Recently in Women's Volleyball Category
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following the lead of her two older sisters and
using the guidance from her parents, who are both volleyball coaches, Dominique
Gonzalez knew at only four years old that she would carry on the tradition
within in her family of playing volleyball on a competitive level.
"I was kind of born into it," Gonzalez said. "I was always in the gym and I
became almost like a gym rat. My mom and my dad had a really big impact on me -
my mom especially since she coached me a lot when I was young. She started the
foundation of the athlete I've become today of working hard and training me
from the basics."
Originally from San Antonio, Texas, the junior has always been around some
of the best competition in the country and wanted that feeling to continue
after graduating high school. Setting
her goals high and working until she reached them, Gonzalez found herself in
the position to capitalize on a dream.
"Volleyball is so huge in Texas with a lot of competition, but my dream was to
come up and play here at Penn State," Gonzalez said. "That's what I really
wanted to do so I worked hard for that. It's a great atmosphere here with the
fans and everything. I just love everything about it."
After meeting the coaching staff and the team, seeing Penn State's campus,
and looking at how balanced the athletics and academics are, Gonzalez knew she
wanted to do whatever it would take to be a part of a volleyball program with a
rich history under head coach Russ Rose.
"Playing for a coach that's legendary and having coaches that want to draw
everything out of you and make you be the best player you can be has been the
most rewarding part of playing here," Gonzalez said. "You have teammates that
are there to support you and you're part of a university that's really
supportive of the volleyball program as well."
Gonzalez knew that during her freshman year she would have to fight for any
time to play on the court and fight even harder to find her way into the
starting lineup. Gaining experience as a freshman, she played in 29 matches and
started in six as a serving and defensive specialist. Her sophomore year,
Gonzalez started in all 36 matches as the libero and led the team with 457 digs
for the whole season.
With 16 matches behind
the Nittany Lions, Gonzalez leads the team with 189 digs so far this season.
Since she is in the libero position, her communication plays a huge role in the
success of the team.
"Being libero, you have to man the back row and run things making sure that
everyone knows what's going on," Gonzalez said. "You have to be the stable
player when it comes to the back row because you have people that play all
around so their main focus isn't the back row like it is mine. I have to make
sure I know what's going on and set up the offense for Micha [Hancock] giving
her a dig so she can do what she needs to do with the ball."
Playing in this position means the libero is usually on the court for five out
of the six rotations and has to use strong leadership to make sure everyone is
on the same page. Along with being the libero comes pressure of guiding the
team. Gonzalez has learned to focus on what she can control rather than worry
about the uncontrollable factors.
"I've tried to learn a lot from the people that were here in the past playing
in the same position," Gonzalez said. "I try to focus more on what's going on
around me and zone out the pressure. I just focus on winning the point and what
the team needs. When you focus on things that are external rather than internal,
that helps relieves some of the pressure."
Having the ability to control pressures of competing on a team that has won
national championships has proven to be a huge skill for Gonzalez. After
playing the same sport for about 16 years, the junior uses her competitive edge
to stay motivated and to push the team to reach their end of the season goals.
"I really like to win and I like to be successful," Gonzalez said. "I think the
team is working to be on same page. I think the want to win and the want to win
a national championship with this team is what keeps us motivated because the
season can be long and taxing. The focus on wanting to win the Big Ten and national
championships is what keeps us going."
In long matches that go to five sets, Gonzalez finds herself using the crowd as
motivation and takes advantage of their support and energy during home matches
to stay focused on what the Nittany Lions have set out to accomplish.
"It's great when there's a long rally and you win the point and the fans are
behind you cheering you on," Gonzalez said. "It gives you the energy and takes
away the energy from the other team which helps us out a lot. When they are cheering
you on, you know you can accomplish almost anything."
While there is a lot of conference play still to come before the postseason
matches begin, Gonzalez is looking forward to seeing the team come together
even more and continue to work better as a whole unit to prepare for the
"I'm looking forward to us getting better and showing what we've accomplished
over the past couple of weeks and showing what we're going to change as a team
to hold each other accountable," Gonzalez said. "I'm excited to go out there
and prove to ourselves that we can be a better team."
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Riding a five-match winning streak, the No.
4-ranked Penn State women's volleyball team heads on the road this weekend with
a pair of Big Ten matches at Illinois and Northwestern.
Penn State's execution on both sides of the ball has been a key to the Lions'
success during the last two weeks. Junior outside hitter Nia Grant said the
defense, specifically the back row, has improved tremendously throughout the
"[Our back row] covers a lot of people in the front row. If our block isn't
good, you can always count on the defense to be there and back us up," Grant
The offense has also been very successful, with consistent production from what
head coach Russ Rose calls the "big three"; senior middle hitter Katie Slay,
senior right side hitter Ariel Scott, and senior outside hitter Deja
McClendon. This season, Slay has had 129 kills, Scott has had 153, and
McClendon has had 139.
