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Seniors Shine in Michigan Sweep

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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.

Rec Hall Lifts Nittany Lions Past Spartans

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It is tradition at Rec Hall for the crowd to rise to their feet whenever Penn State has a set point opportunity. Tonight a few of those fans in the stands probably have some sore calves after a four-set win against Michigan State. 

The No. 2 Nittany Lions had seven set point opportunities in the third set after a furious rally from the No. 10 Spartans, holding on for a wild finish. Nia Reed had the final two kills for the Nittany Lions in the third set, capping a dramatic swing of emotions and securing a 30-28 Penn State win.

Despite allowing Michigan State to stay alive in the set after taking a 24-22 lead, the Nittany Lions never wavered in their confidence, proving why they are one of the premier teams in the nation.

"We were just focused on our side to finish the game," setter Abby Detering said. "You can't worry about what the other team is doing. If they get a point, great. We have to come back and finish."

Heidi Thelen had two monster kills back-to-back to provide a huge energy boost for the Nittany Lions in the third set. Her kills gave the Nittany Lions an 18-13 lead at the time and forced Michigan State to call a timeout. She finished with nine kills on the night.

"I thought Heidi was huge for us in that third set," head coach Russ Rose said.

The Nittany Lions and Spartans traded blows in the first two sets, with Penn State cruising to a 25-18 victory in the first set while Michigan State took the second, 25-15. Both teams hit above .400 in the sets that they won and below .100 in the sets they lost. 

"It was a tale of two different teams," Rose said. "Our effort was good in the first game and theirs was really good in the second game. Both teams battled in the third game."

After winning the aforementioned marathon third set, the Nittany Lions seemed to wear down the Spartans in the fourth. Penn State jumped out to a 7-1 lead and led the whole way through, winning 25-18.

Simone Lee led the way for the Nittany Lions with 17 kills and Haleigh Washington added 15 at a .433 clip. Autumn Bailey paced the Spartans with 17 kills.

The Spartans have had success on the road against top five teams on the road already this season, including back-to-back victories at then-No. 5 Wisconsin and then-No. 1 Minnesota to start conference play.

"Based on the results they've had to date, we knew Michigan State was very good," Rose said. "They certainly didn't disappoint with how they played and competed. I think they're terrific and I'm pretty pleased that we battled back."

The win moves Penn State into a tie with the Nebraska Cornhuskers atop the Big Ten standings at 6-1 in conference play as Michigan State falls to 5-2 in the conference losing for only the second time in the last nine games.

Lee Joins Elite Company

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the second time in 2017, Penn State women's volleyball is celebrating a major milestone, as senior outside hitter Simone Lee reached 1,000 career kills in Friday's victory at Ohio State.

Lee is the 27th Nittany Lion to reach the plateau, with senior outside hitter Ali Frantti having accomplished the feat in the first week of the season against West Virginia.

Frantti and Lee have a special bond that dates back to club volleyball in high school. The two played on the same club team for a year before arriving at Penn State early their freshman year alongside fellow early enrollee Lainy Pierce. 

"It was nice to have someone else be there with you during that time," Frantti said. "It made the transition a lot easier."

Together, Lee and Frantti have developed a clear chemistry on the court, which Frantti attributes in large part to their connected roots.

"We're very familiar with each other on the court and she's a really good teammate," Frantti said. "We have each other's backs."

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Lee's feat is the amount of time it took her to reach the milestone. Bolstered by a strong junior campaign, Lee more than doubled her individual single season kill totals from her freshman and sophomore seasons.

As a freshman on the 2014 NCAA national championship team, Lee shared playing time with former Nittany Lion All-American upperclassmen Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney, both who are now training with USA Volleyball. 

In 2016, Lee emerged as a key cog in the offense, leading the team with 503 kills on the year, marking the third-highest single season kill total in Penn State history during the 25-point scoring era. Recording at least 10 kills in 28 of 24 matches, she totaled seven outings of 20-or more kills on the way to All-America honors. 

