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VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Haleigh Washington (10/28/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - talks with sophomore Haleigh Washington in advance of Penn State's trip to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions will meet the Buckeyes on Wednesday at 5 p.m. (ESPNU) in Columbus before hosting the Buckeyes on Friday at 7 in Rec Hall.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

From an Island to the States: Wilma Rivera's Adjustment to America

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11422468.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It is not often to find a person who is willing to travel more than 1,600 miles to attend a college or university. It is even more rare to hear about someone who has traveled to various countries, like Thailand, Turkey and the Czech Republic in order to represent his or her National Team in volleyball.

But none of this is unique for 18-year-old freshman Wilma Rivera.

Rivera is from Carolina, Puerto Rico. She began playing volleyball when she was eight years old, but that was the last thing that her parents had expected. Her two brothers, Wilmar and William, were baseball players, and her dad was a baseball and basketball player. Rivera had been on a baseball field or a basketball court all her life to support her family, but she knew it was time for a change.

"I've always been on the field with baseball or on the basketball court, but I really enjoy volleyball," said Rivera. "I was home one time, and I said, 'Mom, I really want to play volleyball,' and 'Dad, I want to play volleyball," and they just agreed, so I went on and fell in love with the sport."

Rivera was a four-year team captain and MVP at her high school, Saint Francis School. She was also the starting setter and team captain of the Puerto Rican Girls' Youth National Team, and helped the team to the 2014 Puerto Rico Lopa El Nuevo Dia Championship.

After seeing Rivera's vast amount of talent and her passion for volleyball, head coach Russ Rose knew that Rivera would be the perfect fit for the Penn State's women's volleyball program.

"She possess good skills," said coach Rose. "I like how quick she is. She has a good feel for the game, and I think those are all good characteristics for a setter."

With all the volleyball success in high school, Rivera knew that Penn State had to be the next step for her future.

"Penn State volleyball is the best program," said Rivera. "If you want to be good and be the best, you have to be with the best. I really like [Penn State]. The academics are really good. I just love being here, and it's totally worth [the distance]."

The transition from international play to collegiate play is not an easy feat as they are two completely different systems. For example, the rules are not the same, and the game is slower in international play when compared to collegiate volleyball. This move can be difficult for people to adjust to sometimes, but not for Rivera. She understands that that is a component for being the best, and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"The adjustment is cool because it's a new experience," said Rivera. "I wouldn't say that it is difficult at all, but it is a change, so it is different. Obviously, the weather, classes, volleyball, how people train here, just everything, but I think it's good and I like it."

In Penn State's first match of the season against Buffalo, Rivera made her collegiate debut where she recorded eight assists and four digs. Later in the season, against South Florida, Rivera tallied a career-high of nine digs, and posted four digs in her Big Ten debut against Illinois. She is quickly getting adjusted to the team and collegiate play, and her coaches can surely see that.

"I think she's certainly getting much more comfortable with life as a college athlete," said coach Rose. "It's so much different than what she is accustomed to in Puerto Rico. Practicing daily, having to go to classes, lifting and doing these other things that are part of being a college athlete, those are just so different...I think she's doing fine with the transition."

But Rivera wouldn't have been able to adjust to the new lifestyle if it wasn't for her teammates.

"[My teammates] help me a lot," said Rivera. "They explain to me the different drills, and if I have questions about classes, they help me with it. The point is that we help each other, so nobody gets behind, so they're really good teammates."

Outside of volleyball, Rivera enjoys reading, listening to songs by Beyonce and other artists, being with friends, shopping and other things, but right now, her main focus is on volleyball.

"I love everything. I love my teammates and volleyball, like setting and playing defense, but doing whatever I have to do to help the team, I will do it," said Rivera. 

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Lara Caraway (10/21/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - talked with senior defensive specialist Lara Caraway leading up to the team's match at Michigan on Wednesday (7 p.m. on BTN). Caraway made her first career start over the weekend.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

A Team Effort for a Big Ten Weekend

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11415319.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- When starting players are absent from big competitions, players from the bench have big shoes to fill. It's their time to shine, their time to step up to show fans, teammates and coaches what they can do.

This was the case this weekend for the Nittany Lion women's Volleyball team. With standout senior Megan Courtney out and a slate of Big Ten matches ahead, sophomore Simone Lee, redshirt freshman Nia Reed and senior Lara Caraway had to step up to the plate.

