Nittany Lions Begin
Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
PARK, Pa. - Penn State women's volleyball's three most important weeks of the
season are upon them, as the team begins its six-game quest to bring the
program what would be an NCAA-best eighth national championship.
the bracket was released Sunday, the Nittany Lions found themselves at No. 1
overall for the first time since 2012, meaning they have the potential to host
all the way through the first four rounds of the tournament.
at home has its benefits," head coach Russ Rose said. "Everyone's familiar with
the surroundings and there's a certain element with the crowd."
marks the the 28th consecutive time Penn State has hosted at least
the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament as the Nittany Lions are one of
only two teams in the country to have participated in every NCAA DI Women's
announcement of the bracket came on the heels of the Penn State's 17th
Big Ten title following wins on the road against top 15 teams Minnesota and
Wisconsin last weekend. Penn State finished the season at 17-1 in conference
play, with the lone loss coming in the conference opener against Nebraska, now
the tournament's No. 5 overall seed.
was the first conference title in four years for the Nittany Lions, something
that didn't go unnoticed by Rose and his staff.
liked to remind us that we hadn't won a Big Ten championship as a class, so it
was nice to get that weight off our shoulders," senior middle blocker Haleigh
has credited the Big Ten on being a challenging conference all season,
something he feels has tremendously helped his team prepare for what's ahead in
the NCAA Tournament.
an advantage that Big Ten teams have across the board. They were all exposed to
the same demands," Rose said. "As I said at the beginning of the season, I
think there were six or seven teams that could compete for a national
Big Ten sent eight teams in total to the NCAA Tournament, with No. 7 overall
Minnesota joining Nebraska and Penn State as the conference's seeded teams.
their attention to the bracket itself, the Nittany Lions find some familiar
competition in the first round with Howard, a team they beat in the NCAA
Tournament two years ago as well as in a nonconference outing last year.
love the way Howard plays. They're very enthusiastic, athletic and quick," Rose
said. "They're not afraid of playing good teams and competing and they're not
just here for a photo op."
Penn State beat Howard, the Nittany Lions will face the winner of
VCU/Pittsburgh in the second round. The Pennsylvania rivals met just last year
in the exact same round, with the Nittany Lions pulling out a 3-1 victory.
only did we play Pitt in the tournament last year, we've played them in the
spring for a number of years. That team won a power five conference so they
have our attention," Rose said.
ACC champions will have their hands full with VCU in the first round, a team
that won 30 games this year.
Penn State would be favored in a potential matchup against either one of those
teams, the Nittany Lions stressed only the mindset of focusing on the task at
hand, something they have harped on all season.
goal is to play one match at a time, not to look forward and predict who we are
going to play. I've never been that way," Rose said. "All of the teams in the
NCAA Tournament have probably won six in a row. Looking at that, there's teams
that can get hot and win games. Can they win six games and compete for a
national championship? That's to be determined."
goal all season has been a national championship, and this year's team differs
from the last because of veteran leadership. Five of Penn State's eight seniors
were on the 2014 team that took home the title, but part of the new challenge
is getting the younger Nittany Lions on the same page.
lucky because we have a very mature squad as is," Washington said. "We have a
lot of seniors and we'll make sure to keep an eye on the younger players. We'll
meet at the net after practice and just check in on the little things like
sleeping, drinking water, going to the trainers."
of the seniors have obviously been there, and winning a national championship
in year one has trained them into focusing on little else outside of success.
a national championship was definitely in the backs of our minds and something
we were always looking toward," senior outside hitter Simone Lee said. "Our
last two years didn't play out the way we wanted to and it puts a fire in our
belly. Coming off that accomplishment our freshman year, it's something we
strive for and we know what it feels like. We all know that every day in
practice we have to give that extra one percent to get back there."
State has enjoyed great success as a program throughout its history under Rose
and for the seniors, it's time to add another piece to their legacy.
always want to leave a program better than you found it, which is tough when
you're coming in freshman year after they won a national championship and you
win it again," Washington said. "It's hard to bring a program that is already
sky-high higher than that, but if a Big Ten championship and a national
championship is something we can do, obviously we're going to leave a really
match against Howard begins at 7:30 p.m., soon after the conclusion of the
VCU/Pittsburgh game at 5 p.m. The two winners will face off at 7 p.m. Saturday
the Nittany Lions win, they will host and play in the regional rounds December
8 and 9 r back at Rec Hall. The other three seeded teams in Penn State's
quarter of the bracket who could potentially travel to University Park if the
seeds hold, include No. 8 Washington, No. 9 Creighton and No. 16 Wichita State.
