PHILADELPHIA - The Penn volleyball team (6-8, 1-2 Ivy) returns to The Palestra this weekend, needing to keep pace in the Ivy League with a pair of wins. The Quakers face Cornell on Friday night at 7 p.m. and close out the weekend against Columbia on Saturday at 5 p.m. Fans leaving Franklin Field after the Penn football game are encouraged to come cheer on the Red and Blue as they face the Lions.
Last Time Out
The Quakers came oh-so-close to a sweep of their trip north featuring matches at Dartmouth and Harvard. Last Friday, Penn came out on a mission and swept away the Big Green, 3-0 (25-20, 25-15, 25-18). Facing Harvard on Saturday, the Quakers took leads of 1-0 and 2-1, but the Crimson rallied in the final two sets to send the Red and Blue home on the heels of a 3-2 loss (25-16, 15-25, 25-17, 22-25, 13-15).
Scouting the Big Red
Cornell (4-9, 1-2 Ivy) comes into this weekend after picking up its first Ivy League win on Saturday in a four-setter over Brown. The Quakers and Big Red shared a couple of non-conference opponents in Temple and Northern Arizona. Penn took a set off both teams before falling in four sets, while Cornell was swept by both the Owls and Lumberjacks. Cornell has three players averaging over two kills per set. Breanna Wong (2.94) and Kelly Marble (2.69) lead the team, but it's Rachel D'Epagnier who does more with less, averaging 2.12 kills while hitting a team-high .338. Setting duties are handled by Kelly Reinke, who at 9.29 assists per set is second in the Ivy League. Defensively is where the teams seem to have the most contrast. While Penn tops the Ivy League and the nation in digs per set, Cornell ranks last in the Ivies at 11.82 digs per set and is among the bottom 20 teams in that category nationwide.
Scouting the Lions
Columbia (7-5, 2-1 Ivy) was competitive last Saturday in a home match against Yale, but the Bulldogs found a way to pull out the sweep of the Lions, 25-14, 25-22, 25-23. The road doesn't get easier for Columbia as they must first face the other Ivy League co-leader, Princeton, on Friday night in New Jersey before closing out their road trip with Penn. Still, these Lions have teeth. An extraordinarily deep team, Columbia has nine players averaging over one kill per set with the offensive leader, Megan Gaughn, averaging just 2.00 kills. Heather Braunagel and Savannah Fletcher are 1-2 in the Ivy League both in hitting percentage and blocks per set. As a team, Columbia ranks 16th in the nation with 2.88 blocks per set and are nearly a full block ahead of second place Princeton among Ivy League schools in the category. With as many players shuffling in and out as they have, it's no surprise that they employ more than one setter. In fact, three setters rotate through the line-up and each average at least 4.00 assists per set. In the back row of defense, Molly Winger leads the way with 3.90 digs per set, followed by Atlanta Moye-McLaren at 2.76.
For the fourth week in a row, Penn tops the nation in digs per set. With an average of 21.25, only one team in the nation - Yale at 19.39 - is within two digs of the Quakers. Leading the charge is libero Dani Shepherd, who for the past three weeks has been the overall national pacesetter. Shepherd checks in this week with an average of 6.43 digs per set. She's not alone in the back row for Penn either. Emma White is second in the Ivy League behind Shepherd in the category at 4.61 per set, and Kristen Etterbeek is 10th in the Ancient Eight at 3.76.
Another trend going in Penn's favor right now involves its freshmen. Thanks to Ronnie Bither at the beginning of the year, and Alex Caldwell more recently, the Red and Blue have won four out of five Ivy League Rookie of the Week awards to start off 2012. This week's award was won by Caldwell after she submitted a weekend with 14 kills, 37 assists and 26 digs over eight sets. The native of San Jose, Calif. hit .297 in the two matches and also came up with one solo block and five block assists.
Friday night's match at Dartmouth set a new standard for excellence this season from a Penn attacker. Susan Stuecheli supplied the Quakers with a match-high 13 kills against one error on 17 attack attempts in the match. To make her numbers more impressive, she connected for kills on each of her final 12 attacks of the match, not missing on any in the second or third sets of the 3-0 win. With a hitting percentage of .706, it was the best offensive night for a Penn player since Sept. 16, 2011, when Stuecheli went off for 16 kills with one error on 21 attempts for a .714 clip in a 3-0 win over Rhode Island.
With both of these matches being played in the friendly confines of The Palestra, live stats and streaming video will be available on PennAthletics.com for each. Click here to keep up with the latest stats in real-time, and here to subscribe or watch the Penn Sports Network, which will have HD-quality video of the Quakers facing the Big Red and the Lions.