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2016 NCAA Tournament Preview Content Central

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w_volleyball_blog.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the 27th consecutive season, Penn State women's volleyball is set to welcome a trio of teams to the court in Rec Hall for the opening two rounds of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

The No. 16 Nittany Lions (22-9) will square off against Northeastern conference champion LIU Brooklyn (16-14) at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall, with Atlantic 10 conference champion Dayton (30-1) and Pittsburgh (24-8) meeting in the earlier round one matchup at 5 p.m. 

The winner of the Penn State-LIU Brooklyn outing will advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament to play the winner of the Dayton-Pitt match, Saturday, Dec. 3 at 6:30 p.m. 

One of just two teams in the nation to make an appearance in all 36 consecutive NCAA Tournament events, Penn State enters the matchup with a 30-5 all-time record in opening matches of the tournament. The Nittany Lions have not surrendered a single set to a first-round opponent since 1989, with straight set wins to advance to the second round of play in their last 26 consecutive round one victories. 

Earlier this week, four Nittany Lions earned Big Ten postseason honors as juniors Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington were both named unanimous selections to the All-Big Ten team. Redshirt freshman Tori Gorrell and Kendall White also earned All-Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors. 

Lee and Washington are atop the team standings in kills per set and blocks per set, respectively with each of the two juniors among a group of Nittany Lions who already have experience as members of Penn State's 2013-14 back-to-back NCAA championship teams.

Tournament time has finally arrived in Happy Valley, kicking off Friday at Rec Hall. Take a closer look at the Nittany Lions and this year's tournament as they head into postseason play. 

VIDEO: NCAA Tournament Press Conference

INSIDE THE NUMBERS: No. 16 Penn State vs. LIU Brooklyn

LIUBrooklyn.jpgBRACKETS:  Printable Interactive

A CLOSER LOOK: Features & Highlights

Penn State Looking Ahead to First Round of 2016 NCAA Tournament
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since its inception in 1976, the Penn State women's volleyball program has been the standard for hard work and success in collegiate volleyball. In addition to 16 Big Ten Championships, the Nittany Lions have proved themselves to be the top team in the country seven times with NCAA national championships in 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.

The Nittany Lions capped off the 2016 regular season with a 22-9 overall record, 13-6 in Big Ten conference play. After closing out the regular season on a three-match winning streak, Penn State earned the No. 16 seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Penn State is one of the only two programs in the country to have been selected to participate in all 36 NCAA postseason tournaments since it began in 1981. During that time, the Nittany Lions have racked up a 92-28 all-time record, including 12 appearances in the NCAA national finals. 

A Look Into the Tournament
The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences led all leagues with eight teams selected from their conferences to compete in the championship tournament. 

In the 64-team field, where the top-16 teams are seeded, three of the top four teams belong to the Big Ten. For this year's tournament, No. 16 Penn State is joined by seven other Big Ten squads: No. 1 Nebraska, No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 9 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue.

"The Big Ten season was incredibly challenging this year with three teams that were taking turns in being ranked the top team in the country," head coach Russ Rose said. "It was a grind for all the teams and even the teams toward the top. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the Big Ten teams have success because I think the conference was really strong this year." 

Outside of the Big Ten teams, there are three schools that Penn State played during the regular season - No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 North Carolina and Howard. The Nittany Lions fell to Stanford in three-straight sets early in the season in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. In the third match of the season, North Carolina gave Penn State its first loss by defeating the Nittany Lions in a five-set thriller. Moving forward, Penn State got back into the swing of things and defeated Howard in straight sets to win the Penn State Invitational. 

"It's a grind," junior Simone Lee said, looking toward tournament time. "It's hard. It's tough. There Aare going to be upsets, knockouts and teams that you're not expecting to make it further than you thought. It's all about keeping a positive attitude and maintaining a mental focus no matter who you have to play or who is across the net. You're focused on your team and what you can do to make the team better at all times." 

Round One
The quest for an eighth national championship title begins on Friday against Northeastern conference champion LIU Brooklyn (16-14) at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall. Penn State holds a 7-0 all-time record against LIU Brooklyn, meeting for the first time since the 2013 NCAA Tournament where the Nittany Lions claimed a 3-0 win. 

"LIU Brooklyn has a good collection of young players with a couple of international players, and I know that we will have to address the excitement and the nerves of the opponent," coach Rose said.

If the Nittany Lions were to advance to the second round, then the two possible opponents are Dayton and Pittsburgh.

Penn State and Dayton (30-1) could meet for the third straight season in the tournament, with Penn State leading the series, 3-1. Dayton recently captured its league-record 11th Atlantic 10 Championship title after winning 97 percent of their matches this year, the highest in the country.

Pittsburgh (24-8) is making its first appearance in the tournament since 2004 after the Panthers won 10 of their last 11 matches. The Nittany Lions have a 30-17 advantage in the series against Pittsburgh.  