And they did just that. On Friday night against Indiana, Lee led the team offensively for the second consecutive match, with 10 kills on a .474 hitting percentage. She also notched two blocks.  Lee said the team will continue to play to its standard, no matter the lineup.

"Even though Megan's not on the court, [it] doesn't mean we don't play Penn State volleyball, it doesn't mean we don't play the kind of volleyball that we know how to play," Lee said. "We did an excellent job coming out of the gate, all three games strong starting off."

Lee has been a versatile player this season, hitting from wherever she is put. Though it's an adjustment, she has been getting the job done to help her team.

"I'm trying to stay confident in each position that I'm put in, just making sure I can contribute the most to my team in whatever position he puts me in," Lee said. "I'm going to try and do my best at all times."

Reed, who prior to the Indiana match had only played in four sets, tied for second with six kills. She also had two blocks, notching her first career multi-block performance.

For Lara Caraway, it was her first collegiate start. Despite her nerves, she logged a career-high eight digs and hopes to continue that performance in the matches to come.

"It feels great being a part of the team on the floor. There was a lot of camaraderie and energy that was on the floor tonight," Caraway said. "It was like nothing I've experienced here so far and I'd like to keep experiencing it moving forward."

Rose was pleased with Caraway's performance.

"I thought Lara did what a senior should do and that's come in, play well and talk and help the younger players," Rose said.

On Saturday night, the Nittany Lions swept No. 18 Purdue. Lee led the team offensively once again with 12 digs on a .333 hitting percentage.

Haleigh Washington, who notched 10 kills and nine blocks, enjoyed playing with Lee and watching her succeed.

"Simone goes up and she goes with the mentality that she's going to get this kill. I love seeing that side of Simone," Washington said. "She's an incredible player."

With a key part missing in the weekend's lineup, the entire team had to make adjustments and work hard together to have a successful weekend. On Friday night, middle hitter Heidi Thelan hit from the right side. On Saturday, Ali Frantti led the team in digs.

Sophomore setter Bryanna Weiskircher led the team to a .315 hitting percentage, dishing out 36 assists. She also notched a career-high four aces. Although her top hitter, Courtney, was not on the court, Courtney's leadership was far from absent.

"She's always talking to you on and off the court," Weiskircher said. "She's just a great all-around teammate."

Despite a different lineup, the Nittany Lions went 2-0 on the weekend and advanced to 17-2 on the season. Next up for Penn State is a trip to Michigan to face the No. 23-ranked Wolverines on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Catch the match on the Big Ten Network.

Pierce Sisters Prove that Opposites Attract

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11403272.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Kendall and Lainy Pierce have lived and grown up together their entire lives. Both of them share a love for volleyball, Penn State, the tradition of the Penn State women's volleyball program and much more. However, even with all these similarities, there are a variety of differences between the two sisters.

Kendall has a passion for reading. She can sit down and read an entire book or series in one day. Though Kendall isn't reading anything at the moment because she's focusing on school and volleyball, her favorite books are Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows, and she recently finished The Maze Runner series.

Kendall also paints well, is very creative and likes to use Pinterest.

"I'm not like that at all," said Lainy. "I can't paint for my life or draw or anything like that."

Lainy is the opposite of Kendall. She is a personable and outgoing individual that loves being around others.

"Lainy likes anything that's social," said Kendall. "She likes being around people, and we always have our movie nights at our house. We're really close with our teammates, so we're doing that, or we're working with other athletes because she likes being anywhere the people are."

But these contrasting personalities are what make the Kendall and Lainy relationship. Their bond shows that they are more than sisters, they're best friends.

"I'll nag on [Lainy] because it will take her a couple of months to [read a book]," said Kendall. "When people say we're complete opposites, we're absolutely complete opposites, but I think it's pretty good. We're peanut butter and jelly together. We make a good combo, but we're definitely two different birds."

Even though they're best friends, Kendall isn't afraid to be the mother-figure in the relationship.

"We have a pretty good system [when living together]," said Kendall. "Usually, I do the laundry and she'll do the dinners, if we ever have to in the summer. I'll clean. I make the mess, but I clean it up."

Kendall makes sure that she isn't the only person doing things around the house, though.

"She isn't afraid to leave me lists of stuff that I have to get done," joked Lainy.

The connection between the two sisters has only grown since their arrivals at Penn State. Lainy graduated high school in December in order to come to Penn State early, so it was an abnormal transition, but Kendall helped her along the way by helping her study, making her dinner and taking Lainy to all the organizations where Kendall is a member.

