PHILADELPHIA - The Penn volleyball team (13-10, 8-4 Ivy) wraps up the 2012 season on the road this weekend, looking to hold off hard-charging Columbia (12-9, 7-5 Ivy) in the league standings when they face the Lions on Friday night at 7 p.m. in New York City. On Saturday, the Quakers will face a Cornell team (7-16, 3-9 Ivy) celebrating its Senior Night. That match will get started at 5 p.m from Ithaca, N.Y.
Last Time Out
Penn's three-match winning streak came to a halt last Friday when Ivy League leaders Yale outlasted the Red and Blue over four hard-fought sets by a score of 25-23, 19-25, 25-17, 25-17. The Bulldogs would go on to clinch the Ivy League title the next night in a sweep of Princeton. Yale, the top hitting team in the Ancient Eight, was held 70 points lower than its season average but held on after Penn committed a combined 18 errors in the third and fourth sets. Alex Caldwell notched her fifth triple-double of the season with 13 kills, 16 assists and 14 digs while Dani Shepherd led both teams with 35 digs.
The Quakers rebounded in a big way on Saturday, knocking off the Brown Bears in four sets on Senior Night. After struggling out of the gate and losing the first set by a score of 25-21, Penn launched one of its best offensive displays of the season while staying strong on defense. The result was a 46-20 advantage in kills over the final three sets as the Quakers blew Brown off the court, winning the final three sets 25-16, 25-12, 25-12. Kristen Etterbeek set Penn's season-high for individual kills in a match with 20. Senior Lauren Martin added 10 kills while fellow Class of 2013 members Lauren Davis, Tori Manix and Amanda Pacheco combined for another 10.
A Look Back
A pair of weekend sweeps over the Big Red and Lions were the catalyst that has propelled Penn to seven wins in its last nine outings since the beginning of October. Despite the 3-0 win over Cornell on Oct. 5, the match was anything but easy. After a 25-21 win against the Big Red in the first set to go up 1-0, things occasionally got ugly for Penn. Down 6-1 almost immediately in the second set, the Quakers fought back to take a 24-20 lead, only to see it disintegrate as Cornell scored five unanswered to give itself a set point and a chance to tie the match. If not for three late kills from Emma White and Etterbeek, the match may have looked much different. The third set was another back and forth affair, which the Quakers were ultimately able to pull off, 25-23, despite a hitting percentage of just .019 in the set.
If Penn had played at the same level the next night against Columbia, it could have faced a weekend split rather than a 2-0 mark. Fortunately, the Quakers came out with one of their most complete performances of the season in a 25-18, 25-21, 25-22 win. Etterbeek and White combined for 27 kills and Ronnie Bither had her highest assist total of the Ivy League season with 38 as the Quakers romped over the Lions. Unlike the night before when Cornell was repeatedly able to work its way back into sets, Penn was nearly unstoppable against Columbia once they had established a lead. With 51 digs in just six sets, Shepherd was named Ivy League Player of the Week for the first time in her career a few days later.
Scouting the Lions
On the road for the last five matches entering the weekend, Columbia has nevertheless managed to win four times in that span, with the only loss coming in a grinding four-setter at Yale. The Lions come in as the top blocking team in the Ivy League with an average of 2.53 per set and are led by Heather Braunagel who ranks second behind only Penn's Susan Stuecheli individually in the category with 1.17 per set. She also sits third in the Ivies in hitting percentage (.350), leading a trio of Lions who rank among the top 10 in that stat. Overall, the offense is led by Megan Gaughn, who averages 2.90 kills per set. Though Columbia employed as many as three setters at certain points this season, they've gone with Colleen Brennan almost exclusively as of late. Brennan is now up to fourth in the Ivy League in assists per set (7.57) and had 57 in a four-set win over Harvard last weekend. Charlee Dyroff is one of five players averaging over two digs per set and leads the team at 3.57.
Scouting the Big Red
Perhaps the biggest weapon in Cornell's arsenal is its serving ability. The Big Red boast four of the top five in the Ivy League in aces per set, led by Kelly Marble who leads the way at 0.38 per set. Marble doubles as the team's top attacker, averaging 2.99 kills per set. Rachel D'Epagnier is third on the team with 2.13 kills but ranks fifth in the league with a .340 hitting percentage and is third in the Ivies at 1.12 blocks per set. Lucy Zheng will see some time at setter, but the duties will be mainly in the hands of Kelly Reinke, who is second in the Ancient Eight with 9.08 assists. Defensively, the Big Red rank last in the league in digs per set, coming exactly 750 digs short of Penn while playing one more set than the Quakers on the season.
Penn has been on track to set numerous team and individual records this season from the very beginning. With the season reaching its conclusion, here's how the 2012 Quakers might go into the books:
- Since the advent of rally scoring in 2001, the team digs record in a season belongs to the 2009 Penn team that went 23-6 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In its 29 matches, that team had 1,981 digs. This year's team is only 74 digs shy of setting a new mark and will do so with only 25 matches played.
- One of the main reasons behind the record-setting pace of this defense is national digs leader Dani Shepherd. As of right now, Shepherd's 565 digs on the season put her fourth on the all-time single season list. Another 15 will surpass the 579 she had last season which ranked second in school history. If she can rack up at least 43 in the two matches this weekend, she will break Madison Wojciechowski's single-season mark of 607 set during the 2009 campaign.
- Shepherd also moved up to fifth place in career digs in program history over the weekend and now has 1,298 digs in her time wearing the Red and Blue. She'll likely end her junior season in third place as she needs just 16 more to move ahead of Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan (1,306) and Melissa Ingalls (1,313).
- Lauren Martin has 980 kills in her Penn career and needs 14 more to pass Cara Thomason (993) for sixth place. Only five players in program history have reached 1,000 kills: Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan (1,298), Julia Swanson (1,249), Melissa Ingalls (1,129), Kari Sommerstad (1,117) and Laura Black (1,011).
- Both of Penn's main middle blockers, senior Amanda Pacheco and junior Susan Stuecheli, check in on the career block assists list. Pacheco is eighth in Penn history with 195. She needs six more to pass Monika Tomkus (200). In three full seasons, Stuecheli has proved to be one of the top blockers ever to suit up for the Quakers. She has already recorded 235 block assists, which puts her fifth. She could pass Sherrie Clarey (245) for fourth place this weekend and will continue to rise up the charts in her senior season.
Friday night's match at Columbia will be available to watch on PennAthletics.com with a Penn Sports Network subscription. Live stats on Friday can be found here. Viewing Saturday's match at Cornell requires a one-day pass to their video content and costs $7.50. Live stats will also be available on the Cornell website by following this link.