"We're familiar with some of the opponents," coach Rose said. "We scrimmaged with Pittsburgh the last few springs so we're familiar with them and know that they beat two of the teams we lost to this year. We played Dayton the last two years in the NCAA tournament and we played LIU in the past. We're looking forward to the weekend, and we're hoping that we can play at the highest level."

In The Bracket
Coach Rose always stresses the importance of focusing on one match at a time, and that advice is essential for this postseason. It takes six perfect matches to win a national championship, and each match gets tougher with every round.

In the bracket, the No. 16 Penn State women's volleyball team is joined by No. 1 Nebraska, No. 8 Washington and No. 9 Michigan State in the top left quarter. This year is a little different because the regionals are no longer at predetermined sites. The top surviving seed in each quarter of the brackets gets to host the regionals on Dec. 9-10.

No. 1 Nebraska
The Huskers are the defending national champions as well as this year's Big Ten champions after finishing off the regular season with a 27-2 record. Their only two losses this season were to Ohio State and Minnesota, who snapped the Nebraska's 14-match winning streak last week.

Head coach John Cook was named the conference's coach of the year by the coaches and media, his first time earning the honor since the team joined in the Big Ten. Libero Justine Wong-Orantes earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive season.

Penn State dropped both matches against Nebraska this season. Back in November, top-ranked Nebraska visited Rec Hall and the Nittany Lions were able to take the Huskers to five-sets but fell short at home. A mere 12 days later, Penn State headed to Lincoln, Nebraska for a rematch but the Nittany Lions lost in three sets.

Nebraska leads the all-time series, 17-10, and the two programs have combined for eight of the past 10 NCAA titles. 

No. 8 Washington
If Penn State makes it to the quarterfinals, a potential opponent is eight-seeded Washington.

The Pac-12 Champion Huskies finished the regular season at 26-4 and went 16-4 in Pac-12 play to win the conference title for the third time in the past four years. Junior outside hitter Courtney Schwan was named Pac-12 Player of the Year.

No. 9 Michigan State
The Spartans went 3-1 in their last three matches, but had an overall record of 24-8 and 13-7 in Big Ten play. When Michigan State visited Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions swept the team in three sets.

SENIOR FEATURE: Krause Reflects on Penn State Journey
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It has always been in senior Taylor Krause's blood to attend Penn State. Her mom's entire side of the family were Nittany Lions, and she could never imagine herself going to any other school. 

"It was just part of the family process," Krause said. "Pretty much everyone goes here and it's something that is part of the family. We have supported every sport our whole life, so to actually be here and to be on the team has been an unbelievable experience."

Krause started playing volleyball at a young age, but she was a little skeptical and nervous about the sport at first. After attending more practices and playing in more matches, she started to fall in love with the sport. 

The Allentown, Pennsylvania native was a four-year letterwinner and team captain at Parkland High School. She helped guide Parkland to three conference titles, three district titles and one state championship throughout her scholastic career. 

Now a senior caption on the squad, all of this led her to not only be a Nittany Lion, but to also be a member of the Penn State women's volleyball team.

"The program and the dynasty that goes along with the program is why I came to Penn State," Krause said. "Everything that makes up this program and everything that the alums have worked for to make Penn State such a proud university is everything that I want to be a part of, and I am so grateful to be part of it."

As a freshman, Krause made her collegiate debut for Penn State in the season-opener against Syracuse. In her sophomore year, Krause made an appearance in 20 matches, including nine Big Ten matches as well as the NCAA title match against BYU.

"My favorite memory would be winning two national championships with my best friends," Krause said. "It just shows how hard we worked and that working hard does pay off and it comes full circle." 

Krause made the biggest impact in her junior year, playing in 53 sets in 25 matches throughout the season. She posted a career-high 10 digs against Minnesota and helped the team in the NCAA tournament against Howard and Dayton.

"Taylor has really grown as a person and she's become so much more mature and responsible," senior Carley Muller said. "It's nice to be able to know that I can rely on her, whether that be on the court or off the court. On the court, if I touch the ball, I know that Taylor is going to run for the ball and do everything she can to pop it back up, and off the court, I just know that if something goes wrong or if I'm not doing well, then Taylor is going to be there no matter what, and that's always nice to know."

With all her accomplishments, Krause was named one of the captains for the 2016 season. Not only has she been helping the other defensive specialists in the back row, but she's also been getting the freshmen adjusted, like her sister, Kristen Krause.

"There's no words to describe [playing with Taylor]," freshman Kristen Krause said. "It's an incredible experience to be able to share time, not only on campus and go through college with her, but to also play the sport that we love together."

Taylor has been a great mentor for her sister throughout the season.

"She always gives me little things when I'm not doing something right," Kristen Krause said. "She always right there to help me out, and outside the court, we spend time together every single day. We make sure I am on top of my schoolwork and she's making sure that I have a great college experience."

She has also been helping the other freshmen understand Penn State volleyball.

"She's been doing a really nice job in instilling what Penn State volleyball means and all of our mottos and lessons that we go on [to the freshmen]," Muller said. "She's grown up as a Penn Stater and I think it's helpful to have somebody in the program, at the top, that knows what's going on and can be able to help the freshmen know what we do here." 