"I think everything that I was involved with, I dragged my little sister to them whether she liked it or not," said Kendall. "I wanted her to experience it, and I think the experience was enough, and it really tugged on her heart and interested her. I think passing along some of the programs that I am involved in made me feel really comfortable passing them along to someone who I really trust."

Kendall is the current president for Athletes Take Action, and Lainy is now the treasurer for the program. Lainy also joined Students Athletic Advisory Board after seeing Kendall's role as treasurer.

Having a strong bond off the court not only builds their sisterhood, but it also enhances their performance on the court.

"I think on the court, we work together and I feel comfortable playing with her because I always have," said Lainy. "Off the court, she's my best friend, but also my mom. She makes me laugh, and she makes me happy."

Being around someone almost all hours of the day may get on some people's nerves, but for the Pierce sisters, that means nothing. Especially when time is running out as Kendall is graduating in December.

"There are times where we don't see each other for a couple of hours in a day, and Lainy will call me on her phone, and I'll be like, 'Lainy, are you just walking by yourself, again?," and she'll be like, 'Yes, but I have to play it cool and pretend that I know somebody', so we're very attached. I think if anything, going to college together has gotten us closer. I think it will be hard on me not having her here," said Kendall.

But with one Pierce member leaving, another one will be joining Penn State. Kendall and Lainy's younger brother, Declan, will be a member of the men's volleyball program, and his sisters are excited for him, especially Lainy.

"I'm excited to take the role that Kendall had with me, and be the older sister and look out for him a little bit," said Lainy.

Coach Rose only has good things about them.

"They come from a really true-blue Penn State family," said coach Rose. "...I think they're both really two wonderful young people that have a sparkle in their eye and are happy to be at Penn State."

At the end of the day though, Kendall and Lainy's favorite thing to do has nothing to do with volleyball or Penn State. These sisters love going on road trips.

"Sometimes we'll turn on our playlist. Sometimes we sing until we lose our voice," said Kendall. "I think just being together is our time to unwind. We get each other, so we don't have to put on a show or be anything we're not."

They're favorite song to sing to?

""Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield," said Kendall and Lainy simultaneously. 

Keeton Holcomb Adjusting to New Surroundings

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11403256.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- On her Christmas vacation in Disney World, then-West Virginia recruit Keeton Holcomb received a call that changed everything.

The West Virginia coaches that she had formed a strong relationship with were leaving the university to coach at TCU. After going through the tough recruiting process and feeling the relief of knowing she would play volleyball in college, she had to go through the process once again.

Going with the coaches to play at TCU was out of the question. She visited the university, but the Bellville, Texas native was determined to get out of Texas. So she reopened her recruiting process in hopes that another college would come her way. And another college did. But it wasn't just any college; it was Penn State, the seven-time national champions, that wanted her on the team.

When it felt like everything was falling apart, in reality, it was only the beginning of things coming together.

"I have always wanted to play [at Penn State]," Holcomb said. "Salima [Rockwell] came and watched me and liked me, then everything just happened so fast."

Fast, indeed. She committed to Penn State and became the starting libero during week one of her freshman year. Many student athletes spend their freshman year watching from the sidelines, but not Holcomb. And she wouldn't have it any other way.

"This is one of the best things ever and I'm so happy it happened. I wouldn't change anything," Holcomb said.

Being the starting libero for Penn State is no easy feat. She is following in the footsteps of national champion and former libero Dominique Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been on campus the past few weeks and has been able to give Holcomb advice.

"Dom's been helping me a lot. I talk to her all of the time and she's really helpful to me," Holcomb said. "She gives me tips and she'll serve balls at me just to help me out and get more touches."

The more touches and the more practice, the more confidence. Holcomb has come a long way since week one.

"I have gained a lot of confidence [since week one], having been in that spot now for a while," Holcomb said. "The first game I was shaking, but it's not as nerve-wracking for me anymore. I just go out there, play and have fun. It's awesome."

Her boost in confidence has not gone unnoticed amongst head coach Russ Rose and her teammates.

"She's gaining more confidence. She's resilient and pretty tough," Rose said. "She's battling and trying to do the best she can to help the team."

"She's been phenomenal and she holds her own for being a freshman. I love playing next to her," senior Megan Courtney said. "You can train skills and you can improve skills but those come with time. Her confidence also came over time but it came quicker than most things and that enhanced her play astronomically."

