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Lions Return to Rec Hall, Welcome Gophers and Badgers

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By Kelsey Detweiler, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After two weeks on the road that ended in a tough loss to then fourth-ranked Nebraska, the Nittany Lions are finally back in their home gym. And man, are they relieved.

8089254.jpeg"I just love this gym and I am always so happy to come back," said junior outside hitter Deja McClendon before a practice this week. "Now it's time to go to work."

McClendon and her Lions will open up the weekend against Minnesota on Friday at 8 p.m. in Rec Hall. The team will have a day's rest and then host the Badgers of Wisconsin on Sunday at 2 p.m.

No. 3 Penn State has played 12 conference matches already this season, and with just eight Big Ten matches left in the regular season the team is looking to finish strong. The Lions hold an 11-1 record in the conference, dropping their only match to the Cornhuskers in five sets last weekend.

McClendon said that matches like the one against Nebraska aren't always the most fun to deal with immediately after, but eventually serve as motivators for her team.

Games like that where we let up and we lose, that kind of stuff really fires us up and tells us to get in the gym, start practicing, it's not over 'til it's over," said McClendon. "It doesn't matter if you've swept them once or beat them once, it's a new game."

Because the squad is more than halfway through its conference schedule, the rest of the matches that the Nittany Lions play will be against teams that they've already faced at least once this season. McClendon said that there are both advantages and disadvantages of playing a team that they've seen before.

"The second time a lot of it has to do with how your team has adjusted and I think that since [the other team] kind of knows some of our freshmen better this time around it's going to be a little bit easier for them to adjust. But it's the same with us - we've seen these serves a couple of times around so we have time to get ready for them too."

Penn State heads into the weekend at 21-2 overall and has not fallen out of the top five ranked teams since the season began in August. The team has cruised offensively for the majority of their match-ups, out-hitting their opponents by a percentage of .302 to .136 and taking 15 of their victories in just three sets.

McClendon said that at this time in the season players have a tendency to slowly break down both mentally and physically, but said that she has yet to see that in any of her teammates.

"I think as a team we've come together and we're a lot tighter," said McClendon. "[Micha Hancock]'s getting a lot better. I think she's adjusting and our middles are connecting a lot better with her right now. We've learned a lot."

Sophomore setter Hancock echoed her elder teammate's thoughts and said that at this time of the year, the Lions know what they want to do - they just have to go do it.

"This is when it really matters," said Hancock. "The last games are what determine who wins the Big Ten, who gets the good seeding and everything for the tournament so this is where we really need to focus."

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