Though Taylor has been having an excellent volleyball career, having Kristen by her side has only made it better.

"It's been an awesome semester," Taylor Krause said. "It's always nice to have a little piece of home with you wherever you go, and hopefully, playing with her, she realizes how lucky she is to be here and what an honor it is to play for Penn state. I couldn't be more grateful to have her here in my last season."

Majoring in elementary education and minoring in special education, Krause will be graduating in December. 

"I know she's going to be a teacher, and I think she's going to be the best teacher and her future kids are going to be lucky to have her," Muller said.

Throughout her four years at Penn State, her teammates have helped Krause to be the player that she is today. Alongside them, head coach Russ Rose has gotten Krause to grow not only her volleyball IQ but also as a person off the court. There are infinite lessons she has learned but the most valuable thing she is going to take away from her career is to value the time at Penn State. 

"Don't take anything for granted," Krause said. "It goes by so much faster than you think and everyone says that so you don't really realize it until your senior year. So every time you come in the gym or every time you go work out at camp, give it all your got. Make sure you're giving your hardest effort day in and day out." 

Muller Looks Back on Penn State Career

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When senior Carley Muller was in seventh grade, she visited family friends in the Philadelphia-area and had the opportunity to visit Penn State's campus. As soon as she stepped foot onto University Park, she knew that Penn State was her dream school. She loved it so much that the 2,500 miles away from home didn't present any sort of hesitation in her decision.

"In my junior year of high school, I was contacted by coach Rose and I pretty much immediately accepted it as soon as they offered me," Muller said. "It's definitely been life changing and I've become a different person entirely because of it. I think being so far away from my family, I've had to grow up a lot more than I thought I ever would and just do things on my own. Its been a really cool experience to see the person I've become from senior year of high school to my senior year of college."

Muller succeeded in high school, just like she's doing at Penn State. In her senior year of high school, she earned the Bay League Libero of the Year honor and led the team to two first-place finishes at the Pacific Northwestern and SCVA 17 Open tournaments.

At Penn State, Muller made her collegiate debut as a Nittany Lion in the 2013 season opener against Syracuse during her freshman year. Since then, Muller has only continued to grow. In her sophomore year, the Manhattan Beach, California native made 14 appearances on the court including five Big Ten matches and two NCAA Tournament contests. Contributing in the back row, she recorded a career-high performance against Mississippi State last year, leading the team with two aces and five digs.

"Carley has grown as a person and as a volleyball player," senior Taylor Krause said. "She's learned to read the game so well and she offers a lot of good advice to everyone who's on the court and even when she's playing on the court. She knows the game so well and it's beneficial to those around her. She's developed to be such an amazing individual and I'm excited for her future." 

With all these amazing moments in the last four years as a Nittany Lion, including Penn State winning the national championship in 2013 and 2014, it can be hard to find a favorite instant, but there's one that sticks out the most for Muller. 

"There's been a lot of really good moments, but my favorite one is where I turned to give Aiyana Whitney a high five in the national championship match during the second intermission timeout, and I went to give her a high five, but she was already trying to go to the locker room and it was caught on television. Totally my favorite moment," Muller said.

Aside from her work on the court, Muller has been succeeding in the classroom. During her time as a Nittany Lion, she has earned 2014-15 Big Ten Distinguished Scholar accolades as well as consecutive Academic All-Big Ten honors. 

Majoring in public relations and minoring in business, Muller will be graduating from Penn State come December. In February, she will be working at a recruiting and staffing firm in Los Angeles, and she has volleyball to thank for that.

"Volleyball has forced me to come out of my comfort zone and speak to a lot of different people," Muller said. "Penn State volleyball isn't just about volleyball. It's about being with the community and connecting with boosters and everyone here. I think that has been really helpful in changing who I am as a person." 

The support from her best friends have also helped her. Muller has been playing with Krause and Laura Broerman since their first semester together. All three of them hold the same position at defensive specialist, but that doesn't stop them from being the best they can be.

"It's actually not what people think it is. We all try to help each other and I think we're better because of it," Muller said. "We have to leave what happens on the court there and just separate the two, and I think that makes us stronger people - to be able to compete against your best friends is a really special experience and it's not easy, but it's been fun." 

Broerman can see just how valuable it is to be playing alongside best friends.

"Carley is someone who sees the court really well and can easily tell you what you're doing wrong or well, so even if you don't ask her 'What am I doing wrong here,' she has some insight for you, something to help you better your game," Broerman said.

Along with Krause and Broerman, Muller will be recognized on senior night when Penn State takes on Illinois Saturday, Nov. 26 at 8 p.m. in the final regular season match of the year. While she has already put together a great career, there are just two things she would tell her freshman year-self.

"Don't ever take any moment for granted and don't take anyone that you've played with for granted because they are the people you will always remember."

And that's the final goal for Muller this season.

