By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There comes a time when excellence becomes the norm for a program, when winning is no longer a cause for celebration, but an expectation.
Every so often, performances like the Nittany Lions put on against Michigan Saturday night cause the viewer to take a step back and truly appreciate how talented this Penn State team has become.
Speaking of storied, Penn State's senior class was on the floor when it hoisted a seventh NCAA national championship trophy in 2014. Tonight proved why this group of Nittany Lions has all the right tools to make another deep run in the postseason.
With a straight set win and the outcome never really in doubt, Penn State's seniors put on a show for the nearly 5,000 fans in attendance at Rec Hall, the largest home crowd of the season.
All-American seniors Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington led the way for the Nittany Lions all night, combining for 27 kills on 49 attempts. Adding to the complete win, the Nittany Lions limited the Wolverines to only 31 kills as a team.
Washington hit at a blistering .571 clip for the match, turning in an error-free 12-kill performance.
"We're accustomed to having her hit for pretty big numbers," head coach Russ Rose said. "I thought she had a couple of really good swings and a couple of nice block moves."
Washington, fresh off her record-tying eighth Big Ten Player of the Week honor last week, is now only 14 kills away from the 1,000 career milestone.
"Approaching her 1,000th kill is really exciting and it's something we all want to share," Lee said. "It's very much so a team effort, and it's something we are all very proud of her for."
Senior leadership has set the tone all year for this team, with Lee and Ali Frantti (both already eclipsing 1,000 kills this year), turning in dominant performances on a nightly basis.
Experience becomes an increasingly valuable asset the longer a season progresses, something this senior class and Rose understand more than anything now that they have significant experience in everything from the grind of the Big Ten schedule to success in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's hard to win in the Big Ten and it's hard to win in the NCAA Tournament," Rose said. "In my opinion as a coach, it's hard to get people to understand the sacrifice you have to make to give yourself a chance to be successful. There's no guarantee that working hard is going to do it and there are a lot of other intangibles, but a couple of the seniors have made great commitments."
Sometimes lost in all the accomplishments of the big hitters up front is the defense and passing, which helped Penn State limit Michigan to only .215 hitting for the match. Sophomore libero Kendall White led both teams with 13 digs, while Frantti added 11.
Senior Abby Detering and redshirt junior Bryanna Weiskircher both had 20-plus assists, on a night where all aspects of the match were clicking for the Nittany Lions.
"I thought it was a good passing match for us and I thought they played very good defense in the middle back area," Rose said. "Kendall played a great match defensively. We hit for a good number, and I thought it was a pretty nice effort tonight by the ladies."
The strength of the Penn State defense will be tested in the coming weeks, as the Nittany Lions play eight of their last 12 matches on the road, including four of the next five."It's altogether a different animal anytime you travel," Rose said.