Thelen Bringing Versatility
By Will Desautelle,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
PARK, Pa. - On Friday night in Rec Hall, Heidi Thelen will be one of eight
seniors for Penn State to take the court for the first round of the NCAA
Tournament and begin their quest to win an eighth national title under head
coach Russ Rose.
Nittany Lions will enter the court to warm up with the same pregame ritual they've
done all year, as the team will slowly rock Thelen back and forth on the center
line during the final seconds of their wait to get on the court for hitting
untitled ritual has been a long pre-warm-up tradition in Penn State women's
volleyball and the torch was passed onto Thelen when she arrived to Happy
Valley four years ago.
I have no idea where that idea came from, but ever since I've been a freshman,
I've been doing that," Thelen said. "I was the new incoming freshman and they
chose me for whatever reason and we've been doing it every game ever since."
for Penn State had always been a lifelong dream for the Edgewood, Kentucky,
native, as she grew up watching the Nittany Lions on TV over the years, hoping
to one day help continue Penn State's tradition as one of the premier women's
volleyball programs in the country.
been going to the camps ever since I was a freshman in high school, and I got
to know all of the players and recruits," Thelen said. "You really just see how
hard people work and how good you can become. I think the coaches do a great
job of pushing you to your limits."
was recruited to Penn State as a middle blocker, but the Nittany Lions were in
need of a threat on the right side last season, prompting Rose to move her to a
position that she had no experience playing.
challenging transition, Thelen's humility and relentless training at the
position paid off this year, as she finished her final regular season second on
the team in blocks and fourth on the team in kills. She was also named an
All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honoree earlier in the week.
not really about yourself, it's about what the team needs," Thelen said. "A lot
of aspects of the game are different, but the coaches taught me very well, and
I actually like [right side] a lot now."
transition has not only strengthened Thelen's volleyball IQ and transformed her
into a more versatile player, but it has also made Penn State as a team much
more difficult to plan for.
points out that having her on the right side allows them to run several
combination plays with middle blockers Haleigh Washington and Tori Gorrell,
making them unpredictable offensively. Having this threat has also opened
things up for their two senior outside hitters in Simone Lee and Ali Frantti.
plethora of experience and veteran leadership on this year's team, many of Penn
State's key contributors have grown very comfortable playing together over the
last few years.
been with each other so long and know what we're capable of, so I think it's a
good way to be able to trust each other, stay together, and show the younger
players what we can do and how much we're capable of," Thelen said.
abundance of senior leadership particularly came in handy, during what was
arguably Penn State's most important moment during the regular season. On the
first match of Big Ten play, Nebraska swept Penn State at Rec Hall.
Nittany Lions, who were undefeated before the loss, would not lose another game
in the regular season, tallying 19 consecutive victories en route to a share of
the Big Ten title.
knew we work way too hard for us to lose that way," Thelen said. "After that
loss we all got together, and it motivated us to keep working harder ever
valuable as this senior class has been to Rose, there's still the postseason
left for the group to make a final lasting addition to their legacy.
goal has always been to win a national championship and we all know that this
is the last time we all will ever play together," Thelen said. "We want to end
this season on a high note and know that what we've accomplished these four
years is pretty amazing."
State on paper has as good of a chance as anyone to take home the crown, but
Thelen says it will take an entire team effort and plenty of mental toughness
for them to do so.
our key players to step up, and others who are not technically considered as
key players," Thelen said. "We are a versatile team, so just believing that we
can do it and knowing how bad we want it will be key for us."
and this senior class has achieved a lot, but they can cement their legacy into
Penn State women's volleyball history with another championship run in the NCAA
are terrific people," Rose said. "The goal is always to leave the program at a
better place. All of them are great young people, they're all great students
and great representatives of their families and Penn State."
State will need six more wins to bring the national title back to Happy Valley.
Thelen will be one of the key pieces that could take them there.