"I want to leave this program knowing that I helped at least one person and changed them as a player or person, knowing that I was able to help them mature," Muller said. "That's been a goal of mine this season, to really help out the freshmen and show them the way. That's what I would like to leave here knowing.

As senior day approaches, catch up with Penn State Muller, Krause and Broerman as they reflect on their time at Penn State and look ahead to the critical Big Ten matches this weekend at Rec Hall.

Frantti Leads Nittany Lions to 20th Win of the Season

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ali Frantti played arguably her best match of the season to help the Nittany Lions to their 20th win of the season, as Penn State topped Purdue in three sets to complete the season sweep of the Boilermakers.

Frantti led all players with 14 kills on 24 error-free swings, doing so in emphatic fashion, with one of the more efficient performances of the season, finishing with a .583 hitting percentage. Frantti was joined by Nittany Lion Simone Lee, who also finished with 14 kills to tie the match-high mark.

The Nittany Lions put down 50 team kills in the victory, marking the most in a three set match so far this season. Penn State also accumulated a .386 team hitting percentage, thanks largely in part to the errorless play of Frantti.

"I thought we passed really well, so we were able to run a three option pass," Frantti said. "Our middles were able to hold the block very well tonight so that gave me some room to take a few good swings."                            

Frantti was errorless on the attack for the first time since the first match of Big Ten play against Rutgers. For the fifth time this season, Frantti led the team in kills, but maybe more importantly, it came in the later portion of the season as Penn State is just two games away from the end of the regular season. Not only was the win convincing, but more importantly for the Nittany Lions, it answered a disappointing showing at Nebraska just a few nights earlier.

"It was huge for us," Frantti said. "It was a great answer and momentum changer heading in to the last part of our regular season and then the postseason." 

Though Frantti led the charge, she was not the only Nittany Lion to help Penn State to its 40th 20-win season in program history.

As mentioned, Lee was also an offensive force for Penn State, but Tori Gorrell had a perfect night too, posting 11 kills with no errors on a match-high .733 hitting efficiency. In terms of a team victory, Penn State put together one of its most balanced performances to date in Big Ten play, a sign that good things could be on the horizon for the Nittany Lions come NCAA Tournament time. 

The Nittany Lions are set to close out their season with two more Midwestern opponents, as they welcome Northwestern and Illinois for a Friday, Saturday series this weekend. The Nittany Lions swept past the Wildcats on the road near the end of September, but will host the Illini in the only meeting of the season on Senior Night Saturday at Rec Hall. 

Thelen Adjusting to New Role

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer    

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Junior Heidi Thelen has been a middle blocker throughout her entire volleyball career, which began in seventh grade.

However, since the beginning of this season, that's no longer the case.

Thelen changed positions and is now a right-side hitter for the Nittany Lions.

"It's a good move for her," head coach Russ Rose said. "There are times where I think we'd be better if we had Heidi in the middle because of her ability to block, but having to put the team together with the roster that we had, I thought that that was the move what could still incorporate her hitting off one foot and two feet, and I think she's done well. Some of the matches that we've played really well are the matches she's played well in."

This season, Thelen has already recorded 148 kills, averaging 1.74 kills per set, with a hitting percentage of .281. She's also notched 66 total blocks for the season, which is third-best for the team. One of her most notable matches this season came when then-No.14 Penn State defeated then-No.1 Minnesota in five sets at home in Rec Hall. During that match, she tied for second-best with 14 kills on .367 hitting.

Most recently, in the five-set thriller against No.1 Nebraska last Friday evening at Rec Hall, Thelen recorded five kills and four blocks. The following match against Iowa, Thelen brought out four strong kills, hitting at a .333 clip, while also recording two blocks.

"I thought she would be a better combination over on the right," coach Rose said. "She's a good block, so I think she's transitioned from a position to another position that's slightly similar very well...she's done a nice job."

Middle blockers are constantly on their toes. They always have to be ready to hit, or build a block and stop the opposing middle hitter. On the other hand, the right side hitter is usually a jack-of-all trades, as they are play in both the front and back row. The skillsets between the two are a bit different, but Thelen has been adjusting well to it.

"[The hardest thing] is probably timing with hitting because for middle blockers, you have to be up in the air quick, so sometimes, I'm leaving too early or before Abby sets the ball, so timing has been the biggest part," Thelen said. "We needed someone on the right side and having two quick hitters, me and Tori, at the same time, we can run slides and run cross-plays. I think I'm a decent blocker, so having the right-side block against the left side hitters, who gets set the most, that's an advantage."

But Thelen isn't going through the transition alone, her teammates are helping her along the way.

"My teammates talk to me a lot," Thelen said. "Abby and I go into the gym early a lot just to work on timing. Kendall [White] is really good about telling me what I should be doing on my block, so I like hearing the players, like if I'm giving too much line or other things."

Thoughout the changes, Thelen has continued to make a big impact for the Nittany Lions. In the matchup with then-No.3 Minnesota, Thelen logged six kills, hitting .333, while recording two blocks and two digs. Against then-No.4 Wisconsin, she had five kills on .267 hitting percentage and three blocks.

