Volleyball Looks to Reach Halfway Point on High Note

PHILADELPHIA - Penn volleyball hosts an important weekend of Ivy action inside The Palestra, facing Brown on Friday night at 7 p.m. and the league-leading Yale Bulldogs on Saturday at 5 p.m. Live stats and streaming video will be available for both matches.

Last Time Out
Penn made just its second weekend-long trip away from home last Friday and Saturday, defeating Cornell 22-25, 25-17, 25-23, 25-17, before losing a five-set match to Columbia by a score of 27-29, 25-21, 20-25, 25-19, 13-15. Amanda Pacheco had a match-high 13 kills versus the Big Red while Kristen Etterbeek led the team with 24 digs, the first time someone other than Dani Shepherd has led the team outright in that category in a match. Versus Columbia, Etterbeek and Pacheco both set career highs with 22 and 20 kills, respectively, while Shepherd was back to her usual tricks with 39 digs. Among the freshmen on the roster, Emma White had a double-double of 13 kills and 20 digs while setter Meghan Connolly had a career-best 37 assists.

Penn Versus
The Quakers have enjoyed a fair amount of success versus both the Bears and Bulldogs through the years. Penn has defeated Brown in five straight matches, dropping only two sets in the process. Overall, the Red and Blue lead the series 41-14.

Thanks largely to a 17-0 start that extended through the 1989 season, Penn leads the overall series with Yale 33-20, but the Bulldogs have a slight edge between the two ever since. Last season, the two split a pair of regular season matches, each holding serve on their home court. Using a five-match winning streak to stay neck-and-neck down the stretch while Yale was on a ten-match winning streak of its own, the Quakers and Bulldogs had to resort to a playoff to determine the Ivy League's NCAA Tournament bid recipient. Penn won the first two sets by identical counts of 25-18 and looked to be well on its way to victory, but Yale struck back, winning the next two 25-23 and 25-17 to force a decisive fifth. Yale held a lead at 4-3 before the Quakers came up with six straight points to gain control, five coming off kills from Amanda Pacheco and Kristen Etterbeek. With a 9-4 advantage, Penn let the Bulldogs get no closer than four the rest of the way as they took the set and the Ivy's automatic bid by a score of 15-8.

Scouting the Bears
Brown enters Friday's match at 5-11 and 1-4 in the Ivy League, the one win coming in five sets versus Cornell. Just a freshman, outside hitter Maddie Lord tops the Ivy League in kills per set, coming in with a 3.52 average. Emma Pastore (2.65) and Thea Derrough (2.32) give Lord support in the Bears' attack. Alexandra Rieckhoff supplies the majority of opportunities for the front line, her 7.43 assists per set average currently sitting at fifth in the Ivies. Annika Gliottone is a bright spot for a team that tends to struggle on defense. With 4.95 digs per set, Gliottone is fourth in the Ivies and 45th nationally in that category, but as a group, Brown ranks last in the Ivy League in both blocks and digs per set.

Scouting the Bulldogs
At 5-0 in the Ivy League coming into Friday's match with Princeton, Yale has established itself as the team to beat in the conference this season. The Bulldogs top the league in five team statistical categories: hitting percentage, kills, assists, service aces and digs. Much like Penn, Yale is a relatively young team whose top four attackers are all freshmen or sophomores. Mollie Rogers is the squad's kills leader at 3.09 per set and won two Rookie of the Week awards in September. Kendall Polan is the only player in the Ivies with over 10 assists per set and has two Player of the Week awards to her credit as well. Another freshman, Maddie Rudnick, is the team digs leader with 4.37 per set, but the Bulldogs have five who average over 2.50. At 18.11 digs per set as a team, Yale ranks seventh nationally. Senior middle blocker Taylor Cramm, this week's winner of Ivy Player of the Week, anchors the middle for the Bulldogs and averages a team-high 0.71 blocks per set.

Familiar Faces
Although Penn will be playing Brown for the first time this season on Friday night, there is some familiarity between the two teams. Junior Hilary Ash played behind Brown senior setter Spencer McAndrews at Marlborough High School and sophomore Dani Shepherd was teammates with Brown sophomore outside hitter Emma Pastore and freshman middle blocker Taylor Bantle at Marymount High School, both in Los Angeles. Said Ash; "Being a year below her, I learned not only much of the setting position from her example but also the way to be a good teammate." Shepherd was especially complimentary of Pastore, who she graduated with in 2010: "It's so exciting to line up and see her across the net because not only is she a fantastic competitor, but also one of my best friends. You try to make it like any other match, but it's definitely special to see her twice a year."

Steady as She Goes
Shepherd moved ahead of Western Michigan's Lena Oliver this week to now rank third in the nation in digs per set with 6.32. Her rise has been impressive but not exactly meteoric. Since the first NCAA stats were released five weeks ago, she has gone from tenth to seventh to sixth to fourth to third in the category. Only Kim Maroon of Villanova (6.78) and Kasey Elswick of UT-Martin (6.59) keep her from the top spot. With Shepherd leading the way, Penn is ninth nationally in digs as a team, averaging 17.93 per set.

The Mendoza Line
Opponent's hitting percentage is an important indicator of Penn's success this season. The Quakers are 6-3 when holding the opposition below .200 in the match, and conversely are 0-6 when opponents are above that mark.

#1 vs. #2
Several battles will play out Saturday between the top Ivy League squads in an array of categories. Yale and Penn make up the top tier of the league in assists (Yale's 12.44 to Penn's 12.13), kills (Yale's 13.22 to Penn's 13.07) and digs (Yale's 18.11 to Penn's 17.93). Individually, Yale's Kendall Polan leads the conference in aces per set with 0.38, just .01 ahead of Dani Shepherd in second place.