"[Katie] Slay has been very consistent. Obviously Arielle [Scott] has been very
consistent. And I think those two together offensively are fantastic," Grant
When the team talks off the court, they set goals and make sure that each
player has the same goals in mind. Slay said talking with teammates about goal
setting and wanting to work to be their best has resulted in the team's
success. She said it is all about getting your mentality focused on the right
things so that when they step on the court, they are ready to play.
The team recognizes that despite the current success, there are still many
matches ahead and that there are always aspects of the game that need
"We're definitely excited about [the wins], but we still have a lot of good
teams to play and we're not going to get complacent," Scott said.
A part of the game that Coach Rose noted the Lions need to improve on is
ball-managing skills and cutting down on errors. The team has a total of 403
errors this season, but has fewer errors than their opponents in every aspect
of the game except for serving.
"What we haven't been doing well is managing the ball in some situations. It
just seems that everybody thinks that it's okay to make two or three errors in
a game," Rose said. "When you add up four or five people making two or three
errors, you're giving away an awful lot of points."
Having good chemistry between the players in the lineup is imperative for the
Nittany Lions. Rose has been changing around the lineup each match, in hopes of
finding a group that clicks and wants to play.
"I am going to keep changing around the lineup until I think something clicks a
little better. If you practice four days a week and you play twice a week, you
have twice as many opportunities to demonstrate that you should be playing [on
the court]," said Rose.
This weekend, the Nittany Lions will head to Illinois to face the Fighting
Illini on their home court on Friday. After that, the team will head to Chicago
for a match against Northwestern on Sunday afternoon. Having a Sunday match is
unusual for Penn State because Rose likes to give the players off on Sundays.
"We had off on Sunday and Monday of this week because this week is a tough
week. We have a TV game, so we play Friday and Sunday," said Rose. "Sunday is
traditionally our day off, so we needed to have to a day so we had back-to-back
days off. Hopefully the players will have a little more energy and their bodies
will be a little more rested."
Before the matches this weekend, Scott wants to continue to work on her
blocking. Grant said as a team, blocking would be crucial because both teams
are very talented at the net.
Illinois redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks has tallied 241 kills
this season. Northwestern senior outside hitter Stephanie Holthus has had 279
kills this season. Blocking these two players will be very important.
Slay said both Illinois (7-9) and Northwestern (11-7) are good teams that do a
lot of things well. She said it's important to make sure that the Nittany Lions
take care of their side of the court.
Rose also noted that both teams are talented. Illinois split last weekend on
the road, beating Indiana and falling to Purdue. They are 3-3 in the Big Ten.
The atmosphere at Illinois may be one of the toughest challenges that the
Nittany Lions will face this weekend. Scott said the Illini student section is
great and their gym is smaller, so the fans will be on top of them and very
The Nittany Lions will kick the weekend off in Illinois on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Catch the game on Big Ten Network.
"It's hard to play, but it's also really fun, too," Scott said.
Northwestern won both of their matches against Indiana and Purdue on the road
last weekend and are also 3-3 in the Big Ten. Penn State will face the Wildcats
on Sunday at 1 p.m.
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Katie Slays' father put up a volleyball net in
their backyard and she started playing for fun with her neighbors, the North
Carolina native didn't know that the recreational sport would turn into a competitive
career where she has proven to be a key contributor for the Nittany Lions.
Slay joined her first team in seventh grade, but really started playing
volleyball in fifth grade. Continuing to grow as a player and graduating high
school as a member of the 2009 U.S. Junior National team, Slay's passion for
the sport after years of dedication never faded. Knowing there's still room for
improvement is how the senior stays motivated to close out four years at Penn
"I don't feel like I've reached my full potential yet so I want to strive to be
the best for my team just so I can help on the court as much as I can," Slay
said. "Each day at practice I'm striving to get better still. I really want to
take it all in and soak it in as much as I can and be together with my
One teammate that has been there to share the experience of playing on one of
the top teams in the country is Deja McClendon. The two seniors have been in the
starting lineup together and have worked to build strong court dynamics. McClendon
has noticed the type of leader Slay has developed into and the affect that has
made on the team.
"She's been a lot more vocal as a leader and I look up to her in that aspect
because she has a lot of experience that I don't have as a middle and as a
blocker," McClendon said. "She's a huge blocker and great defensive player. I
know that if I can do my job as a passer, she's going to get the job done as a
hitter. We mesh together because we're both good listeners and you have to have
that on a team."
In addition to leading vocally, she's also been one to lead by example. The
middle hitter has proven to be one of the most consistent players for the
Nittany Lions this season compiling 123 kills and 502 total blocks after 15
matches. In a sport where consistency is crucial to their success, Slay has
learned that she can't be consistent without being a true team player.
"Each game I just go out there and don't do more than I know that I can
do," Slay said. "I do what I'm good at and I know what to work on and try to be
consistent at those things. I just do what my teammates need me to do."