"Certainly Simone has improved significantly each year that she's been here," head coach Russ Rose said. "She was an All-American last year and I think she's headed toward that again this year. She's a great offensive player and a really strong net player." 

Now in her senior season, Lee is once again pacing the Nittany Lions in kills, already with 225 at about the midway point in the season.

"I don't think we'd anticipate winning big matches without Simone being one of our main contributors," Rose said.

In the middle of a season defined by a chase for a championship, sometimes the individual accolades can take a back seat, part of the team-first attitude installed for so many years under Rose's brilliance.

Still, the team sees the accomplishment as a fitting way to celebrate a special player.

"It's always great seeing success," senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington said. "Nobody really knew what happened and then we were like 'Oh my gosh, Simone that's amazing and we are so proud of you.' It's great to see that she's grown so much in her time here and having done it in the amount of time that she did it is crazy."

As any great leader of a team does, Lee is staying focused on the team's ultimate goal of finishing the season on top. 

"It's exciting, but it's not the whole goal," Lee said. "It's just something else that happens but that's not the end goal for me. Obviously, we're still playing and not done yet." 

While she may be laser-focused during game time, Lee brings plenty of humor and positive energy to the team off the court. 

"I've enjoyed my interactions with Simone," Rose said. "Her eyes light up, she has a great smile. She's receptive to banter and kidding and I've enjoyed that. I'll miss Simone Lee being gone, I've enjoyed my time with her." 

Her teammates shared the same sentiments.

"Simone is just a ray of sunshine and she has a very infectious smile," Washington said. "On the court, she's very serious and down to earth and focused. She wants to take care of business. Off the court, she's very bubbly, loves to be in the sun and loves to drink tea." 

Washington herself isn't too far away from the 1,000-kill club, which would complete the very rare feat of having three players reach that mark in the same season. She is less than 50 kills away, but doesn't really think about it that much because of her position.

If anything, being a middle blocker makes Washington's potential accomplishment even more impressive.

"It's tough for middles to get a thousand kills, just because we're not in for all six rotations," Washington said. "They (outside hitters) swing more in the back row and they are the more out of system options."

Washington, Lee and Frantti are all set to return home from the road with the rest of the Nittany Lions this weekend. Penn State hosts Michigan State Friday evening before wrapping up the weekend welcoming Michigan to Rec Hall Saturday night.    

White's Enthusiasm Driving Nittany Lions

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "Easy" is not a word many would use to describe the libero position. Especially not at a program like Penn State, where the competition in the Big Ten is bringing their best and hitting as hard as they can on any given night.

The most important defensive position on the floor comes with its fair share of pressure, often being the one leaned on the most for a big defensive play when the team needs one at a critical moment.

Sophomore Kendall White shoulders that responsibility for the Nittany Lions, a task she embraces every night.

"I like the pressure, that kind of burden is something I've dealt with my whole life," White said. "It's not really a bad thing and I know coach comes up to me sometimes and says, 'I need you to make a play.'"

The big stage is a familiar concept to the Indiana native, as she led her high school team to a state championship her senior year and a perfect 36-0 record. Also named the Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year in Indiana in 2016, she earned AAU All-America honors in 2015-16.

Arriving at Penn State last fall, White was one of the most productive freshmen on the team, playing in all 34 games, racking up 500 digs, making an immediate impact as a starter for the Nittany Lions.

As a sophomore now, White has gone through a slight position change, but she credits her experience for her ability to adjust.

"I used to be in the middle back and now I'm in left back," White said. "It's a big transition, but I think I'm a little more disciplined and a little more focused."

Her growth did not go unnoticed, as teammates and coaches have seen her develop over the course of the offseason and into this season, pleased with how she has come along. 

