No. 4 Lions Roll Over Non-Conference Competition

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By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Rec Hall played host to six matches, 21 sets and more than 7,000 volleyball fans during this past weekend's Penn State Classic.

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Three of those matches and nine of those sets belong to the Nittany Lions as the fourth-ranked squad went undefeated in their last weekend of non-conference play.

Penn State swept all three of its opponents in the weekend, including Portland on Friday night, Duquesne on Saturday morning and Eastern Illinois on Saturday night. The Lions' offense tallied a .440 hitting percentage for the tournament thanks to a strong passing game and a few hot hands.

Junior middle hitter Katie Slay attacked with confidence in all three matches and racked up a .720 attack average of her own. But Slay said that the most impressive player in blue in white all weekend was a teammate who didn't do a lot of attacking.

"I think Micha [Hancock] was just doing a really good job of setting the ball high," said Slay. "We knew we had shorter blockers so we could get ourselves in a good position to take good swings."

Hancock stayed in system with her hitters throughout the weekend and enabled the offense to be spread between several athletes.

"It was nice to see Megan [Courtney] and Deja [McClendon] and Maddie [Martin] and Ariel [Scott] and myself at the net so much," said Slay. "It's encouraging to me and helpful to Micha to have a lot of options and I think it was good to see that from match to match."

But after two matches in the same day on Saturday, Penn State head coach Russ Rose said that he still sees a few issues on his team's side of the floor.

"I would say we shouldn't be tired," said Rose. "I think serving is bad, I think communication is bad - I think all of those things are big problems."

At the end of their three matches the Lions garnered 34 service errors. Redshirt middle hitter Erica Denney said that the numbers speak for themselves, and that sometimes flaws are a good thing.

"Our biggest focuses, I think one is obviously serving," said Denney. "That's kind of an individual thing and we really need to focus on that so make each other better. We need to be confident behind the service line and I think just work into a rhythm. If we could just really get a flow going it would really help us out."

And the Nittany Lions are hoping to get a flow going sooner than later as they open up the Big Ten season with their first conference match on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall.

Rose said that the start of conference play not only changes the look of his team's schedule on a weekly basis, but also adds a few extra expectations to the formula.

"It changes things," said Rose. "You train in the preseason to be strong and healthy and ready to go and that's part of the equation, being strong physically, but you've got to be tough mentally."

Penn State will have Monday off to take a rest, and then practice Tuesday and Wednesday before facing No. 1 Nebraska for the midweek match-up.

Slay said that ultimately, the start of conference play means that she and her teammates have one extra reason to compete for.

"You take every opponent seriously and you respect every opponent but once you get into Big Ten season it's go-time," said Slay. "Every game counts toward the Big Ten championship and that's definitely our goal so we have to play hard every night."

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