PHILADELPHIA After a strenuous two and a half week preseason camp, the University of Pennsylvania volleyball team opens its season Friday at UNC-Charlotte in the Comfort Suites Invitational. Penn faces off against the 49ers Friday at 7 p.m., followed by two matches on Saturday. The Quakers face North Florida at 10 a.m. and East Carolina at 5 p.m.
After a 10-16 finish in 2005, the Quakers are full of optimism heading into this season. With nine letterwinners and five starters returning, Penn is primed to return to prominence in the Ivy League in 2006. The Red and Blue will be led by a strong defense built around senior liberos Elizabeth Hurst and Meredith Damore. Offensively, Penn will be young, but the Quakers will look to take advantage of opportunities early in the season to put the ball away to help them gain confidence. Junior setter Linda Zhang, an honorable mention All-Ivy selection last season, will once again play a key role.
Charlotte currently stands at 4-4 after opening the season 3-0; the 49ers have dropped four of their last five matches. However, they are undefeated at home this season. The 49ers are paced by junior Jessica Oldenberg, who leads the team with 107 kills.
The Quakers will have little time to rest as they turn around and face North Florida (4-3) Saturday morning. The Ospreys are riding a three-match winning streak from their home tournament last weekend. Senior Emily Kohler is the reigning Atlantic Sun Player of the Week after notching three double-doubles last week and hitting .323.
Closing out the weekend, the Red and Blue take on East Carolina (4-3). The Pirates started the season 1-2, but have won three of their last four matches. East Carolina is fresh off a sweep of intra-state rival UNC-Wilmington Wednesday. Kelley Wernert and Mignon Dubenion combined for 23 kills in the victory.
Click here to watch Penn's match versus UNC-Charlotte.
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Some notes on the Quakers as they head into the 2006 season...
Penn returns five of seven starters and nine letterwinners from last season.
Of the Red and Blue’s nine returning letterwinners, six played in at least 80 percent of Penn’s matches.
The Quakers return two of their top three leaders in kills from last season in Laura Black and Kathryn Turner. Black (222)
and Turner (211) are the only returning Penn players to reach 200 kills last year.
Black recorded eight matches with at least 10 kills and 10 digs in 2005.
Penn returns one All-Ivy player in Linda Zhang (873 assists).
The Quakers finished last season ranked No. 17 in the country in digs per game (18.56). Only Yale (19.28) averaged more digs than Penn in the Ivy League.
Penn averaged a league-best 20.98 digs per game in Ivy League matches.
Liz Hurst’s 33 digs versus Cornell (11/11) last season ranks second all-time in a match at Penn. She also recorded 30 digs against Harvard (10/7). Her 4.37 digs per game were fourth best in the Ivy League last season.
Meredith Damore has 865 career digs. She is on pace to finish her career fourth all-time at Penn in digs.
Zhang’s 62 assists against Cornell (11/11) was a career high and third-most in a match by a Penn player.
Turner was the only Penn player to play in every game last season and one of six players to play in every match. She led the team in total blocks with 82 (9 BS, 73 BA).
Anna Shlimak’s 25 service aces led the Quakers last season. She had six matches with multiple service aces.
Penn was 7-1 last season when they won the first game of a match.
The Quakers finished third in the Ancient Eight last year with 196.5 blocks.
Of the five teams Penn played last season that received a bid to the NCAA Tournament, three advanced to regionals.