Two-time defending champions return strong group of veterans in hopes of Ivy greatness.
Aug. 7, 2003
After winning the last two Ivy League Championships, the 2003 Penn women's volleyball team is looking to make a little history. The Quakers have never won three-straight Ivy titles, and would join just two other teams in Ancient Eight history if they can accomplish the feat during the 30th season of Penn Volleyball in Ivy League play.
Although it is always easier to be the hunter than the hunted, the challenge that lies ahead does not daunt this veteran group as they are poised and ready to defend their place atop the Ivy League.
Penn heads into the 2003 campaign as winners of 12-straight regular-season matches and returns four All-Ivy League honorees, headlined by two-time first-teamer Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan. Kwak-Hefferan was named Verizon Academic All-American and earned AVCA All-District accolades for the Northeast Region after her junior season. She heads into her final collegiate campaign with 919 kills, placing her sixth all-time at Penn, and 948 digs, placing her fifth all-time in the Penn record books.
Kwak-Hefferan is just one-quarter of a strong and talented senior class. She will be joined on the court for the fourth-consecutive season by teammates Heather Janssen, Meghan Schloat and Lauren Carter, who have served as the backbone of the Penn volleyball program since their first days with the Red and Blue. Claiming their third-consecutive Ivy title will be no walk in the park, but each student-athlete is ready to pursue the task at hand in hopes of leaving Penn volleyball with their own legacy.
Three-time All-Ivy League honoree Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan enters her final season with 919 kills and 948 digs in her career.
"We are returning a very strong senior class," sixth-year Head Coach Kerry Major Carr said. "This class is definitely the strongest accolade-wise since I have been here. It will be a huge strength for us this year that our leadership and our strongest offensive leaders are our seniors. That they have also worked together for four years is a huge advantage. They are really close on and off the court, which makes them a more cohesive unit."
Defense has been the key to Penn's success over the last three seasons, and it should come as no surprise that Carr will once again rely on what propelled her team into it's current position. The Quakers led the Ivy League in opponent hitting percentage in 2002, holding their counterparts to just .136 from the floor, and were first in digs per game with 19.07. Although Penn did lose the Ivy League's dig leader in Liz Watty to graduation, Kwak-Hefferan and sophomore Cara Thomason return to help the Quakers obtain the main goal of 2003 - defend it's title.
"We've always had good defense and we will continue to be strong in that area," Carr said. "But what really put us over the top last season and allowed us to dominate was the increase in our offensive options. We could be unpredictable with our offenses and fortunately we return players this year who gave us the strength in those areas. Our challenge this season will be to keep the areas we were strong in and eliminate the weaknesses rather quickly in the areas that we lost some key people in - which was on the defensive side."
Running Penn's offense for the second-straight season will be Schloat. A tough and smart setter, Schloat is already sixth all-time on the Penn career assists list with 1,632 and will bring her versatility back to the court where she earned second-team All-Ivy League honors a year ago.
"Meghan took control of the offense last year and ran the team like she had ran it for all three years," Carr said. "The confidence and poise she shows on the court are attributes of a seasoned veteran which will help us go to higher levels at the start of the season, instead of finding that maturity as a group in the middle of the year. We are going to face some tough competition to open the season, and with Meghan quarterbacking our team on the floor, we will be very competitive with those perennially dominant teams on the West Coast."
Schloat's main target on the floor is fellow senior Janssen. Another All-Ivy honoree, Janssen is looking to make an even bigger mark as a senior from the middle of the court. Last season, she finished third in the Ivy League in hitting percentage (.320) and averaged 0.99 blocks per game.
Rounding out the senior class is Carter who will help at the net either in the middle or on the rightside. A solid blocker, Carter's main contribution to the team is her leadership, as she is a smart player who brings enthusiasm to all levels of her game, on and off the court.
"Heather and Lauren are one of the strongest blocking duos in the middle and right side positions that we have had here," Carr said. "Their commitment and work ethic with the team have been an inspiration, especially during the summer, to the younger members of the team. Heather and Meghan's connection is almost unspoken which allows us to run a complicated and fast offense in the middle."
Seniors Heather Janssen and Meghan Schloat look to build upon the team's success from last year as they enter their final season with the Red and Blue in 2003.
The Quakers' junior class is made up of three versatile student-athletes that will all compete for regular positions on the court this season. Lynzy Caton, Natalie Francis and Molly Dixon allow Penn to run a flexible offense as each can handle a variety of duties on the floor. While all three have middle-blocking mentalities, they each can play in the rightside and outside positions, which helps the Quakers' coaching staff utilize its' strongest offense when facing different opponents.
"Natalie has been a great role player for us, which we count on a lot in our offense, especially this year with our increased offense in the middle and right positions" Carr said. "Lynzy shared the starting outside hitting position last year, which wasn't her strongest position, but a position the team needed her to play. She will now be a major contender for us in the middle blocking position this season. Molly saw time on the junior varsity court last year and is an excellent part of our program. Her off-season work ethic and weight training leads our team. I expect to see her contribute wherever she can on and off the court this year."
