Volleyball Serves Up a Weekend of Big 5 Action

PHILADELPHIA - The 2012 Penn volleyball season gets underway this weekend with the fourth annual Big 5 Tournament at The Palestra, featuring the Quakers, La Salle, Temple and Villanova. Penn boasts a 7-2 overall record in the event and will play at 7 p.m. on Friday againstTemplebefore closing out the weekend with a 10 a.m. match with La Salle and a 7 p.m. meeting against Villanova.

Last Year
After consecutive Ivy League crowns in 2009 and 2010 that were capped by NCAA Tournament berths, the loss of three senior leaders entering the 2011 season was too much for the Red and Blue to overcome. Despite 2-1 records in both the Big 5 Tournament and the Crowne Plaza Philadelphia West Penn Invitational, it was a 0-6 start in five-set matches that set the tone for much of the year. However, the team's growth became evident as the season wore on, as Penn claimed its final two five-set matches of the season (over Dartmouth and Columbia) and were winners of four of its last five overall. Rising junior Dani Shepherd led the Ivy League in digs per set (6.16) and finished third in the nation in the category on her way to being named first-team All-Ivy libero. Senior middle blocker Amanda Pacheco also returns after her honorable mention All-Ivy campaign in which she led the Quakers in kills (249) and averaged 0.72 blocks per set.

Are You Experienced?
The answer to that question from the Quakers is a resounding "Yes!" Having lost only one senior to graduation, Penn returns all seven starters and a total of 11 letterwinners from last year's squad. All told, Kerry Carr can look forward to a team that brings back its top eight in kills and blocks, and top four in digs . In addition to Pacheco and Shepherd, the coaching staff hopes for a big bounce-back season from senior Lauren Martin who lost six matches to injury last year but was the 2009 Ivy League Rookie of the Year and made the league's honor roll four times in the early portion of the 2011 season. Sophomore Emma White also was named to the Ivy League honor roll once in 2011 and finished the season by being named co-rookie of the week from Nov. 9-15.

Scouting the Owls
For Temple, last weekend was a case of sweep or be swept. The Owls' season began with a pair of disheartening 3-0 losses to South Carolina and East Tennessee State. They rebounded to defeat UNC-Asheville and Akron by 3-0 scores to bring a 2-2 mark into Friday night's 7 p.m. contest against the Quakers. Elyse Burkert and Gabriella Matautia were the two focal points of the Owl attack in South Carolina. Burkert was named to the all-tournament team after recording a team-high 54 kills. Matautia was right behind her with 49 while no other player had more than 15. Tiffany Connatser averaged more than 10 assists per set in the setter's role while a balanced back line had four players with at least 29 digs, Chelsea Tupuola's 46 leading the way. One place Temple struggled was directly at the net, where opponents doubled the Owls' block output (36.0 to 18.0).

Scouting the Explorers
A week after hosting the season-opening La Salle Invitational at Tom Gola Arena, the Explorers will face Villanova to open the Big 5 Tournament before facing off with Penn at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. La Salle enters the weekend at 1-3 with a five-set win over Niagara to its credit opposite losses to Bucknell, Loyola (Chicago) and Manhattan. Samantha Tulskie leads the Explorers with 41 kills (an average of 2.56 per set), hitting .164. Rachel Melich (4.88 assists per set) is the main setter for the team, while Breanna Mazalewski was named to last weekend's all-tournament team after her 83 digs led La Salle's defensive effort.

Scouting the Wildcats
After hosting the Villanova Classic last weekend, the Wildcats are 2-1 with a season-opening loss to Maryland offset by wins over Robert Morris and New Hampshire. A freshman, Lauren Carpenter, leads the team with 3.00 kills per set, but a total of four players average more than two kills apiece. With 70 assists over seven sets, Allie DiBernardo is the team's primary setter, but Emma Pettit will likely receive some time there as well. A year ago, Kim Maroon was one of only two players in the country to best Shepherd's digs numbers. With her graduation, the Wildcat defense took a committee approach last weekend as five players recorded at least 20 digs. With 62, Mariah Henley was far and away the leader of the 'Nova defense (5.64 digs per set). At the net, Villanova's height keyed them to 19.0 blocks over the weekend. Carly Edwards led the team with nine (one solo, eight assist) while Gabby Pethokoukis was right behind her with eight (two solo, six assist). The Quakers and Wildcats will clash at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.

Live Stats/Penn Sports Network
Live stats for the entire Big 5 Tournament will be available on PennAthletics.com by clicking here. Can't make it to The Palestra but still want to see all the action? The Penn Sports Network will offer streaming HD video of all three Penn matches over the weekend and provides a number of different packages ranging from a single day up to 12 months to fit your viewing needs.

Up Next
Penn is westward bound next weekend to face a loaded field in the Molten Classic Presented by Hilton Garden Inn. The tournament opens for the Red and Blue with a Friday night meeting against the host and No. 25 ranked Cal Golden Bears at 7 p.m. (PST). A doubleheader follows on Saturday with contests against Northern Arizona (1 p.m. PST) and UC-Riverside (5 p.m. PST).