PHILADELPHIA - Backed by a boisterous crowd, Penn snapped a four-game losing streak by easing past Rhode Island, 25-15, 26-24, 25-21, in thethird game of theCrowne Plaza Philadelphia West Penn Invitational on Friday night. Susan Stuecheli turned in a masterful performance, slamming 16 kills in just 21 attempts to lead the Quaker cause.
The Quakers led wire-to-wire in the first set, jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead behind the serve of Emma White. After Rhode Island closed to within 13-10, the Red and Bluecobbled together another three point run helped by two Ram errors to establish a six-point cushion. Rhode Island could get no closer than four points the rest of the way as its fourth service error of the set ended the proceedings at 25-15.
A combination of a perfect set from Stuecheli and some strong defense at the net propelled Penn to a 2-0 lead heading into the break. In a back-and-forth set that neither team led by more than two points, it was Stuecheli's eight kills in eight attempts along with four blocks from the front line that made the difference as the Quakers gained the upper hand in the match.
"It was really special for me to see Susan come outand perform the way she did tonight," said head coach Kerry Carr. "There were a couplenot-so-great practices this week with new things we worked on and it seemed to all click for her once we were in the game."
The third stanza looked to be more of the same from Penn, who pulled ahead to a 15-10 lead before Rhode Island rallied to within one at 16-15, producing a Penn timeout. Stuecheli earned the team a side out on the ensuing play and back-to-back kills from White put the Quakers back in front at 19-15. The Rams would get as close as twoat 20-18,but two Lauren Martin kills sandwiched a block from her and Amanda Pacheco for the final three Penn points of the match, giving the Quakers the straight-set victory.
Carr was also quick to point out one of more unheralded members of the team. "After Toledo, our goal coming out tonight was finishing. That's why the second set was so critical for us. They came at us but we responded and went up 2-0. Much of the credit for that needs to go to Logan Johnson. She's our senior leader and she came in and steadied our back row and was aggressive on her serve. When some of the team looked like they were playing not to lose, she played to win and that attitude spread to everyone else."
Joining Stuechli with double-digit kills was Martin, who ended the match with 10. White finished third on the team with eight. One game after breaking the school record for digs in a match, Dani Shepherd again led the team, this time with 21 while Kristen Etterbeek added 16.
Penn returns to the court tomorrow at 1 p.m. to play UMBC. As the only two undefeated teams remaining in the tournament, the match-up between the Quakers and Retrievers will have large implications in deciding the tournament champion. The tournament finale will follow at 4 p.m. with the Red and Blue taking on William & Mary.
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