Volleyball Hosts Penn Invitational This Weekend

PHILADELPHIA - The Penn volleyball team returns home this weekend to host the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West Penn Invitational. Matches in The Palestra begin at noon on Friday and at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning. The Red and Blue have matches on Friday at 7 p.m. against George Mason, at 11 a.m. on Saturday with Radford, and a 5 p.m. date with Rutgers on Saturday evening in the tournament finale.

Last Time Out
The 1-2 record that Penn posted at last weekend's Molten Classic doesn't tell the whole story. Playing a loaded field that included perennial Pac-12 powerhouse Cal and an undefeated Northern Arizona team, the Quakers hung tough, nearly taking Friday night's first set over the Golden Bears and rallying to force a fourth set against the Lumberjacks. In need of a win to close out the tournament, Penn came to play in its finale, breezing past UC-Riverside in straight sets. Emma White was named to the All-Tournament team for the second week in a row, posting 37 kills and 54 digs in the three matches.

Scouting the Patriots
George Mason opens the tournament with a noon meeting against Radford before facing the Quakers on Friday night. Following a three-match tournament last weekend at High Point, George Mason is 2-8 and has lost four straight since a three-set win over West Virginia on Sept. 2. As their record indicates, the Patriots have had some struggles offensively in the early part of the season. Lana Zonjic leads the team with 2.80 kills per set but is the only player averaging more than two in that category. GMU hits just .166 as a team. Tori Price sets for the Patriots and hands out 8.00 assists per set. Defensively, Bernetta Moore leads the team in digs at 3.69 while Lolade Owokoniran defends the net, averaging 1.06 blocks per set.

Scouting the Highlanders
Radford comes into the weekend at 6-6 after being swept on Tuesday night at the hands of James Madison. Rachel Wiechecki leads the team with 3.05 kills per set but is hitting just .136. Emma Deininger is much more effective in the attack, averaging 2.12 kills per set and hitting .310. The Highlanders employ a two-setter offense similar to what Penn used in 2011. Jena Braden leads the team with 5.52 assists per set while Christine Beckham picks up the slack with a 4.09 average per set, helping the team to a Big South-best 11.49 assists per set. Four players average more than three digs for Radford, led by Yacine Meyer, who has put up 3.88 digs while playing in 26 of the team's 44 sets. The Highlanders are dangerous when serving, ranking 38th in the nation in aces per set (1.59).

Scouting the Scarlet Knights
It took five sets, but Rutgers was able to extend its winning streak to nine with a 3-2 win over Lehigh on Tuesday night. Now at 11-1 on the season, the Scarlet Knights have already surpassed their win total from 2011, which they closed out at 10-21. A high-octane offense sees four players with over 2.50 kills per set, led by freshman Sarah Schmid who averages 3.33 kills per set and is hitting .463 so far in 2012, placing her among the top 10 hitters in the country. Pulling the strings for the Rutgers attack is setter Stephanie Zielinski, averaging 11.20 assists per set. Tracy Wright leads RU with 4.07 digs per set while Alex Jones and Schmid each come in at more than 0.70 blocks per set.

Transitioning to college volleyball may not be easy, but Ronnie Bither is sure making it look that way. Penn's precocious freshman setter has now won both Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards to start the 2012 season. At the Big 5 Tournament, she had a three-match total of 113 assists and 41 digs to win the first award of the season. The opposition might have been turned up a notch at last weekend's Molten Classic but Bither didn't seem to mind, recording another 96 assists and 31 digs. Averaging 9.95 assists per set, she ranks in the Top 100 nationally and is second in the Ivy League.

National Leaders
Two weeks into the season, Penn leads the nation in digs per set...and it isn't close. Through 21 sets played, the Quakers have come up with 460 digs for an average of 21.90. The second place team in the nation - Yale, coincidentally - is more than two digs per set behind them at 19.33. Leading the charge for the stingy Penn defense is libero Dani Shepherd (15th in the nation with 5.47 digs per set) and outside hitter Emma White (81st at 4.71 digs per set). That amazing effort from Penn's back row, as well as a front row coming up with two blocks per set, have helped the Quakers hold opponents to a hitting percentage of just .162.

There Can Only Be One?
Penn's matchup on Saturday with Radford will mark the second meeting of the season with a team using the Highlanders moniker. The Quakers can only hope to repeat the performance they unleashed facing UC-Riverside last weekend, when they swept that western version of the Highlanders in straight sets, 25-17, 25-20, 25-17. Five players recorded more than 10 digs in the match and the Red and Blue outhit Riverside .222 to .061, recording 12 additional kills on 13 fewer attacks.

Live Stats/Video
Live stats of all six matches of the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West Penn Invitational will be available by clicking here. Penn Sports Network will also be on hand to provide streaming HD video of the three Penn matches in the tournament.

Up Next
A rare mid-week match, the first since 2010, awaits on Wednesday when Penn ventures to take on Delaware at 7 p.m. Next weekend brings a pair of home matches, beginning with an all-important match against Princeton in the Ivy League opener on Saturday at 5 p.m. The final non-conference match of the season will follow the next day, the Quakers facing Towson at 4 p.m., marking Penn's third CAA opponent in a nine-day span.