"I like [the right side]," Thelen said. "[The transition] has been tough. I've been a middle my entire life and now, timing is different, blocking is different, so I've had to work on it a lot, but I like it," Thelen said.

With only six more matches this season, including a three-game road swing beginning with trips to Maryland and Ohio State this weekend, there is still ample amount of time to continue to learn more skills.

"Heidi has a great attitude, works hard and wants to be good," coach Ross said. "She always says, 'say it to me,' which is what I like, that she always identifies that I should be direct with her, tell her the good and the bad equally and not feel like I have to beat around the bush with her. I think that's good. She keeps learning. We play against these really good teams, she sees areas where she needs improvement, and that's part of the process of development for players as well as teams."

Blocking Puts Penn State Back on Track

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The latest string of adversity this season for the Nittany Lion women's volleyball team had come in the form of four matchups against opponents ranked in the top 20.

Three of those matches were against teams who at one point this season had, or still occupied the number one spot in the national rankings. Despite a setback against the No. 1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday, Penn State snapped its four-game losing streak with a dominant performance against Iowa Saturday afternoon at Rec Hall.

The Nittany Lions seemed determined to quell their losing streak, as they dominated Iowa from start to finish with only minor blemishes along the way. If the first set was any indication, a 25-11 win, the Nittany Lions didn't want Iowa to hang around at all. The tone was set within the first five points, as Penn State charged out to an early 5-0 lead, led by four blocks in the scoring streak. 

"We did a much better job of blocking early," head coach Russ Rose said. "We did a much better job blocking throughout the match." 

The Nittany Lions did block early and often, totaling 14.0 team blocks in the match and seven in the first set alone. Iowa seemingly had no answer for the Penn State defense. Individually, Haleigh Washington was on top of her game as she contributed 10 of the team's 14 blocks, for just her second double-digit blocking performance of her career. Bryanna Weiskircher totaled six blocks to match a career high mark.

"I think that the middles did a good job closing to us and we listened to the scouting report," Heidi Thelen said. "I thought the pin hitters did a good job too and we just blocked well all game." 

The blocking was certainly the focal point of the match Saturday and despite the loss, it was a standout component Friday as well, with Penn State totaling 12.0 team blocks against the top-ranked Cornhuskers. 

Along with the defensive presence at the net, Kendall White had arguably one of her finest weekends at the libero position. The freshman standout totaled 45 digs over the span of the two matches, punctuated by a 32-dig performance against Nebraska. White's 32 digs are the second-most in a five set match in program history during the 25-point rally scoring era and the first time a Nittany Lion has logged a 30-plus dig performance since Alyssa D'Errico did so at Minnesota Nov. 27, 2010. 

White has been a solid presence all season long in the back row, but this weekend she seemed to be more in control and more effective than usual. 

"She always plays hard," Rose said. "I think she has done a very good job for us and she is getting better."

The win against the Hawkeyes will certainly have the potential to serve as a catalyst for Penn State in their final six games of Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions currently sit at 18-7 on the season with a 10-4 record in Big Ten outings. Slotted at fifth in the conference standings, Penn State is a spot behind both Minnesota and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions hope to use the win Saturday to gain momentum heading into the last chunk of the regular season.

"We had a four-match losing streak and Iowa had probably a five match winning streak in the conference," Rose said. "It's good to have a victory and hopefully the players will rest and get their minds right because we have another tough weekend coming up."

Penn State is back in action once again next weekend, as they travel to Maryland and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions and the Terrapins meet at 8 p.m., while first serve from Columbus, Ohio will be at 7 p.m. 

Broerman Finding Success Back on the Court

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Redshirt junior Laura Broerman missed the 2015 season due to an injury. Nevertheless, head coach Russ Ross provided her an alternate way to participate with the team, moving her from the volleyball court to press row to do the team's radio color commentary for every match, home and away, on GoPSUsports.com.

"It's weird because going into the commentary, I was not excited about it at all," Broerman said. "I was kind of moping a little bit from being hurt and not being on the court, but as the season went on, it got a lot more fun."

Now in her senior season, Broerman is finally back where she feels best - on the volleyball court.

"Coming off an injury like that, especially your third one, when the doctor tells you, 'Hey, if this happens again, you're done. Your athletic career is over,' it shocks you and makes you really appreciate every single hour of practice you put in every week. I try not to make many off-plays because you never know when it could be over. It could be over next week if something bad were to happen, so I'm not taking anything for granted."

Though Broerman didn't physically play last season, her volleyball IQ and mental skills improved throughout all the matches. The radio broadcast provided a fresh experience for her to see the game in a new perspective. 

"I was able to see things that I would have never saw [on the court] before," Broerman said. "It's so nice to be on the bench now and when I see those things, I can communicate to people on the court during a timeout, or when I'm on the court, I can communicate to our left front or our center and just kind of see the game from a completely different angle."

The 5-foot-2 defensive specialist has been using this season to make up for what she wasn't able to perform on the court while she was injured. Already, she has been helping the team make key plays this season, especially in recent matches.