The move from freshmen to sophomores will hopefully be an easy transition for the seven members of the talented Class of 2006. Penn's co-Rookies of the Year, Thomason and Michelle Kauffman, return for their second season in 2003. Thomason ended her first season receiving honorable mention for All-Ivy as she led the Ancient Eight in service aces (0.54) and was second in digs (3.78), behind former-teammate Watty. A defensive stalwart, Thomason kept the Quakers alive in many games last season, and with her drive and determination set in the right direction again this year, Carr said she expects even more from her in the coming season.
"Cara made a name for herself with her defense and her ability to pass the entire floor," Carr said. "As an outside hitter, she was able to produce some of her smartest kills in the League. Her jump serve provided us with the offensive edge we needed in many close games. We look for her to contribute in the same way this season."
Kauffman proved to the Ivy League that she was indeed a Fab 50 recruit coming out of high school. She finished fourth in the Ivy League in service aces (0.38) and was second on the Penn team in blocks per game (0.87). A tenacious competitor at the net, Kauffman will look to continue her stellar play as a 1-2 tandem in the middle with Janssen.
"Michelle proved herself early and often last year by starting most matches and finishing the season strong in the NCAA Tournament against one of the top middle blockers in the nation," Carr said. "She sat out this spring with an injury, but we expect to have her back in full force this fall, taking over right where she left off as one of our most productive middles."
Sophomore Ashley Smith sat out most of her rookie year with a broken finger. She came back strong in the spring and hopes to be a consistent contributor either at the outside or the rightside positions this fall.
Ifeoma Ifedigbo was in the same situation as a freshman, as back problems plagued her most of the year, but the coaching staff hopes to have her come off injured reserve by the start of the 2003 season.
Grania Michel, Stefanie Williams and Emily Puro saw primarily junior varsity playing time last year and appear ready to break into the varsity lineup after having a very productive spring. Puro will take on a new role this year as a setter, after coming to Penn as an outside hitter, and the Quakers look forward to seeing what she can bring to the team from that position. Williams also changed positions as she went from an outside hitter to a Libero, where she hopes to see some playing time with the varsity group this season and Michel added the faster attack to her rightside position.
"This class has a lot of potential to make big strides in 2003," Carr said. "They have the spirit and the work ethic to take their games to the next level, and the talent is certainly there. I look forward to seeing how productive they will each be after a strong spring season."
The Penn volleyball program will welcome a slew of new faces to the court this season as 10 student-athletes will head to Philadelphia to make up the Class of 2007. Several setters, middle blockers and utility players will don the Red and Blue for their first year of collegiate volleyball in 2003 eager and willing to prove what they can do to help Penn continue it's Ivy League prowess.
From the setting position, Suhad Babaa is a veteran setter who can also make an immediate impact in the back row, while Ashley Ludwig is one of the tallest setters that Penn has ever had at 5'10, and could be the front row half of a potential 6-2 setting combination. Several players will vie for a variety of different positions as Liz Hurst, Meredith Damore, Justine Davidson and Rebecca Chang all bring versatility and a bright future to the court for the Quakers, and should help the team defensively right away. Jordan Danly, Mallory Frye and Kiley Strauss all bring strong middle blocking experience, but Danly and Strauss will probably be used more on the outside or rightside positions during their rookie season. Rounding out the large class is Jackie Marion who will test her setting and leadership skills on the junior varsity squad, which also looks to be strong this season.
"We will have a very deep and skillful team in 2003," Carr said. "The addition of our recruiting class to the returning team will make everyone work even harder in practice to earn more time on the floor, both in the junior varsity matches, as well as the varsity matches. We have several returning All-Ivy players that are willing and eager to help the freshmen mix into the group as early and smoothly as possible in order for us to continue our Ivy League Championship reign. I look forward to seeing their progress throughout the season."
Everyone in the collegiate world knows that the hardest part of athletics is staying at the top. Carr and her staff are ready to impress the importance of work ethic and cohesiveness to their squad in order to remain the Ivy League's team to beat, not only this year, but in the years to come.
"Every team is going to be gunning for us this season, as we are going to be the team to beat again," Carr said. "We really need to focus on not defeating ourselves mentally before we get on the court by thinking that we are better than we are. We are starting the season ambitiously against some of the top programs in the country. We didn't want to be complacent this season with the hopes that we can get better right from the start. NCAA Sweet-16 opponent Temple is also in the mix towards the end of the season to remind us where we need to be then, not only for the Ivy Championship, but the grueling first round of the NCAA championship. We can't take each game one at a time anymore; We have no choice but to see the big picture."
Strength in numbers may be the key to success this season as the Quakers head toward their goal of obtaining a third-straight Ivy League title in 2003. With several teams in the Ancient Eight beefing up their rosters as well, the Red and Blue will not be able to relax this season as each Ivy program will be in the running for bragging rights for the league championship. If Penn can keep on track with the goals set forth at the beginning of the season, look for the Quakers to remain at the top of the Ivy League for another season, and in turn, make history for the Red and Blue.
Written by Carla Shultzberg