By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming in at 23-2 overall with just one conference loss this season, the Nittany Lion women's volleyball team sits atop the Big Ten leaderboard with six regular season matches left to play.
In the Big Ten, the Lions lead all other teams in three specific categories. They are first in kills per set averaging 14.69, blocks per set with 2.93 and also rank as the top team to limit their opponents' hitting percentage to just .142, collectively.
All in all, the student-athletes that represent the Penn State program have been putting in the hours and putting up the numbers they need to be successful in the conference. The Lions are looking to continue that trend this week as they host Illinois on Thursday at 8 p.m. and Northwestern on Saturday at 8 p.m.
But part of the same successful program that may not always be in the forefront of a practice or a match or a statistics report are the people that sit on the sidelines in the chairs match in and match out.
Head coach Russ Rose is in his 34th year with the Nittany Lion program and said that whether his team has one mid-week match or a weekend full of matches, preparation is always key.
"Illinois is a good team," said Rose. "But I think every match is a tough match."
This season Rose said that he has been placing more focus on his team's play rather the opponents' in preparation for a match. But after a tough first half of the conference season where his team played the majority of its volleyball on the road, Rose said that he's happy to be competing at home this weekend.
"We have to take advantage of these two weeks at home after being away for what seems like five or six weeks," said Rose. "I think that's really important especially around here."
Rose is joined by assistant coaches Kaleena Davidson and Steve Aird in leading the Lions. Aird is in his first year with the Nittany Lion program and said it's important that the team understands how to get better every day.
"I think they understand the gameplan," said Aird. "Coach [Rose] works really hard at developing a gameplan that's going to be something that the kids understand going into matches. So the feedback we're getting from them is, 'Hey, we know what we're supposed to be doing.'"
The first time the Lions and the Illini met this season, Illinois pushed the match into a fifth set behind a strong offensive performance and tough blocking at the net. Penn State went on to win the match, 3-2, but not without a fight.
On Thursday, Aird said that it's especially crucial for his team to use what they've learned in the practice gym and project it onto the court.
"The key is just execution," said Aird. "The kids have watched lots of film. I think they're a lot more mature about their games and a little bit more prepared than they have been in the past and I think that's a good thing."