After coaching Slay for just over three years and watching her develop into
a player that is currently ranked seventh nationally and second in the Big Ten conference,
head coach Russ Rose knows first hand the type of character Slay brings to the
court each and every day. The attitude she shows when she enters Rec Hall is
one focused on the outcome of the team and not making all of the big plays on
"If I had to pick one player that's been the most consistent and made the
greatest impact, it would be Katie," Rose said. "I think she's had a great
career as well. I think she's really good at doing what she's capable of doing
and I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned in life and sports from
In Penn State's most recent match-up against Minnesota, Slay contributed to
building momentum for the Nittany Lions. In the fifth set of the match, the
difference between walking away with a win or a loss was on the line. However,
the senior wasn't going to take a loss in front of the home crowd.
She closed out the match matching a career-high of 16 kills and registering
10 blocks. In the final set of the night Slay helped the Nittany Lions to a 6-1
lead by making three huge kills in addition to assisting two blocks, ultimately
changing the atmosphere of Rec Hall and getting the whole crowd on their feet.
As Minnesota brought the set back to within one with the score 11-10, Slay
knew this was her chance to put the match away. She made two more kills and
then teamed up with Ariel Scott for a block making it match point at 14-11.
After an error from Minnesota, the senior could feel the emotion from the fans
as they erupted reminding her of the name they were playing for and what the
whole team had to defend.
"We're playing at a program with a really rich history when we step out on the
court, we want to defend our name and do our best," Slay said. "It's not so
much how the team does it's how we control our side and play together as a
team. We know that everyone's good. Going into five sets at home - they pushed
us, but we have to rely on each other."
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-
Ariel Scott led the Nittany
Lions to victory in five sets on Wednesday night against No. 11 Minnesota.
Scott tallied a season-high 25 kills, only three short of her career-high of 28
Penn State started off strong in the first set, with a 8-2 lead, with three
kills from Scott and one kill from sophomore outside hitter Megan Courtney,
consecutively. The Golden Gophers fought back, making the score 12-10, but Penn
State rallied and scored seven points. Toward
the end of the first set, Penn State led 21-18 and closed out the game with
three kills from Scott and one from senior middle hitter Katie Slay. The
Nittany Lions took the first set, 25-19.
Scott set the tone in the first game with 10 kills. She said starting out
strong in Big Ten matches is important.
"Every team is good. Getting that momentum is a big part of the game,"
Minnesota had an early lead in the second set, up 6-3, but with help from
Scott and a block from Courtney and Nia Grant, the Nittany Lions were able to
tie it up at 7-7. Through the rest of
the set, the Nittany Lions were neck and neck with Minnesota. The Gophers had
four consecutive kills to gain a 21-16 lead, but the Nittany Lions fought back
to make the score 22-20. Minnesota won the second set after a Penn State
"Minnesota keeps the ball in play and they are a very disciplined team with
two or three really good arms," head coach Russ Rose said. "After two games,
they had six errors. We were having five or fix errors a game."
Penn State was down early in the third set, but with kills from Slay and
Scott and a Courtney-Slay block, the Nittany Lions were able to gain the lead at
20-18. Minnesota came back from behind to tie the set at 21-21, but the Nittany
Lions sealed the deal with a four-point rally. The Nittany Lions were ahead in
the match two games to one.
In the fourth set, the Nittany Lions trailed 13-5, but a kill from Nia
Grant fired the team up and gave them the momentum to score more points. Penn
State had a few three-point runs, but ultimately fell to the Golden Gophers,
In the deciding set, the Nittany Lions came out strong with a 6-1 lead,
with three kills and a block from Slay and a Slay-Scott block. Minnesota came back from a six point deficit
to make the score 12-10 at the end of the fifth set. The Golden Gophers only
scored one more point before Penn State closed out the game. A block from Slay
and Scott made the score 14-11 and a Minnesota error ended the match, giving
Penn State its fourth Big Ten Conference win.
When the players step out on the court, they play to defend the Penn State
name and want do their best. It's important to do so at a program with such a
rich history. The team knows that it is not about what the other team does, but
how they control their own side and play together as a team.
"We know that everyone's good. Going to five sets at home, [Minnesota]
pushed us, but we have to rely on each other," Slay said.
The team was trailing early in the second and fourth games, which caught
Rose's attention. In order to be
successful, the Nittany Lions need to perform at the level that they did in the
first set throughout the entire match.
"Players have to come out ready to play. You can't be down 8-2 and
nonchalantly think that you can turn it around and get it back because that
doesn't make any sense," Rose said.
Minnesota middle Tori Dixon had 17 kills, making up 28 percent of the
team's total kills. Coach Rose said she is a player that no one can stop. The
team had a few blocks on her, which McClendon said really fired the team up.
