This week the Lions (10-5, 4-1 Ivy) returned home to Levien Gymnasium in impressive fashion, dominating Princeton on Friday before battling out a tough victory in five sets against Penn on Saturday.
The Princeton Tigers (11-6, 4-1 Ivy) were previously undefeated, riding high on a three-game winning streak after defeating Harvard and Dartmouth last weekend and Penn a week prior to the pair of wins. This past weekend was their first time out of New Jersey since mid-September, and the Tigers certainly showed it in their play. Despite keeping the score close, particularly at the beginning of the first set, the Tigers failed to score 20 points in any set as the Lions swept them in three by scores of 25-17, 25-15, and 25-19.
“We were on a high high,” Coach Jon Wilson said. “We were kind of firing on all cylinders. It was our first time home, our first Ivy League home match, we were glad to be off the road, we were hungry to get at Princeton who was in first place and we just were ready. Princeton was a little bit unready.”
Defeating Princeton provided the Light Blue with the win it needed to move above the Tigers in the conference standings. However, the weekend wasn’t over, and a loss against Penn could have easily dropped the team back to third place, combined with a Princeton victory at Cornell.
On Saturday evening the Light Blue faced Penn (6-9, 2-3 Ivy). The Quakers have struggled throughout the season and had only won one of their past five games leading into this weekend.
Despite their dismal record, Penn played the Lions hard. The first set was competitive throughout, and the Quakers were seconds away from potential victory, leading the Lions 24-22. Instead of closing the deal and taking the set, the Quakers committed an attack error, which was followed by a kill by senior Cindy Chen, tying the set. The two teams continued to battle back and forth for dominance before the Lions eventually took the set 29-27.
“You’re playing a team you might think you should beat at home, but man they played really well,” Wilson said. “They had a couple of starters missing, but their reserves played really well, and they just played loose and hard.”
The skill of Penn’s reserves was particularly demonstrated during the second and fourth sets, both of which were Quaker victories. During the second set, with their backs against the wall, the Quakers pulled away early, and even though the Lions were able to tie things up several times, the team found itself playing catch up as Penn eventually opened a 21-15 lead, from which it took the set.
“They were on a little bit of a rise and we were on a little bit of a down and it just made for a struggle, and that’s just part of the season, the key is we figured out how to win it,” Wilson said.
The Lions did win it in this game of back-and-forth momentum swings. Each team responded to the other, the Lions responding to losses in the second and fourth with big wins in the third and most importantly in the fifth.
“We got a little stuck today and had to just fight for everything,” Wilson said. “It’s a testimony to the kids that they can find a way to win against a team that was absolutely on fire against us. That’s what a championship run consists of.”
With the sweep of Princeton and Penn, the Lions are now tied for second place in conference standings with Princeton, trailing Yale, the conference leader.
“Hopefully we can just keep the momentum going and have a great season,” sophomore middle blocker Madeline Rumer said. “Our plan is to win every game but since we’re in second place we feel like we’re in a good position to take the lead in the second half of the season.”
The Lions get back on the road this weekend, returning to New England to face Dartmouth on Friday in Hanover, N.H. before heading south to battle Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. on Saturday evening.