with 1,525 digs. Thomason also sits in fourth place on the career kills list with 993. She was named CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Second Team Academic All-Area.
Thomason, who has been a fixture on the All-Ivy team, earned her fourth selection with second team honors in 2005. Sophomore setter Linda Zhang also garnered All-Ivy League status. She was named honorable mention. On the season, she dished out 873 assists to lead the Red and Blue.
The Quakers finished the season ranked 18th in the nation with 18.56 digs per game. The only team with more digs per game in the Ivy League was co-champion Yale with 19.28. Individually, Hurst (4.37) and Thomason (4.22) finished fifth and sixth in the Ivy League in digs per game.