Last week against Ohio State and Michigan, Broerman recorded five digs in both outings.

"She really appreciates her role on the team and once you get it taken away from being able to play, you really get to find how much you love the sport and I can see that this year," senior Carley Muller said. "Laura is striving to be the best person she can be for our team and by doing radio last year, she picked up a lot more information about the game and even this year, I can see that she reads much better than she ever has before."

Broerman is one of the nine defensive specialists on the team, but she has a specific focus in strong serving. She has recorded five service aces this season, with a season-high three against Rutgers. 

"She's always confident in her serves," Muller said. "When she comes in, she's not afraid to make a play and she's not afraid to run into people or do something crazy, and that's definitely what we need coming off the bench."

Being a defensive specialist is a difficult position because you always have to be on your toes and ready for the ball. It's even harder when there are numerous talented players competing for limited spots, but Broerman doesn't let that mess with her focus.

"It means a lot [to get called in]," Broerman said. "Whenever you go in, it's a little confidence boost because you know coach Rose has the faith in you to go in there and do well because coach doesn't put people in just to put people in - he puts people in to make a difference, to go out there and make a play that maybe someone wouldn't have made before, so he's not handing out charity. When he puts you in, he wants you to do well."

For all four years, playing alongside Broerman is Muller, a senior defensive specialist, as well as Broerman's best friend. They created a strong connection after being freshmen-year roommates. 

"She's grown on and off the court [since last season]," Muller said. "She's one of the most focused and funniest people I know. She's one of my best friends and it's really nice to be around her and be able to see her find herself through college." 

It may seem strange to be best friends with someone you have to compete against, but it's motivational for both Broerman and Muller. 

"You would think that because there are so many of us competing for these very limited sports, we'd all hate each other, but all my best friends are in the same position as me, and I love them to death," Broerman said. "It's a two-way street and we're honestly out there for the team. We're the backrow kids and I just love being together."

Despite surgeries and injuries, playing Penn State volleyball was a dream she always wanted.

"I was a late recruit in, so it was a really hard decision because I could have gone somewhere and made an impact right away, or I could go to Penn State and be the absolute best that I could be, and that's what I wanted," Broerman said. "I didn't necessarily care if I was going to be on the court or going to be in the libero jersey - I wanted to take my skills to the absolute next level. I wanted to show my parents that all the money in club volleyball, high school volleyball and everything else was worth something. I wanted to prove it to myself and to everyone that had doubted me."

Broerman has shown that it's possible to bounce back from an injury, even during senior year. As the Nittany Lions continue their season, she hopes to continue to serve a tough ball, improve every match and be completely confident in everything she does. But Penn State volleyball is something she will remember for the rest of her life, the highs and the lows. 

"It means a lot to be on the team," Broerman said. "Never in a million years would I have thought I would be wearing a jersey with Penn State on the back. It still gives me the chills. I look around Rec Hall during the National Anthem, and I get the chills and a little sad, but it's awesome."

Haleigh Washington - Excellence in Efficiency

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Across the more than two seasons Haleigh Washington has been on the Penn State women's volleyball team, she has been one of the most efficient middles in the country. At a position that demands efficiency, Washington excels at making the most of the opportunities given. Her stats, a career .453 hitting percentage and multiple national accolades speak for themselves, but Washington's play is so much more than just the numbers.

Washington's freshman year was filled with success. She was a unanimous first team All-Big Ten selection. She garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Year recognition and along with that, she was a vital part of Penn State's national championship season. As a sophomore, Washington finished third in the nation in hitting percentage, was a unanimous All-Big Ten selection and also an AVCA First Team All-American. This season, the third of Washington's incredible career, she is once again in line for numerous accolades and paces the Nittany Lions with a .463 hitting percentage, which is third best in the nation. Her stats speak for themselves, but Washington's play is still so much more than just the numbers.

Washington is regarded as a fan favorite on the team. She often receives the loudest cheers during home matches and can be found giving high fives to the entirety of the Rec Hall pep band after matches. For the amount of attention and praise Washington receives, her ability to stay humble and her passion to continuously improve are possibly the most impressive attributes about her. If you ask Washington, she has been good, but she can be so much better. 

"I think I got a little bit lucky my freshman season," Washington said. "I just went out there and played volleyball and didn't really 'think the game.' My last season and this one also, I feel like I've been able to "think the game" much better and know when to hit what shots. But even with that there are some things that I still want to improve on.

Washington credits her ability to "think the game" to much of the success she has had on the court. In both hitting percentage and blocking, Washington is among the nation's elite. However, if you ask the Penn State middle blocker, she doesn't necessarily consider herself one of the most physically dominant players.

"I think there a good amount of middles who are more athletic and who hit harder than me," Washington said. "I've really learned to take what the block is giving me and use that to my advantage. I don't hit the ball nearly as hard as someone like Simone [Lee] so I have to get kills a different way.

Though Washington may not see herself as a top middle in the nation, nearly everyone else, including Penn State associate head coach Salima Rockwell, see Washington as one of the best at her position.