It was a great night for the seniors, with Ariel Scott, Katie Slay, and
Deja McClendon all having big plays throughout the match.
"I thought the seniors played really hard. We had more kills than their big
three [players] with our big three (Scott, Slay, McClendon)," Rose said.
Slay matched her career-high with 16 kills and set her season-high record in
blocks, totaling 10 blocks against Minnesota.
McClendon had her fourth double-double of the season with 14 kills and
16 digs. McClendon also tallied four blocks, two of which were solo blocks.
"They served Deja 90 percent of the balls tonight and she did a great job
passing. That's two matches in a row where Deja had to carry the load," Rose
The Nittany Lions will take on No. 19 Wisconsin on Saturday night. The
Badgers (14-2) fell to Nebraska last weekend to break the team's eight match
winning streak. In their past five matchups, the Nittany Lions are 4-1 against
In practice for the remainder of the week, the team is going to work on
carrying their momentum through the entire game.
"We need to work hard not only winning first games, but second games,"
McClendon said. "That's where we always start slumping and if we slump in
practice all during the week, we'll slump in the game. If we can set that up, I
think well be better."
Catch the match at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday in Rec Hall, following the
Homecoming football game.
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- The Penn State women's volleyball team is preparing
for another challenging week with more Big Ten play after a weekend sweep in the
state of Indiana.
The fourth-ranked team knows before going into each Big Ten match that it
will be a battle. Last Saturday night, all of the Big Ten matches went into
five sets except one, reinforcing how talented each team in the conference is.
"It makes you appreciate a victory when you get one because they are not as
easy to come by as outsiders may assume," head coach Russ Rose said.
Rose said preparing for a Big Ten match is tough because every team is challenging.
There are players on every roster he has recruited and every university is
committed to being the best that they can be.
"Every time you go out and play, you have to defend your right to be out
there," Rose said.
The Nittany Lions are 3-1 in the Big Ten and are looking for a fourth
victory on Wednesday night when they take on No. 11 Minnesota.
Senior outsider hitter Deja McClendon said that the team has a sense of
what kind of team Minnesota is because they have watched them play this season.
She said the team knows that Minnesota is a big team and mentally, the Nittany
Lions have to be ready.
"They're going to bounce balls. We know that. So we have to tell ourselves
'okay, we may not get that ball, but we will get this'," McClendon said.
Minnesota, who is also 3-1 in the Big Ten, beat Iowa last weekend in five
sets. The Golden Gophers senior middle hitter Tori Dixon had 23 kills against
Iowa and her hitting could pose a threat to the Nittany Lions.
"It would be easy to just take out a piece of paper and say, 'Stop Dixon',
but you just can't stop Dixon," Rose said. "She is hitting close to .500 for
the year and that is against the top teams. She's a strong, talented, and
passionate player," Rose said.
Trying to stop Dixon will be vital for Penn State, and it starts with
serving. Serving well can impact a middle hitters performance.
"[Dixon] is a great player, so we just have to try to serve well so we can
control her since she is in the middle. If we serve well, I think we can do a
pretty good job on her," senior middle hitter Ariel Scott said.
McClendon said a lot of the things the Nittany Lions are working on in
practice this week pertain to blocking, specifically blocking Dixon and Minnesota's
other middle hitters. The Nittany Lions had a total of 12 blocks against
Purdue, but the team has collectively blocked 133 balls this season, while
opponents have only had a total 69 blocks.
Scott said the team has done a lot of scouting on Minnesota and knows a lot
of the Minnesota players because the teams have played against each other on
multiple occasions. In its last match up, Penn State defeated the Golden
Gophers in the quarterfinals of the 2012 NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions
have not fallen to Minnesota in their past five matches.
"They are a really strong team. We just have to play our best, especially
since we are at home," Scott said.
Arguably the two best servers in Big Ten Conference will be playing in this
match; Micha Hancock and Daly Santana. The two teams also have middle hitters
that are hitting for a high percentage.
"Minnesota is having a great year, and they are going to be really good. We are
going to have to play really well to have success with them," Rose said.
With the great depth in the Big Ten, Scott said the team gives it their all
in every practice every single time they step on the floor. The Nittany Lions
know they have to come with their "A-game" because every team in the Big Ten is
a challenging opponent this year.
"The Big Ten is serious. That's the bottom line," Rose said.
Playing at home in a Big Ten match gives the team more confidence.
McClendon noted that it's much more exciting to play at home because of the
big, excited crowd.
"It's my last year playing at home, so every game has that much more
meaning to me," McClendon said.
The Nittany Lions will take on the Golden Gophers (15-2) on Wednesday at
7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall (BTN).
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Anytime sophomore Megan Courtney takes the court in
Rec Hall, fans notice her dominate play of blocks and kills, they can see the emotion
in her face after a good play, and they notice a pink ribbon that the she wears
in her hair for every single game.