Holcomb is averaging 3.44 digs per set and receiving serves at a .957 percentage. Rose said he is fortunate to have Holcomb on the team.

"She's played really hard, she's played well, her numbers are really good and she's filling a really big void that we have," Rose said.

Being 1,500 miles from home has been tough, though. She could have taken the easy route; stayed in Texas, where all of her friends attend college, where the coaches she built relationships with are. But Holcomb challenged herself. She was determined to get out of Texas, out of her comfort zone, and be successful wherever she went. And with her Penn State family by her side, the transition has been smooth.

"I'm surrounded by great people here too, so it's not that difficult," Holcomb said.

Holcomb has been acclimating well to being away from home and to being a freshman student athlete. But one thing she hasn't gotten used to just yet is the State College weather.

"It's cold. I texted my dad today and said, 'look, the leaves are all different colors.' And he said that it was still 90 degrees in Texas," Holcomb said. "I am kind of scared for the winter [here]. I've been around snow before but I've never been there for a long period of time (laughter)."

Holcomb and the fifth-ranked Penn State Women's Volleyball team will take on Indiana on Friday at 7 p.m. and No. 18 Purdue on Saturday at 7 p.m.

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Aiyana Whitney (10/14/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - caught up with senior Aiyana Whitney as the Nittany Lions prepare for weekend matches against Indiana and Purdue. The Nittany Lions will host Indiana on Friday (7 p.m.) and Purdue on Saturday (7 p.m.).

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

How Reading is More than Just Essential to Washington

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11383388.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There is more to Haleigh Washington than meets the eye.

On match day, she is the fired up middle hitter that's leading the NCAA in hitting percentage. But when she's not on the court, you can find her with her nose in a book and a cup of tea in hand.

Poetry, philosophy, history. No genre is out of the question for Washington. She's currently reading Road of a Thousand Wonders by Jeffrey Joe Nelson, a compilation of contemporary poetry. Not many college students, not to mention student-athletes, are reading poetry in the little spare time that they have. But that's what makes Washington different from the rest.

"She's not a typical athlete. She is so smart," roommate Ali Frantti said. "Haleigh will be successful in whatever she does because she's got that want and that knowledge. She's so witty and smart that it's going to carry her anywhere."

Head coach Russ Rose said Washington always has a book in her hand. When the team travels for matches, Washington is reading.

Rose said when he saw Washington reading on the bus, he asked if it was for a class. Her response? It was an assigned book for later in the semester because she had already read the introductory book. Rose said, "that's just Haleigh."

"She's incredibly bright, always reading, very inquisitive and a really happy human being," Rose said. er Her

Washington, a sophomore from Colorado, spent her days as a kid playing outside by the river with her siblings. When she arrived at Penn State in 2014, she found that she didn't have much time outside of her academic and athletic obligations. But reading books gave her a similar satisfaction that playing outside as a kid did.

"I've always been an 'out there' kind of person. In college, when I didn't have a lot of free time, I would still go 'out there', but I would use books," Washington said.

Frantti has seen Washington's love for reading since the first time they met.

"Her face is always in a book. Even after doing homework, I remember her just pulling out books. And she's one of those people that will take a highlighter and just start highlighting things [in books that weren't even assigned for a class]." 

In many of the books that Washington reads, she can apply them to her own life, to relationships, friendships and everything in between.

"This book last year that I was reading for a class was about existing on the planet and living harmoniously," Washington said. "It was all about balancing your time, which I thought was really good as a freshmen coming into college. How to balance all of your time and not spread yourself too thin, but just enough that you can figure everything out."

This love for reading runs in the family for Washington. She said her mother and brother finish books in two days, a day or even hours. But Washington is not the type to breeze through a book. She likes to take her time to truly understand the book she's reading.

"I don't devour books like [my mom and brother]," Washington said. "I'll sit down and devour a book, but usually I like to sit down and enjoy it, so I'll read a little, I'll understand it, I'll go over it, I'll annotate it, I'll look things up."

Washington's favorite spot to read is Webster's Bookstore and Café, located on Beaver Avenue. There, she will sit down with a good book and a London Fog, her favorite kind of tea.

Walk into any library or bookstore on campus and you will find many people drinking coffee to fight off the tiredness that comes with being a college student. But Washington, to no surprise, is different from most college students.

"I'm a tea person. I'll have a [cup of] black coffee every once in a while, but I'm a sucker for a good cup of tea," Washington said.

In addition to her literary brilliance, Frantti said Washington is the "queen of crazy, unknown facts".

