If only records told the whole story about an opponent.
If so, the women’s volleyball team would have to assume that Princeton, with only one loss on the year, would provide a much tougher test than Penn, which boasts a sub-.500 record. But looks can be deceiving, and closer inspection shows both teams may be equally challenging for the Bulldogs this weekend.
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Head coach Erin Appleman said that both teams will provide very different looks and the team will be watching plenty of video to prepare for both. She said that she stresses to her team the importance of looking just one game out, so the Elis have focused almost entirely on Penn during practice this week.
Penn comes into New Haven on Friday night with a 7-9 record, including a 2-3 mark in the Ivy League. But like the Elis, the Quakers have filled their schedule with strong opponents, including Cal State Fullerton, San Diego State, North Florida and Villanova. Penn must not be overlooked this weekend, even as a strong Princeton team looms the following day.
“Our record is fantastic, but every team we play is equal,” outside hitter Kali Nelson ’08 said. “Each game means a win or loss whether it’s against the best team or the worst team.”
Though the Quakers graduated All-Ivy outside hitter Cara Thomason last year, the team returns honorable mention All-Ivy setter Linda Zhang along with a strong contingent of other players. Defensively, libero Liz Hurst leads the team with 225 digs on the season. Outside hitter Laura Black provides strong offensive and defensive play, compiling 144 kills and 141 digs thus far on the year.
“[Penn] runs a very sophisticated offense,” Appleman said. “They are a big, strong team and a very good blocking team.”
In contrast, Appleman said, the offense Princeton executes is much simpler, though still efficient and effective.
The Tigers, sitting in second place behind the Bulldogs in the conference, have suffered only one loss this season at the hands of Dartmouth, 3-0, in Hanover, N.H. Princeton’s strong record is indicative of both solid play and a softer schedule. The Tigers have not faced the type of talent that either Penn or Yale have come up against in pre-conference matches. Yale, at 11-4 overall, has seen the likes of Cal, Pacific, Ohio and UConn this year, all notoriously strong programs.
Yale is prepared for a balanced Tiger attack. Outside hitter Parker Henritze and middle blocker Lindsay Ensign lead an offense that has improved greatly since last season. The two lead the team with 235 and 236 kills respectively. Henritze also has 190 digs and 18 blocks on the year, emblematic of a similarly strong Princeton defense.
The Elis, with a 6-0 record in conference play, should still be considered the favorites in both contests this weekend, and so far they seem to be doing everything right in the Ivy League.
Setter Ally Mendenhall ’09 talked last week about the impact of the team’s successful road trip to Harvard and Dartmouth, citing how much the team was able to learn about itself and things it needs to work on. Appleman said her team is continuing to develop its skills as it implements game plans for the upcoming matches.
The two matches this weekend represent the last time the women will see new Ivy League opponents on the schedule — after these matches, they will have faced everyone in the Ancient Eight at least once.
Penn split their conference home games last weekend, losing 3-0 to Cornell, but defeating Columbia, 3-0. Princeton defeated Cornell, 3-1, and Columbia, 3-1, last weekend.
The Elis look to continue their Ivy League surge Friday night at 7 p.m. against the Quakers and on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. against the Tigers in the John J. Lee Amphitheater.