"She takes a little better care of herself this year," head coach Russ Rose said. "She's demonstrating some of the maturity necessary as you get older as a player. Sometimes it's being wild and really aggressive and sometimes you have to be able to take your time, one step at a time and get better. The serve is upgraded from last year and I like where Kendall's game is right now."

"Her IQ and her ability to read the game have definitely improved," senior hitter Haleigh Washington said. "Last year, she had a natural ability to fly after the ball. This year, she still flies after the ball, but she reads the game a little better."

Her energy appears infectious as well, as she is often the one Nittany Lion running around diving after free balls at full extension, giving the team morale boosts when things start to go awry. She's oftentimes the catalyst for a great run and comes up in key moments for the team again and again.

"She's a spaz on the court," senior hitter Heidi Thelen said. "I think its good that she's hustling and going for every single ball. She flew into the bleachers last weekend and she's a great person to have on the court. Her energy is amazing and she's always wanting to compete."

Her consistency and hard work have allowed her to emerge as a leader on a senior-heavy team, something not easy to do in any sport at any school, let alone a perennial powerhouse.

"No matter who you are on this team, you have to earn the respect of your teammates," White said. "I'm supposed to be the leader of the back row and my teammates trust me enough to do that." 

White is a fun-loving college student-athlete off the court, joking around with her teammates and having a good time. She watches her fair share of Netflix and, having lived in both Indiana and now Pennsylvania, she has an insider perspective on two of Netflix's more popular comedies: The Pennsylvania-based show "The Office" and Indiana's own "Parks and Recreation." 

When it comes to which show is better and more accurately depicts its residents, it appears White's allegiance is within her home state.

"Parks and Rec, 100 percent," White said. "It's a little over exaggerated, but it's pretty funny and some of the things are true. I love it and it's hilarious."

Another Indiana icon, the Indianapolis 500, holds a special place in White's heart.

"It's my favorite thing in the world," White said. "I love it and I go every year. That's probably what I miss most." 

Now that she's in Pennsylvania, White has one single thing on her mind. It's the only thing that's ever really mattered to her since she stepped on campus.

"I believe we can win a national championship this year and I plan to do so."

Nittany Lions Rally Past Wildcats

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The tension was palpable in Rec Hall Saturday night, as Penn State found itself locked in a battle with visiting Northwestern in the first set. 

The margin had never been more than three points in either direction and the Nittany Lions found themselves down 23-21 and on their heels.

Head coach Russ Rose called a timeout, ushering the team over to the bench to talk strategy and allow the Nittany Lions to regroup before the final push in the frame. 

"(Northwestern) has competitive bright kids and they were in the right position," Rose said. "We just needed to get a side out and earn a real point. That's what happened."

It turned out all right for the Nittany Lions, as they turned around and won five of the final six points to ultimately take the set, 26-24.

In a set featuring 10 ties and two lead changes, the Nittany Lions came up big when they needed to in order to ensure the start they wanted.

The set ended on an unusual play, as libero Kendall White dug out a Northwestern attack and the ball floated back over the net into open court for the kill. It was her lone kill, but part of a standout first set performance.

"We won on kind of a fluke play," Rose said. "It's something you can appreciate but you can't practice." 

White finished with a game-high 13 digs on the night, including a couple of remarkable efforts in the third set off of rocket attacks from the Northwestern front line.

The second set was a much less heart-wrenching one for the Penn State faithful, as the Nittany Lions cruised to a 25-14 victory behind dominant performances from Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington up front. Lee and Washington paced the Nittany Lions in kills, tallying 12 and 10, respectively.

Penn State played a perfect set in terms of execution, not committing a single error for the duration of the set. The Wildcats committed six in that same span.

"I thought we played much cleaner for the remainder of the match," Rose said. "Other than the three missed serves in the last game, I thought we played well. I thought we passed well and we had good cross-court defense."

The third set was more of the same, as Penn State handled the Wildcats by an identical 25-14 margin.

The Nittany Lions kept their play clean yet again, only committing four errors. 