For the past four years, Courtney has worn the ribbon each time she
competes. However, it has a much deeper meaning than being just another
ordinary pink ribbon. It has the words "Casey 14" written on it.
"Casey was a girl that I grew up admiring her and her sister," Courtney
said. "Casey and her dad were in a plane to pick up her sister for spring break
and when they took off one of the technicians told them that the plane isn't
okay and to come back down. The plane exploded on impact and both Casey and her
To honor Casey and her family, Courtney wears the ribbon as a constant
reminder of the influence that their family has had on her career and to keep
in mind where she came from.
"I just wear the ribbon to symbolize what her and her family had done for
me in terms of volleyball and knowing that where I came from is also a part of
who I am. It helps me remember Casey and her family," Courtney said. "It just
humbles me to say I didn't get to where I am without them."
Graduating high school, Courtney was ranked as the No. 4 high school player
in the country and had to make a choice of where she wanted to make her college
debut. Her decision to come to Penn State was a simple one when she saw the
atmosphere and what it would be like to play as a Nittany Lion.
"The whole college process when you walk onto a campus is just supposed to
click," Courtney said. "I thought to myself can you see yourself being at this
school if volleyball isn't in the picture. That's what I based my decision off
of because what if I got hurt. I weighed all my options and Penn State was just
the perfect spot with volleyball and without volleyball. It was the absolute
best school for me."
One component that made the decision easy for Courtney was the atmosphere
in Rec Hall. This season the sophomore has stepped up in a big way against some
of the top teams in the country, experiencing the Rec Hall emotion in response
to her plays. She registered 11 kills against Michigan and each time the
emotion in her face matched the intensity of the cheers from the fans.
"It's an incredible feeling knowing that everyone in here is cheering for
you and for your team to succeed," Courtney said. "It's just something that we
shouldn't take for granted and something that we should strive for every point,
every game that we play. The crowd helps in so many ways because if we get a
good point or we're not playing well they know how to cheer and how to get us
going. Being able to hear that crowd and hear them roar as they do is
Building off the emotion of the crowd, Courtney has made a huge impact for
the team throughout her career - especially as they began their Big Ten
schedule. She finished the Michigan State match with 15 kills and 14 digs and
came out the next night and played with even more intensity against Michigan
making four blocks and a service ace.
As one of the youngest starters on the court for Penn State, Courtney
handles the pressure of starting like some of the veterans on the team. She
knows what head coach Russ Rose looks for when he picks the lineup and strives
to be one of the hardest workers.
"It's always been who works the hardest, who gives a 110 percent effort,
who's been the best teammate," Courtney said. "It can vary from week to week -
it doesn't really matter who we're playing. It doesn't matter if it's home or
away. It matters how much work you put in and if you're providing energy. If
you're doing more positive than negative you're most likely going to get on the
With her freshman year behind her already, Courtney has proven to be a
leader in all aspects of the sport. In addition to her physical talent of being
a versatile player, the sophomore's knowledge of volleyball set her apart from
other players immediately when she entered collegiate volleyball.
"I think Megan had a great impact even as a freshman," Rose said. "Her
strengths are her volleyball IQ and the fact that she's capable of performing
all of the skills. She's a good passer, defensive player, and our best blocker.
There's times when she gets everything lined up well and she takes a good swing
as an outside attacker."
Working her way into the starting lineup and wearing the pink ribbon as a
symbol of where she came from, Courtney's hard work and determination has set
her up for another successful year with the Nittany Lions.
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For senior outside hitter Deja McClendon, the team
and crowd's energy has a huge impact on the outcome of the match. After the
fifth-ranked Nittany Lion women's volleyball team fell to then-No. 15 Michigan
State last Friday, energy was vital for the match against then-10th-ranked
McClendon hit over .400 against the Wolverines and passed 80 percent of all
the serves received from Michigan this past Saturday.
"Our crowd brings a ton of energy and we're lucky to have that, but the
team needs to show more [energy]. I think we accomplished that against
Michigan," McClendon said.
Sophomore outside hitter Megan Courtney added that having the crowd cheer
for them during the match against Michigan and in other home matches is
something that the No. 5-ranked team should not take for granted. And it's
something that the team should strive for during every point in a match.
"The crowd helps us in so many ways because they know how to cheer and they
know how to get us going. Just being able to use that crowd and hear them roar
like they do is absolutely phenomenal," Courtney said.
McClendon said she and the team tried to make it a mental note to stay focused
and fight against Michigan. This meant having more of a "go-getter" attitude,
shaking off nerves, and forgetting about all of the other things going on.
McClendon said the team lacked this when playing Michigan State.
"We were ahead many, many times against Michigan State and we let it slip
away," McClendon said. "People are always going to want to go out there and
kick your butt and hold nothing back. Especially in the Big Ten, when you're
playing tough teams, and they're all amazing, there is a chance you can lose
and if you leave the door open, they can get you. I learned [this weekend] that
we need to close the door and go out there just as mean as the other team is
going to come out as."
