By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Hot hands were swinging all weekend long in Rec Hall as the No. 8 Nittany Lions started their 2011 NCAA tournament appearance off with a strong offensive showing.
Penn State ousted the Liberty Flames on Friday night in Rec Hall by a score
of 3-0 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday,
where they went on to also sweep the Delaware Blue Hens.
The four-time defending national champions showcased each and every member of their roster throughout the weekend, as Penn State head coach Russ Rose said every part of his squad was working well together.
"The good thing is that we got an opportunity to get a number of people in and everybody that was allowed to play tonight got a little chance to play," said Coach Rose after the win over the Blue Hens on Saturday night.
But shining throughout the weekend on top of solid defense, tough serving and a more controlled system was the emergence of several strong hands offensively at the net.
Sophomores Ariel Scott and Deja McClendon were especially pivotal throughout the weekend as Scott put up a total of 28 kills and hit over .450 both nights and McClendon added 16 kills with a .524 average against Delaware on Saturday.
On Friday night, Penn State hit .337 as a team and had five individual athletes swinging .380 or better while Liberty hit just .100 as a team. The next night, the Nittany Lions did one better hitting .426 as a team with four players performing better than .450 at the net.
What's more is that most of the standout performance came from freshmen and inexperienced underclassmen that were making their first real showings in postseason play. Sophomores Maddie Martin and Katie Slay as well as freshmen Aiyana Whitney and Nia Grant combined for 40 of the 93 kills that the Nittany Lions delivered all weekend.
McClendon, who was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season, said that her team's effort as a whole was encouraging to see after an up and down year.
"It makes me so proud," said McClendon. "I feel like people are really stepping up and becoming better and kind of growing up and I feel like that happened for me last year around this time. It makes me really excited for the years to come."
Freshman outside hitter Aiyana Whitney said that she was also happy with the way she performed in her debut appearance in the NCAA Tournament. She attributed much of her success to her fellow freshman teammate and setter Micha Hancock.
"It felt really good to kind of step up and play a larger part on the team," said Whitney. "I think that me and Micha were connecting better than we have in the past and it was good to get into a rhythm with her."
Whitney spoke confidently about her play and the rest of the offensive power on the Penn State roster, especially after the second round sweep of the Blue Hens.
"It definitely does give me more of a mindset of 'I can do this' and I should take more responsibility for what I have to do and playing pretty well tonight, I think that it just gives me confidence going into the next round," said Whitney. "I hope it sets a tone for the rest of my teammates to let them know that I'm here to help out and do what I can do."
The combination of all of the swinging threats will be heavily relied on as the Nittany Lions advance to the next round of the NCAA Tournament. Coach Rose not only acknowledged the talent of his younger hot hands on the court, but also gave a nod to their enthusiasm and charisma away from the competition.
"They're a lot of fun," Coach Rose said of his underclassmen. "Everybody should have a couple (laughter)."