Symone Abbott was the focal point for the Wildcats coming into the game, as she led the Big Ten in kills at 214. Penn State kept her in check for the most part, allowing 12 kills but only at a .219 hitting clip. The Nittany Lions have now held down Ali Bastianelli of Illinois and Abbott on back to back nights, two of the more elite hitters in the conference.

"(Abbott) is a terrific offensive player," Rose said. "We didn't do a great job stopping people's big slide hitters, but the goal is to win. Sometimes you are willing to give up points somewhere if you're trying to get them somewhere else."

Tori Gorrell put together a consistent performance as well on the Penn State side, converting all seven of her attacks. 

"I don't really think about it," Gorrell said. "If I hit well, then I hit well. It all contributes to the team so if I play well, it helps." 

The Nittany Lions appear to be back on track after last weekend's hiccups and are now back in the driver's seat in the Big Ten at 13-1 overall and 3-1 in the conference.

Nittany Lions Make Statement in Illinois Win

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The third-ranked Nittany Lions swept the Illinois Fighting Illini on Friday night (25-19, 25-17, 26-24) to begin the third and final weekend of a current home stand. 

The Illini entered the game with an 11-2 record, with their losses coming against a pair of strong Pac-12 opponents in Stanford and Colorado. The six they lost coming in were all by a two-point margin. 

Penn State rebounded from a 1-1 weekend last week, erasing some uncharacteristic performances Saturday night by getting back to doing what Penn State does best.

Russ Rose's squad was much more polished in the serve and pass game on Friday night, allowing the Nittany Lions to establish their middles early and often.

Haleigh Washington led the way with 11 kills on 17 attempts, hitting .647 on the night with four blocks. Heidi Thelen also continued her torrid stretch with six kills, hitting at a .625 clip, with six blocks. Tori Gorrell also chipped in four kills of her own to give Penn State's trio of middles a combined 20 kills for the match.

"[Heidi] was our leading blocker tonight and that's why she's in there," Rose said. "Last week they were scoring at will over that position and then we put her in and I think she's done a nice job there." 

The Nittany Lions cruised through the first two sets, showing a defensive grit that forced the Illini into a lot of hitting errors. 

Illinois leading hitter Jacqueline Quade, struggled to get into a rhythm all night against a much bigger Penn State front line. Quade led the Illini with nine kills, but she also made 11 errors on 30 attempts, hitting -.067 on the night. 

Penn State served aggressively, compiling six aces in the match, an area of improvement this week for the Nittany Lions that made it difficult for the Illini to pass well and establish their middle blockers up front.

Ali Bastianelli came into Friday leading the nation in blocks per set and finished with nine blocks to make things difficult for the Nittany Lions, particularly in the third set.

"She's a phenomenal blocker and she's been a phenomenal blocker all three, four years she's been around," Washington said. "She's got great form, gets her hands over the net, so we knew that coming in we wanted to avoid her as a blocker." 

Thanks to an abundance of experience, the Nittany Lions eventually figured things out and battled back from a 19-16 deficit in the third set to sweep the Illini.

On a night where Simone Lee was not as dominant as she typically is, Penn State got back to running their middles with effectiveness and allowed their efficient play to carry them to a big win at home. 

"We felt that part of our problem last week was that we didn't run middle enough," Rose said. "I've identified that Haleigh didn't have a great weekend, but I also did not have a great weekend, so we moved on."

Penn State improved to 12-1 (2-1 Big Ten) on the season with the win and will take on Northwestern tomorrow night in Rec Hall before heading back out on the road next weekend. 

"Northwestern is very good," Rose said. "We lost to them a couple years ago, so our players recognize that we're going have to be ready to play."

Nittany Lions Build Character Through Adversity

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's both a luxury and a mark of program consistency when a loss in September is thought of as a setback. That is the case for Penn State women's volleyball, having experienced its first setback of the season last Friday.