Big Ten match weeks can be broken into two parts for Nittany Lion
student-athletes. Off the court,
McClendon focused on her schoolwork before beginning preparation for this week's
matches against Indiana and Purdue.
"We are student athletes. I had to get all of my homework and projects done
right away so I could focus on what I need to do to play this weekend,"
On the floor, the senior is no stranger to the talent across the Big Ten
Conference because she has played every team in the league multiple times
during her career. She said the seniors are relaying the information about the
players to their teammates, as well as watching film and talking about what the
other team does.
The Nittany Lions (10-2) will face Indiana (8-5) on Thursday at 7 p.m. on
the Hoosiers' home court.
In their last matchup, Penn State defeated Indiana in three sets. Indiana redshirt senior Jordan Haverly had 14
kills in that match against the Lions in 2012. Haverly had her 1,500th career
kill last week against Wisconsin last weekend. The team is currently on a
four-match losing streak.
Penn State will play No. 24 Purdue (9-4) on Saturday in West Lafayette,
Ind., home of the Boilermakers, at 7 p.m. Last season, the Nittany Lions
defeated Purdue in four sets on Purdue's home court.
Head coach Russ Rose and the Lion coaching staff have prepared a scouting
report, like they do prior to every match, for this weekend's opponents, but
Rose said that the matches come down to how the athletes perform on the floor.
"It's how the players play more than me knowing what's going on," Rose said.
"It's them competing hard and playing well as a team on the road. Being on the
road is tough. All of the teams are good. We're playing Indiana and they are
undefeated at home. We were undefeated at home until Friday night, so we know
how that goes."
Rose is hopeful that the setback to Michigan State, the Penn State's first
loss at home since 2011, will help motivate the team this weekend and
throughout the rest of the season.
"Nothing gets your attention [more] than losing, so I would think the
players understand that if they have an opportunity to close out a game or a
match, they'll have little better focus because they'll have the memory of not
being able to do that," Rose said. "The conference is always very strong, I
think playing on the road is always a challenge, and it tests the maturity of
the players and how they handle stress."
Watch the Nittany Lions take on Indiana on Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions opened their first weekend of Big
Ten play falling short to No. 15 Michigan State on Friday night, but bounced
back Saturday night with enough fight and emotion to defeat No. 10 Michigan in
front of a packed Rec Hall.
On opening night of Big
Ten play, the Nittany Lions played in front of 3,625 fans, but could not pull
off the match against Michigan State as the Spartans won 3-2. Michigan State
got off to an early lead winning the first two sets (25-23 and 26-24).
Although Penn State
got off to a slow start, they weren't going to let Michigan State finish with a
victory without fighting tough through the next set. The Nittany Lions rallied
back winning both the third and fourth set 25-19.
The match then came down to a fifth set to determine the final outcome where
the Spartans won 15-9.
"I thought we had a lot of opportunities to win the first and second games,"
head coach Russ Rose said. "Michigan State fought a lot harder than we played
smart. We then came out and controlled the third and fourth game and in the
fifth game we made nine errors. If you make nine errors in the fifth game,
you're going to struggle."
prevented the Nittany Lions from winning the tough battle in the last set, Penn
State outplayed Michigan State in several statistical categories while several
players set new career highs. Sophomore Megan Courtney had 15 kills and 14 digs
while junior Micha Hancock made nine kills and 57 assists.
Ariel Scott, Katie
Slay, and Deja McClendon continued to lead the team in number of kills. Scott reached
a season-high mark of 18 kills while Slay made 11 kills and McClendon had seven
kills along with 14 digs.
"I thought A. Scott
hit the ball well and Katie had a nice game offensively," Rose said. "I think Micha's
a very competitive kid. But I think it's more important you give credit to
Michigan State. They didn't win the statistics war, but they won the match
because they fought hard at critical times."
With the first
match of Big Ten play behind the Nittany Lions and a quick turn around before they
played against Michigan, Slay knew how critical it was to look ahead to the
future and not dwell in past matches. Before playing Michigan she expressed how
important it would be for the team to change their mindset for Saturday
"In sports, you
have to have a short term memory in a way," Slay said. You can't come out
moping or anything like that. We have a good team coming in and we need to
defend our house, defend the Penn State name, and all of the people who came
before us and play hard to show people what we're made of."
The next night the
Nittany Lions did just that - they came out ready to play and used the
motivation of their loss against Michigan State to their advantage as they
defeated Michigan 3-2. They came out eager to win and finished the first set
fought back during the second set winning 24-20, but Penn State didn't let them
take away the momentum. Penn State won the third set 25-19 and the fourth set 25-17 to secure their first Big Ten victory of the
"It was a much
better situation than we were in yesterday," Rose said on Saturday night. "I
thought we played with a lot more emotion and I thought we controlled the ball
a lot better. We needed to (close out the match). Certainly yesterday's
exercise showed us leading doesn't always lead to winning. I thought we were
better at that tonight."
