UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Top-ranked Penn State women's volleyball closes out its regular season campaign on the road this weekend, headed to No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 8 Minnesota.
On a 17-match winning streak with a share of the Big Ten title on the line, the Nittany Lions aren't focusing on any added circumstances this week, instead relying on preparation ahead of the final two matches before Sunday's NCAA Tournament selection show.
"I think we really do a good job preparing for every game like it's a big match," Lee said. "There's not really a time when we're saying this one match has precedent over the other. It's always, we need to focus on what we need to do on this side of the net, on our side of the net and we need to focus on how we can defend against the opposition. I don't think there has been a time when we're putting more pressure on ourselves because we've got to play so and so, versus a different team."
Penn State has plenty of power on its side of the net, having utilized the one match at a time mentality to not only scale the polls, but also the NCAA national standings, stifling opponents along the way.
On the year, Penn State's limiting its opponents to .165 hitting, which ranks second in the Big Ten. Penn State has also held its last five consecutive opponents to less than .100 hitting on the year, keeping Rutgers at a Big Ten season-low -.082 clip in the most recent road win last Saturday. Blocking-wise, Penn State's averaging 2.96 blocker per set, which ranks 12th nationally and leads the conference.
Offensively, the Nittany Lions are hitting at a national-best .355 clip, helped out by senior Haleigh Washington, who leads the nation with a .517 hitting percentage on the year. Although Penn State has utilized a fairly balanced attack in the final stretch of the conference slate, both Lee and Washington have record at least 10 kills in 14 of 18 Big Ten matches.
Always humble and hungry for more though, Penn State isn't letting its winning streak or even its 10-0 mark in road matches this year set the tone for the weekend, instead opting to focus on constant improvement.
"Especially going into Wisconsin and Minnesota, they're very good blocking and defending teams and I think that's something we work on a lot in practice, playing a lot of 6-on-6 and making sure we are grinding it out, making sure we're tenacious in our efforts and trying to get the job done," Lee said.
Both the Badgers and the Gophers are just behind the Nittany Lions in the statistical standings. Wisconsin is outhitting its opponents .300 to .170, with a hitting percentage that's ranked third in the conference and ninth nationally. The Badgers are also averaging 2.67 blocks per set, led by 6-foot-8-inch freshman middle Dana Rettke, who's averaging 1.43 blocks per frame on the year, also hitting .445, which is slotted second in the conference to Washington and fourth nationally.
Penn State won its earlier meeting against Wisconsin this year, taking down the Badgers in four sets at home in late-October - which also happened to mark the 39th consecutive season Penn State head coach Russ Rose has led the Nittany Lions to a 20-win season.
The Gophers are hitting .286 in 2017, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten, paced by first team AVCA All-American setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, who's averaging 12.16 assists per set, good for first in the league and second nationally.
Much like Penn State, both teams are also among the national leaders in average match attendance, mean the Nittany Lions will have to contend with some hostile road environments, especially meeting Minnesota on senior night.
Penn State hasn't defeated either team on the road since 2014, the same year the Nittany Lions captured their seventh NCAA Tournament title in program history. With several members on the roster for both wins in 2014, including Lee, her message to the younger members of the team this year, is just to breath.
"Just know that your teammates have your back no matter what, there's not a time where we won't look you dead in the eye and say, hey, we got you or hey, you got this and I think that's something really special about this team, that we all trust each other so much. We really do take to heart the fact that we have each other's back and if someone's killing it, we're going to keep pushing them, keep giving them the ball and then if someone's not, we're going to say, we got you, what do you need from us."
With packed crowds hardly surprising across many Big Ten road venues, the Nittany Lions will only utilize the experience headed into the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
"It's a big crowd in either arena and I think that it's a really good challenge for us because going into the tournament, there's going to be a lot of people cheering us on or cheering against us and I think that's something we have to look forward to," Lee said.
The Thanksgiving break doesn't impact the Nittany Lion practice schedule too much, but per tradition, practice is still on schedule with a team meal to follow.
"This Thanksgiving, we'll go to the Nittany Lion Inn, we actually do it every year and it's really fun," Lee said. "We have practice beforehand and then we all get really cute and dressed up in the locker room and then we get to go have really good food at the Nittany Lion Inn and just kind of spend time with each other and kind of really realize how grateful we are and thankful we are to be here and be with our teammates on Thanksgiving."
Penn State will await its seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, which is unveiled Sunday, Nov. 26. The show will air live on ESPNU at 9 p.m. ET.