Playing some of their best volleyball of the season leading up to the Nebraska matchup, the Nittany Lions met a worthy adversary in the then-No. 14 Cornhuskers.

Although able to come back the next day and notch a victory against Iowa, the opening weekend of conference play proved the legitimacy and competitiveness of the Big Ten from top to bottom in head coach Russ Rose's eyes.

"I've been saying the same thing for a while about the strength of the Big Ten," Rose said. "Three of the top four teams in the country last week were in the Big Ten, and three of us lost. All of us lost at home to other teams in the conference. It's just a reflection of how good the conference is." 

Minnesota and Wisconsin fell as well, both losing at home to Michigan State over the weekend. The Big Ten now has seven teams in the AVCA Top 25 Poll and four ranked in the top 10, the most of any conference. 

"I think the conference season is going to be a really interesting and exciting one for the fans and a very challenging one for the schools, and the coaches for sure," Rose said.

As the focus shifts to Illinois and Northwestern this weekend, the Nittany Lions are working hard in practice to strengthen what they felt was exposed last weekend.

Unable to establish the back row consistently, with a couple of critical service errors in key moments, proved out of the ordinary from otherwise strong and steady performances earlier in the year. 

"We've been working on serving really aggressively since preseason," senior Haleigh Washington said. "That's something that coach really emphasizes in the Big Ten especially. You need to be a good serve receive team and a good pass team. In the Nebraska game, it really showed that we did not serve aggressively. We weren't serving hard enough to get them out of position for our benefit."

While a loss can certainly be humbling, the Nittany Lions are taking the weekend as an opportunity to succeed in the areas they are working to improve.

"We're just trying to be strong the entire way through," junior Bryanna Weiskircher said. "We weren't ourselves against Nebraska and I'm not really sure why, but there are a lot of doors open now. We really have to work for every game, every match." 

The Nittany Lions now have a clear picture of what it will take to win in the Big Ten moving forward. 

"Every weekend in the Big Ten, everyone is beating up on each other and it's definitely something where last weekend opened up everyone's eyes as to how competitive this entire season is going to be," Weiskircher said. 

Settling into conference play also allows Penn State to gain valuable experience for some of the younger members of the team, competing against some of the top programs in the country every night.

"We're all here for a purpose and we all have a specific mindset and goal - winning a national championship," senior Simone Lee said. "We're making sure us seniors are really helping out the younger girls if they have questions. I think it makes a huge difference in terms of team camaraderie."

Illinois comes to town this weekend with a new look, as former head coach Kevin Hambly took over as head coach at Stanford last offseason. Chris Tamas is now at the helm of the Illini program, in his first year as a head coach. Tamas has experience in the Big Ten as a member of coaching staffs at Nebraska and Minnesota.

Penn State will have a bit of a planning edge, having already seen Illinois earlier this season, although not meeting on the court.

"We saw Illinois play because we were in the same tournament with Stanford and Colorado, and they haven't lost since we saw them play," Rose said. "I think Illinois has the best setter in the conference and is arguably the best blocking team."

Northwestern comes in on a three-game losing streak, but they were competitive in losses to then-No. 13 

Purdue and aforementioned Illinois last weekend.

"They had some great wins in the preseason and they have some players on their team that we all recruited and we all know how good they are," Rose said.

Penn State looks to return to form as Friday's match begins at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall. Saturday's match has been moved back 30 minutes to 7:30 p.m. to accommodate for the home football game against Indiana.

Lions Stumble in B1G Opener

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a large, white out crowd packed into Rec Hall Friday night and a lot of momentum coming in, the No. 2 Nittany Lions seemed poised to extend their 10-match winning streak. 

Instead, Penn State fell in its first loss of the season as Nebraska emerged with a straight set win (26-24, 25-19, 25-20).

"Obviously I didn't do a very good job of preparing the team to play." Rose said. "I'm very disappointed in our effort. I thought the crowd was better than the team tonight, and I apologize for that."