McClendon made huge
plays for the Nittany Lions against Michigan where she finished the night with
13 digs and a hitting percentage of .433. The senior also made 15 kills helping
build the momentum for the match.
"I thought Deja had
an exceptional match, the best match she's played in a long time," Rose said.
"I'm happy she was able to do that for herself. She came out and passed great -
passed about 80 percent of the serves - and she had a great night offensively.
I'm thrilled for her to have a match like that where she was the leading hitter
and leading digger on the court."
matches this weekend, Rose talked to the team about competing tough and having
passion for the competition in front of them, which helped keep the players
focused on what they wanted to accomplish.
"I had a few
conversation points that I thought were worthy to pass on about competition and
everybody caring," Rose said. "Everybody cares, it's how much do you care? What
are you going to do to give your team a chance to have success and what are you
wiling to wager all the time? We played a lot better tonight and had a good
team effort for us against a very good Michigan team. It was nice for us to
bounce back from yesterday."
In a conference
with as much depth as the Big Ten has, the rankings change from week to week.
The American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll changes every Monday
after the weekend competitions are over, but Rose knows that the team has a
long season ahead of them and doesn't put too much focus on the rankings.
"It's early in the
year where the rankings flip all the time. It's a really long season with two
and a half months of Big Ten volleyball. There are 20 matches so we're about 10
percent in. You're just happy when you get a win," Rose said.
Taking what they
learned from this weekend, the Nittany Lions will have a few days off from
competition to prepare before traveling for more Big Ten play. The team will
travel to Indiana to play on Thursday night and will then head to Purdue on
Saturday with both matches starting at 7 p.m.
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Hit the ball three times. Bounce the ball
another three times. Place fingers on the seam. Look at the ball out in front.
Focus. And toss.
These six steps have proven to be key for a successful serve from
junior setter Micha Hancock, who had her 200th career ace this past
"[Getting 200 aces] is cool, but that's not the main focus of my
serving. I'm just trying to help the team and move forward with getting better
at the actual art of serving," Hancock said.
Head coach Russ Rose said Hancock's serving is a big part of the team's
offense and its offensive potential.
"We generate the most points in [the rotations where Hancock is
serving], and her serving also has an impact on limiting the other team's
offensive structure," Rose said.
Hancock said it's "nice to know" that her serving can take away some of
the pressures from the game, be it playing in front of a crowd or having a good
opponent on the other side.
"When I come in the huddle after [an ace] everyone is like, 'Cool, we
got a free point. Now let's reset and focus on the next one.' It's nice to know
that I have the ability to do that," Hancock said.
Hancock added that serving is mostly mental.
"As a team, we have to get more mentally prepared in pressure
situations to be able to handle it and get the ball in play," she said.
Hancock and the Nittany Lions will begin conference play this weekend
when they host Michigan State and Michigan inside Rec Hall. The defending Big Ten champions will be
seeking their 16th conference title since joining the Big Ten in 1992 when they
open on Friday.
"The biggest difference [between non-conference and conference play] is
now there is an increased value in all of the matches and in every practice.
You need to be ready to play and everybody is going to fight tooth and nail to
get a victory. You have to be ready to fight," Rose said.
The Big Ten Conference currently has eight teams in ranked in the top
25 of the AVCA rankings. In addition to
the Nittany Lions, the list includes No. 9 Minnesota, No. 10 Michigan, No. 12
Nebraska, No. 13 Ohio State, No. 15 Michigan State, No. 20 Purdue and No. 24
Rose noted this week that the landscape of college volleyball has
evolved in recent seasons. The west
coast conferences used to rule the collegiate volleyball world, but Rose said the
Big Ten Conference has become more dominant in recent years with help from the
"What separates the Big Ten is that all of the teams have received
great commitments from their universities, which has resulted in great coaches,
challenging facilities and big crowds on the road. It's an elevated commitment
starting with the universities on down," Rose said.
"The best thing about the Big Ten Conference is that if you don't come
ready to play, someone's going to check you. No matter who it is. It comes down
to who's ready to play that night," Hancock said.
The Nittany Lions kick things off on Friday against the 15th-ranked
Spartans, who enter the match with an 11-1 overall record (7 p.m. in Rec Hall). Michigan State senior outside hitter
Lauren Wicinski had her 2,000th kill last weekend against Eastern
Michigan. She is the leader in kills in Division I volleyball, and Coach Rose
said Wicinski also has a solid serve.
"Wicinski and Micha were two of the leading servers in the country last
year, so we're not the only one who understands the value of a good server,"
On Saturday, Penn State will face No. 10 Michigan at 7:30 p.m. in Rec
Michigan (10-1) had four players with double figures in kills in their
match against then-No. 24 Ohio last weekend. Senior Jennifer Cross had 18 kills
and a .457 hitting percentage.