"I think what makes Haleigh so good is not just how smart she is but also her energy," Rockwell said. "You see it on the court when she takes a big swing and you see it in the huddle and even when she comes in for something like film, she always has a great energy about her."

Washington's energy has translated to great success on the court as she is one of the most efficient players in the nation. She also has transformed herself into one of the premier defenders at the net. Coming into college, Washington said her blocking was a big part of her game she wanted to improve on.

"She admittedly was not great at blocking coming in to college," Rockwell said. "But she has improved so much. She moves better laterally. I think she reads the game much better now as well and she gets up and over the net quicker too. That's definitely something she has really improved on." 

The transition to college and into one of the nations best middle blockers has been challenging for Washington. However, this season she is facing what she says might be one of the biggest challenges yet, becoming one of the vocal leaders on court leaders. 

"With this year's team, it's not just me playing volleyball," Washington said. "It's me having responsibilities and being a leader and making sure that I'm always doing my job to help the team."

Rockwell also acknowledged the transition for Washington and says that she has done a tremendous job stepping in to the newer role.

"She's trying to figure out how to manage the team and what to say when," Rockwell said. "She's great at saying the right thing and she's getting even better at that when she has to speak off the cuff. She has been a tremendous leader for us this season."

Detering, Gorrell Shine on 'Dig Pink' Night

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 9 Penn State defeated No. 19 Ohio State in straight sets (25-21, 25-20, 25-17) Wednesday evening in an atmosphere that isn't typically seen in Rec Hall.

Pink shakers and pink t-shirts covered the stands. The wRECking crew and Pep Band sported pink hard hats. The Nittany Lions warmed-up in light pink jerseys and wore black and pink socks as well as pink bows in their hair throughout the match. Head coach Russ Rose pinned a pink ribbon to his polo shirt. Ohio State even wore pink-colored jerseys. 

In total, Penn State's annual 'Dig Pink' match raised more than $4,000 for the Side-Out Foundation for breast cancer awareness. 

"It was a really good match," redshirt freshman middle Tori Gorrell said. "Many us came out really excited to show just how excited we were for this game. The Dig Pink match is a huge thing and it's really important that we show that we care. It was nice to get a good win on an important night."

At the start of the first set, it was a back-and-forth matchup between the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes, but with the help of the crowd's energy, junior setter Abby Detering crushed a kill over the net that pushed Penn State to a 6-3 run.

Detering finished the night with a team-high 34 assists and tied for first on the team with eight digs. She also recorded three kills on .429 hitting.

"I thought we did a real nice job from the end line," Rose said. "I thought our serve-pass game was very good and it enabled Abby [Detering] to set the ball well. Haleigh [Washington] and Tori [Gorrell] had great nights offensively, but it starts with the serve-pass game."

It was the duo of Detering and Gorrell who steered the offense in the second set when Penn State and Ohio State were tied, 10-10, as Detering set Gorrell, who hammered a kill to give the Nittany Lions the edge. Gorrell connected with Detering on the next point, too, before putting away another kill to give the Nittany Lions a three-point cushion.

"I thought we were good on some tight sets to the net that we made," Rose said. "We made some nice plays. Tori had a couple of blocks and blocked well tonight. She had the setter a couple of times and that was really important for us since the setter is a very important player." 

Gorrell notched a team-high six blocks, including three solo stuffs, in addition to five kills on .500 hitting. Freshman libero Kendall White also tied for first on the team with eight digs.

Offensively, junior Simone Lee led the team with 12 kills, while junior Haleigh Washington ended the night second on the team with 10 kills on season-high-tying .769 hitting percentage.

The Nittany Lions are on a 15-match winning streak and are undefeated in Big Ten play, and they're hoping to remain that way as they approach a trip to No. 22 Michigan Saturday.

"We need to keep on working on our connection and the serve-pass game is so huge," Detering said. "We did really well with that tonight, so we have to keep that up, especially for Michigan - just going in there and being aggressive."

Penn State will have a quick turnaround as they travel to Ann Arbor Saturday for a 7 p.m. matchup.

More than a Match, Penn State Preps for Dig Pink

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After notching two conference victories on the road at Purdue and Indiana, the Nittany Lions return home to Rec Hall to welcome No. 19 Ohio State on Wednesday evening.

But this matchup isn't a typical match as the Nittany Lions won't be seeing fans in blue and white. Instead, the evening will represent something bigger with pink being featured throughout the stands. 

Penn State and the Side-Out Foundation will host its annual "Dig Pink" match for the seventh consecutive year in support of breast cancer research. 

"It's just great that people want to participate and contribute to the cause," head coach Russ Rose said. "I think it's great for everybody affiliated with Penn State. I know they have a big program here with basketball, and this is something different that has been in play for a couple of years. We've been involved in it since the first year it started and I hope it continues long after I'm gone."