The Cornhuskers forced the Nittany Lions to play out of system frequently, making it difficult for Penn State to establish any hitters other than Simone Lee.

"Our back row play wasn't very good. They served Simone and Ali [Frantti] and they didn't have the ability to pass well enough for us to run middles to do what we want to do." Rose said.

Lee finished with 15 kills and hit .333 for the match, as the only Nittany Lion to finish with double-digit kills.

In three games in the Penn State Classic last weekend, efficiency from the three middles, Haleigh Washington, Tori Gorrell, and Heidi Thelen, was the biggest storyline. On Friday, the trio combined for just nine kills and hit only .333 as a group, after hitting over .700 in last weekend's tournament.  

The Cornhuskers actually made four more hitting errors in the match than the Nittany Lions, but they also posted 21 more kills. Much of that had to do with how well their serve-receive game was and their ability find holes in the Penn State defense when playing out of system.

"I don't think any of our servers put any undue pressure on them and I thought they won the battles at the setter and libero positions." Rose said. "They hit the ball tactically and put the ball in positions where I would have thought we would have made better adjustments. 

Rose also pointed to the fact that the three key Nebraska seniors outplayed the Nittany Lion upperclassmen.

Nebraska setter Kelly Hunter finished with six kills (.625 hitting percentage) and dished out 39 assists, while outside hitters Annika Albrecht (.400 hitting percentage) and Briana Holman (.750 hitting percentage) added 19 and 13 kills, respectively.

"I don't think we coached very well," Rose said. "I thought we had a good game plan, but we didn't execute at all, but it's a long season and there's still 19 more Big Ten matches." 

The Nittany Lions will have a quick turnaround, hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes at 4 p.m. Saturday to finish the opening weekend of Big Ten play.

Penn State is one of the most experienced teams in the country, and a lot of times that veteran leadership comes in handy after a loss like this one. Saturday's matchup presents an opportunity to show just how resilient this experienced group can be.

Nittany Lions Focused Ahead of B1G Play

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By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State cruised to a 10-0 mark in nonconference play, including two victories over defending national champion Stanford and seven straight-set wins.

However, that's now in the rearview mirror, as the Nittany Lions shift their focus to Big Ten opponents and taking home a conference championship.

Conference play presents some unique challenges, as the talent level across the league is among the highest in the country. Teams are more familiar with one another, which can lead to more unpredictability night in and night out. 

"The Big Ten Conference is filled with great players," head coach Russ Rose said. "Nine of the 14 schools are ranked or receiving votes this week in the coaches' poll, so it's clearly the strongest conference in the country."

Rose also stressed a need for balance in preparing for Big Ten teams based on what has happened in the past while also understanding that turnover from year to year can always be a defining factor. 

"Certainly everybody is more familiar with their conference opponents, but every year it's different," Rose said. "Even when you have a majority of your players returning, you'd like to think you are still making change and getting better."

Any team in the Big Ten has the talent to compete with any other team, and the Nittany Lions emphasized the importance of taking the season one game at a time, not focusing too much on the future.

"In the Big Ten, every team is very good, so we have to play every team like it's the national championship match," senior right side hitter Heidi Thelen said. "You have to play hard, grind through it and push every point." 

The Nittany Lions open up the conference slate against Nebraska this weekend in a rematch of last year's NCAA Tournament regional semifinal match. The Cornhuskers outlasted Penn State on that night in a five-set thriller on their way to an NCAA regional championship. 

While that loss may have ended the season for Penn State, the Nittany Lions are completely focused on the upcoming challenge, understanding that two very different teams will be walking into Rec Hall on Friday night.

Rose touched on the challenge of preparing for a team like Nebraska, noting that so many individuals on the roster can cause damage.

"Once you get into the Big Ten, every team you play is loaded with players that have the ability to go off in a match," Rose said. "That's what makes the conference and all the teams you play so challenging."