Hancock's serving will be important against Michigan because limiting Cross's
attack attempts can be limited with strong play at the service line.
"Michigan made it to the Final Four. They went to five games with Texas
in their semifinal match. They're playing great. They've got a great setter and
All-American outside hitters," Rose said.
Hancock said the team has a few things to focus before the Nittany
Lions make the transition from non-conference play to conference play this
"Personally, I have to do a better job of seeing the middle block on
the other side so I can get one on one's for my hitters. As a team, getting in
a groove serving is probably our biggest thing," she said.
Coach Rose said the team will have to come ready to play.
"Both teams are in the top 15 in the country. Both of them have a great
roster coming back from last year. And both teams a very good home or away,"
"It will be nice to know where we stand, what we need to work on, and
what we're good at. [This weekend] going be a challenge, but we need to be
prepared. It's going to be nice to foresee what's ahead for us," Hancock said.
Watch the Nittany Lions take on Michigan State (BTN Student U Stream)
and Michigan live on the Big Ten Network this weekend.
Story By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Pa. - With non-conference play behind the women's volleyball team and a week to
refine their skills, the No. 1 ranked team will open up Big Ten conference play
at home against Michigan State on Friday at 7 p.m. and Michigan on Saturday at
Coming off of the
Penn State Classic, the team had a chance to learn from non-conference play
before being matched up against a conference strong in depth. The players took
the opportunity in more relaxed matches to stay focused on their habits.
"We're not just
thinking about the weekend when we play non-conference matches," redshirt
freshman Paulina Prieto Cerame said. "We're thinking about December and how we
want to win a national championship. Since last spring, we've been thinking
about our habits. Whatever habits we have everyday is what's going to affect us
in the long run so creating good habits and staying focused is enough
With eight Big Ten
teams ranked in the top 25, the value of each practice and match goes up
requiring the players to be focused on the goals they set at the beginning of
value in all of the matches, in all of the practices," head coach Russ Rose
said. "Once you get into the Big Ten, what separates the Big Ten teams is all
of the teams have received great commitments from their university, which
resulted in great coaches, challenging facilities, and big crowds on the road."
With the increased
commitment to the sport of volleyball in the Big Ten, some of the players that
Penn State will compete against throughout the rest of the season have taken a recruiting
trip to State College and have seen Rec Hall from a different perspective.
"There's players on
every team that we play that we have recruited," Rose said. "That's probably
the big change. Everybody has players that if they have a good night - they
could win. That's the challenge for every team. We pose the same threats to
other teams. We have some strong players that if they have a good night that
enhances our chance for winning."
Penn State will
face some of the top players in the nation giving the team an advantage when it
comes time to look at their ultimate goal of winning another national
championship. The opportunity to compete against top 20 teams in two nights during
a week sets the Big Ten conference a part from other conferences across the
advantage that I've always felt about the Big Ten since we joined it is with
the existing structure of the NCAA tournament, you play back to back nights
against top 20 teams and it really prepares you for later on in the year," Rose
said. "If you're hosting an invitational you can really relax, but if you
travel it's a whole different atmosphere."
When it comes time
to prepare for conference play, there's a shift in the mindset going into each
match. With players who have been on national championship teams, Rose relies
on these players to step up into leadership roles in crucial ways.
players have working knowledge of competition in Big Ten and know how big all
of the teams are both at home and on the road. We have to depend on the veteran
players to not only do what they need to do but to be ready and assist the
younger players to help make sure they're ready to come out of the gate
McClendon has been on national championship teams and knows how to stay calm
under high-pressure situations. Sharing her experiences, the outside hitter
takes the approach of taking care of her own emotions and making sure they
reflect positively for the younger players.
"A lot of helping
(the underclassmen) is based on how you are and how you act," McClendon said.
"If I stay smiling even though we're losing then the freshman think okay we're
good, we don't need to worry as opposed to if we were to freak out. Whenever
they have questions, we are the first people they ask because we've been
through it before and we try to give them pointers that we've learned."
from McClendon is redshirt freshman Prieto Cerame. Since the upperclassmen have
had up to three years competing against the same teams, they have a better idea
of what to expect and how to approach the weekend.
"It helps a lot
because the upperclassmen have already played against these teams and tell us
how it's going to be," Prieto Cerame said. "They help in the sense that they
don't see it any differently, they just know that no matter what we have to be
at our best. It's just go time now."
This weekend as
they open conference play against no. 15 Michigan State and no. 10 Michigan,
the Nittany Lions will experience playing against highly athletic teams ready
"Both teams have a
great roster coming back from last year," Rose said. "Michigan made it to the
final four. They're playing great and they have a great setter and all-American
outside hitters. They only replaced one player. Michigan State is an incredible
physical team. Both are good home or away so we'll have to be ready to play."