Princeton, N.J. - The Penn-Princeton volleyball rivalry has now reached the point where anything other than a five-set match qualifies as a shock. For the fifth time in the last six matches that they've faced each other, the Quakers and Tigers went the distance, with Penn pulling out the win on Friday night,18-25, 25-27, 25-23, 25-17, 15-13. Leading 2-0 in the match, Princeton was within two points of pulling off the sweep before the Red and Blue rattled off seven straight points to stay alive with a win in the third set that ultimately sparked them to the 3-2 victory. Kristen Etterbeek had a match-high 19 kills and added 10 digs while Emma White chipped in with 16 kills and 19 digs. Susan Stuecheli provided the Quakers with a huge lift in the late stages of the match, ending up with 10 kills and 10 blocks (three solo, seven assists).
It certainly didn't start off looking like it would be Penn's night. Princeton hit .481 in the first set and led by as many as nine points in the middle of the set. Offense wasn't the issue for the Quakers; they managed to hit .306 themselves, but three setting miscues and a pair of service errors were enough to put the Tigers over the top in a 25-18 win.
Penn seemed more settled in the second set, grabbing an early 4-1 lead with kills from Lauren Martin, Stuecheli and Etterbeek. The Quakers would maintain that edge into the middle of the set before the Tigers scored six straight points to take a 20-16 lead. Foreshadowing what was to come later, Penn pulled even late in the set thanks to a pair of blocks involving Michellie McDonald-O'Brien, tying the score at 23-23. The teams traded side-outs through 25-25, but successive kills from Princeton's 1-2 punch of Lydia Rudnick and Kendall Peterkin gave Princeton the 2-0 lead with a 27-25 victory.
The third set began as a continuation of the first two sets. The Quakers played Princeton close, but gradually the Tigers began to pull away, ballooning a 10-9 lead into a 19-13 advantage. After a block from Tiana Woolridge, Princeton led the Red and Blue, 23-18, and needed only two points to cruise to the sweep. Somehow, that's when Penn began to click. A service error gave the Quakers just a slight opening and with Elizabeth Horner serving, they scored seven straight to win the set and stay in the match. Woolridge had eight kills in the third for Princeton, but luckily for Penn, White had an answer with six kills of her own in the set, including the winner.
The Tigers were likely shell-shocked by the turn of events and the Quakers had little trouble evening the match at two sets apiece with a 25-17 win in the fourth set. Etterbeek led the offense with seven kills, three of which came in an 8-0 run that put Penn ahead, 12-7. The Quakers also served up four aces in the set to easily dispatch Princeton and take it into fifth.
Befitting two such evenly matched sides, the final set provided the perfect ending to an amazing match. Stuecheli was seemingly everywhere in the fifth, personally turning a 5-2 Penn lead into an 8-2 advantage with a kill and a pair of block assists with Martin. As the teams switched ends, Princeton was able to string together one last gasp, scoring three straight to cut the Quaker lead to 8-5 and staying within striking range from there. A Martin kill gave Penn a match point at 14-11, but a Woolridge attack stayed inside the line for a kill and Rudnick blasted another to cut the lead to one for the first time since it was 3-2. Suddenly in desperate need of the winning point, multiple Penn attacks were fended off by a flailing Princeton defense, but the final attack from Peterkin landed just a hair wide, giving the Red and Blue the match with a 15-13 win.
Alex Caldwell had yet another double-double with 17 assists and 12 digs, while Ronnie Bither collected 37 assists. Seeing her most extended playing time of the season, freshman McDonald-O'Brien had a career-high seven kills, hitting .312. Martin provided a steadying presence on both offense and defense with nine kills and five block assists.
Penn (10-9, 5-3 Ivy) begins a four-match homestand next weekend, meeting Harvard on Friday at 7 p.m., then facing Dartmouth at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Download: Penn-Princeton Box Score.pdf