Nebraska may have graduated starters from last year's Big Ten championship team, but some key players remain from that squad.

"Nebraska has always been a really good serve and pass team, they have one of the best players in the country in (outside hitter Annika Albrecht), who is a great all-around player," Rose said. "Mikaela Foecke may be the best attacker in the conference. We'll have our hands full with them." 

For two of Penn State's freshmen, conference games are a unique opportunity that they have not yet faced. 

"With each team, there's a sense of grit," right side hitter Cami May said. "Whether it's home or away, there's so much energy in the gyms."

Excited for the challenge and the intensity of each atmosphere, just last week May and outside hitter Michaela Putnicki experienced a sneak peek into what playing at Rec Hall is like.  For both, the sense of community and pride that comes with playing for Penn State was among a top takeaway. 

"All the fans are super crazy, they just love Penn State and are all about it," Putnicki said. "You can tell at our games everyone is excited to be there." 

The early conference schedule is kind to the Nittany Lions, as their first four matches this weekend and next, come at Rec Hall.

"It's going to be awesome starting off at home, we have all our fans, the boosters, the band, all there supporting us," Thelen said. 

No. 2 Penn State welcomes No. 14 Nebraska Friday at 8 p.m. to kick off the Big Ten slate before hosting Iowa Saturday at 4 p.m. in Rec Hall. 

Nittany Lions Consistent in Penn State Classic

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Following an impressive 7-0 start on the road to begin the season, Russ Rose and the second-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions returned home to Rec Hall for their first three home games in the Penn State Classic.

The Nittany Lions dominated Yale Friday night for a 3-0 sweep (25-9, 25-21, 25-11), in which the Nittany Lions out-blocked the Bulldogs 13 to 3, hitting .431 for the match.

Penn State returned even more efficient Saturday morning against Wake Forest than in  Friday's home opener.

Although somewhat sluggish to start, the Nittany Lions eventually separated for a 25-16 victory in set one, before surging to a 25-11 victory in the next two sets to close out the morning.

The Nittany Lions hit an incredible .500 for the match and recorded 11 blocks and eight service aces.

"I thought we handled the ball pretty well and had good control of our net play," Rose said. "Simone [Lee] had another good match and Haleigh [Washington] continues to score well." 

Lee was nearly perfect Saturday morning, putting away 10 kills on 11 attempts. She also chipped in two blocks and five service aces. Ali Frantti added four kills on nine attempts in addition to one block.

Washington proved outstanding at the net as well, posting eight kills on nine attempts, and seven blocks to go along with two service aces. Penn State's other two middles, Heidi Thelen and Tori Gorrell, added four more kills and four blocks. 

Rose's use of two setters continues to work effectively for the Nittany Lions, as both Abby Detering and Bryanna Weiskircher have continued to shine in split setting duties. Weiskircher tallied 24 assists in the win over the Demon Deacons while Detering added eight assists and continues to be a reliable option on the right side. 

Penn State also utilized opportunities to rotate in off the bench, for Nittany Lions to gain  valuable game experience throughout the weekend. Clare Powers and freshmen Cami May and Michaela Putnicki saw time throughout the home tournament. Nia Reed also recorded three kills on three attempts against Wake Forest.

In their second match of the day, Penn State swept Ohio with Lee and Washington leading the way again with nine kills and 12 kills, respectively.

Weiskircher was used as the primary setter against the Bobcats , allowing other hitters the opportunity for more reps, particularly Reed. She added seven kills and Thelen added another six against Ohio.

"I feel much more comfortable," Reed said. "It's hard not to when you practice in the same gym and with these girls every day."

The Nittany Lions remain undefeated at 10-0, now turning the focus to Big Ten play, which begins next weekend at home against Nebraska Friday night.

"We'll need to work hard this weekend," Rose said. "We have Nebraska and Iowa coming up, and I think the players understand the importance of being prepared to play in Big Ten play." 

@GOPSUSPORTS

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