A young Penn volleyball team took to the court in 2004 looking to improve during every game of each match. Having lost three starters to graduation, the Red and Blue looked toward the four starters that remained as well as some talented newcomers to take the reins and lead the program to a successful season.
Penn opened the season at the University of Virginia Tournament, where they won two matches and fell in five games in the third to the University of Virginia. The Quakers continued their season next on the West Coast, taking on nationally-ranked No. 23 University of San Diego as well as Oregon State and Nevada at the University of San Diego Invitational. After three straight-set losses, the Red and Blue traveled back East, sweeping the field at the Sixth Annual Penn/Sheraton Invitational, held in The Palestra.
In the tournament, the Quakers defeated top regional teams such as Georgetown, 3-0, and Syracuse, 3-1, as well as Northeastern, 3-1, and Saint Francis (Pa.), 3-0.
Two juniors stepped up and led the Quakers in 2004. Michelle Kauffman, who was named first-team All-Ivy for her efforts throughout the season, finished the season fourth in the League in hitting percentage (.288) and eighth in kills-per-game (.359). Kauffman finished the season with 292 kills, eight service aces, 35 digs and 86 blocks. During the season, she set a new career-high for kills with 23 at home versus Yale on Oct. 30 and a new career-best in total blocks at Harvard on Nov. 13 with nine. It marked the first time that Kauffman was honored as an All-Ivy selection and during the season she was named to the Ivy League weekly honor roll three times.
The San Diego, Calif. native was not alone in her success during the season. Classmate Cara Thomason joined Kauffman as a member of the All-Ivy team, garnering her third-consecutive honorable mention accolade. She finished the season leading the Ancient Eight with 45 service aces (.47 per game), fifth in the League in digs per game (4.17) and 10th in kills-per-game (.311). Thomason finished the season with 299 kills, leading the Quakers, and 38 total blocks. During the season she set a new career-high and Penn volleyball record for most digs in a match with 38 against Princeton on Oct. 1. Thomason was also honored for her play during the season, as she was named Ivy League Player of the Week on Oct. 15 and earned a place on the honor roll five times throughout the season.
As a team, Penn finished the regular season with a 15-11 overall record and a 7-7 record in Ivy League play. The Quakers ranked third in the League in overall hitting percentage at .219 and second in service aces with 165 for the season and an average of 1.68 per game.
The future continues to look bright for the Penn volleyball program as one second year player and three newcomers made an impact and will look to help lead the team in 2005. Sophomore libero Meredith Damore was named to the Ivy League honor roll once during the season and finished her second season ranked seventh in the Ancient Eight in digs with 390 overall and an average of 4.11 per game. She set a new career high with 33 digs against Villanova on Nov. 2 and Damore notched double digits in kills in 20 contests, including eight straight matches to end the season.
Two seniors closed out their careers wearing the Red and Blue this past season. Lynzy Caton and Natalie Francis have left the program in good hands. Caton finished the season with 219 kills and led the team with 79 total blocks. She set a new career high with five total blocks at Dartmouth on Nov. 12 and finished her career with 149 total blocks and 522 kills. Co-captain Francis finished the season with 17 kills and eight total blocks, completing her career with 112 kills and 64 total blocks.
Freshmen Linda Zhang, Laura Black and Anna Shlimak all had outstanding first-year campaigns for the Quakers. Zhang finished the season with a .404 hitting percentage, which was good for first in the League, as well as finishing fifth in the League in assists with 1,053 assists total and an average of 10.86 per game. She was named Ivy League Rookie of the week on Oct. 5 and to the honor roll once.
Black finished second on the team with 278 kills and with a hitting percentage of .254. Her hitting percentage also ranked 10th in the League. She notched a career-high 17 kills on two occasions, in a home loss to Harvard on Oct. 15 and in a victory at Dartmouth on Nov. 12. Black also had 53 total blocks on the season, ranking third on the team. During the season, she was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week twice, on Sept. 28 and Oct. 19.
Fellow freshman Shlimak contributed 156 kills in her 77 games played for the Quakers this past season. She also contributed 205 digs, good for fourth on the team and set a career high with 12 kills in the Quakers’ victory over Dartmouth on Nov. 12.
With a season of growth under their belts, the Penn volleyball program will head into 2005 looking to improve on their 7-7 Ivy League record from 2004 and move back onto the top of the Ancient Eight.
Written by Jennifer Hildebrand, athletic communications assistant