'Side-out' in volleyball means a team is regaining control of the ball, and that's what the Side-Out Foundation is all about. It's a support and advocacy organization that unites volleyball players and coaches to have them work toward the common goal of furthering breast cancer awareness, education and patient services. Millions of dollars have been raised, which goes towards high-quality support services for cancer patients, their families and scholarships for young students to motivate them to continue achieving their dreams, all while developing treatments so a cure is discovered in the near future.

Having hosted an annual event in Rec Hall in each of the last seven years, Penn State's 2015 campaign once again generated nearly $4,000 for the Side-Out Foundation, to match a record number, which was originally set in 2014. 

"Breast cancer reaches and touches lots of people, and anything we can do to raise awareness and funding to help with the various programs and trials that are in play to help the people in the future, we should all be honored to be part of that," coach Rose said.

The match will also hit home for some of the student-athletes, like freshman libero Kendall White.

"I think it's a huge deal," White said. "My grandma is a survivor of breast cancer so it means a lot to me having all the girls support it, having all the fans come in and auction off our warmup jerseys. It's amazing to be raising money. It's a really great cause and I love it so much that I get to be part of it."

At the match, the Nittany Lions will host a silent auction to bid for the pregame Dig Pink warmup jerseys where proceeds will go directly toward Penn State's "Dig Pink" profile. There will also be free pink shakers, with the first 200 students in attendance receiving free pizza, Dig Pink shirts and pink wRECking crew hard hats. 

"Pink is my favorite color, so I think it will be amazing going out there with the team [and seeing all the pink]," White said. "We're just going to come out fighting hard. It's a big game, so I hope it's like every game where the fans come in and cheer us on."

Penn State's Dig Pink event comes at just the right time for the Nittany Lions, who recently returned home from the road, with visits to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota all looming the future after the mid-week against the Buckeyes at Rec Hall.

"It's a huge deal to have this break in the road trips," White said. "Playing at home is one of our favorite things to do because all of our fans are here. Everyone is supporting us and we are surrounded by people who love volleyball almost as much as we do. Going out and playing here before we go on the road next weekend against bigger teams we have to play is a huge momentum push as we go in." 

Penn State enters Wednesday's matchup against the Buckeyes on a 14-match winning streak. After opening the season at 2-3, the Nittany Lions have regrouped to remain undefeated in Big Ten conference play at 8-0. 

"What's been clicking with the team is just our chemistry," White said. "More than anything, not even volleyball-related, it's just us. As a team, we've been clicking a lot better. We've been communicating better on and off the court and just fighting. It's our heart and our fight playing into our game."

The Lions hope to match the tenancy and determination of the Side-Out Foundation. When asked what they're goal was for Wednesday evening, White responded with one word. 

"Win. That's what we plan on doing."

Homecoming Crowd Fuels Sweep Over Rutgers

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - An electrifying crowd of 5,312 fans packed Rec Hall to watch No. 15 Penn State women's volleyball sweep Rutgers in three-straight sets (25-13, 25-16, 25-10) on Saturday evening of homecoming weekend. 

"I thought the story of the night was the great crowd," head coach Russ Rose said. "It was terrific. I know the players appreciate getting a crowd like that in there...We're certainly never going to be disappointed when we have a full gym like that."

The Nittany Lions and the Scarlet Knights were exchanging points back-and-forth early in the first set, but redshirt freshman Tori Gorrell hammered the ball over the net for a kill that sparked Penn State's offense. The Blue and White continued their offensive streak to create a six-point stretch that eventually led them to win the opening frame, 25-13. Gorrell finished the first set leading the team with five kills.

Gorrell ended the night with a team-high 11 kills on .714 hitting, leading the offense for the first time in her collegiate career. She also recorded three blocks. Junior Simone Lee notched 11 kills, as well, while also adding six digs and three blocks.

Junior Haleigh Washington rounded out the effort recording 10 kills, hitting a team-best .750, where she put away kills on six of her seven swings through the first two sets. Washington also had two digs and a match-high of five blocks. 

"Haleigh is always a really good attacker. She's got a great vision," coach Rose said.

Rutgers opened the scoring in the second set and Penn State tried to catch up early on, but the Nittany Lions were still down by two points. However, after a quick regroup on the court, Penn State went on a 7-1 run to get the lead and a two-set advantage in the match.

"You can feel everyone [in the crowd] with us, too, for every single point," senior Carley Muller said. "People are invested in the game - they're ready for us to win. [When we were trailing], I think we wanted to come back and win it for the crowd. Obviously, we could feel that everyone wanted us to win, and we could tell that everyone was investing in what we were doing. We just wanted to get them the win."

With the win over Rutgers, Penn State has now won its last 12 straight victories, improving to 6-0 in Big Ten conference play. The Nittany Lions aren't going to let that record interrupt their focus.

"We just have to keep playing at a high level, so we just need to take it one game at a time, and just stay at a high level," redshirt sophomore Nia Reed said.

Penn State will hit the road next week to continue its Big Ten conference play. The Blue and White will take on Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. Friday, Oct. 14 and Indiana on Sat, Oct. 15 in Bloomington, Ind.

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