"I just listen to all of the [facts] and I'm amazed at how she knows all of this stuff," Frantti said.

When Washington isn't doing homework, playing volleyball or reading, like most college students, she is usually hanging out with friends and teammates.

"I just like chilling with friends, talking and listening to music. Hanging out with [my friends] is awesome," Washington said.

Frantti, one of Washington's closest friends, cherishes her friendship with Washington. She said Washington is a great roommate, a trustworthy friend and that positive, energetic, happy-go-lucky attitude that fans see on the court, is the same Washington off the court.

"But she's a simple girl when it comes down to it," Frantti said. "It's books, tea, and volleyball."

Nittany Lions Overcome First Loss of the Season in 'Dig Pink' Match

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11378413.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Although top-ranked Penn State fell just short in a five-set thriller against No. 4 Nebraska on Friday evening, the Blue and White bounced back to defeat Iowa in three straight sets in the eighth annual 'Dig Pink' match on Saturday in Rec Hall.

"Iowa is very competitive, and they do the things they do very well and they play with great energy," said head coach Russ Rose. "...As I told the players earlier [on Saturday], losing or your statistics don't really define you. They're just an indication of how you played. How you bounce back from defeat or challenges is how people will define you and how you can define yourself."

The crowd of 5,331 attendees provided a sea of pink throughout Rec Hall on Saturday evening. Rec Hall was filled with pink shirts and shakers, and the wRECking Crew and Pep Band all wore pink construction hats. Every member of the team dressed in pink warmup T-shirts and added light-pink bows to their hair to support the Side-Out Foundation and to raise awareness for breast cancer.

"I think it's really special [to have the 'Dig Pink' match]," said senior Kendall Pierce. "Playing as women, it's really important for us. It's the big picture of 'What are we playing for? What are we representing?'. Even if it's wearing a ribbon in our hair for one night, it means a lot."

In addition to hosting the 'Dig Pink' match on Saturday evening, senior Megan Courtney reached the 1,000 career kills milestone. She notched 12 kills for the night to record 1,004 career kills. Courtney also had 13 digs to make her just four digs shy of the 1,000 career digs record.

"Megan has had a great career to date," said coach Rose. "She's been a real fixture and support of our program and progress. She's a good leader and I'm proud of her performance that she has and how she conducts herself."

Redshirt freshman Bryanna Weiskircher was another key player on Saturday evening. She led the team with 34 assists, a season-high of three aces and 10 digs.

"Coach has always been on me [about my serves]," said Weiskircher. "I have one of the toughest serves, so I know that I have to go back there and just let it rip sometimes, and have my team help me and defend my serve. Sometimes, I come up with aces, and sometimes, I don't, but I think it just got the team rolling a little bit, so it was nice."

Coming off their first loss of the season on Friday evening, the Nittany Lions knew that they had to rebound the following night.

"You're up 2-0 against the No. 4 team in the country, you've got to feel pretty confident, but [Nebraska] came out in the third game and outplayed us. Period," said Courtney. "We can't let that happen. It's the same thing that happened against Minnesota. We got outplayed, outhustled and outworked, and that's not what happens at Penn State, so that's on [me and Aiyana] as seniors and as captains to not let a team, no less at home, be able to come in here and beat us at our house, especially in front of a crowd that was incredible [on Friday evening]."

It's a long and competitive season in not only the Big Ten conference, but also nationally. There are times when teams fall, but it's about how they rise up, and Penn State showed that this weekend. Overall, it was a phenomenal weekend for women's volleyball and in raising awareness for breast cancer.

"It was a great weekend," said coach Rose. "I've been here for a long time and to have over 10,000 people to come in on back-to-back nights to watch a women's volleyball team, it's great. I think the promotions people have really done a great job, and the booster club and the student wRECking Crew, they've all really made a big difference. I'm just really proud to be a part of it."

Annual 'Dig Pink' Match on Saturday against Iowa

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11369023.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the top-ranked Penn State women's volleyball team continues its Big Ten conference battle over the weekend against No. 4 Nebraska and Iowa, the matchup against Iowa on Saturday evening will embody and represent something bigger than a regular match.

On Saturday, Penn State and the Side-Out Foundation will host its annual "Dig Pink" match for the eighth consecutive year.

"The 'Dig Pink' match is always so important," said junior Taylor Krause. "It's a great cause, and it's awesome that we get to play for such an amazing organization."

In volleyball, 'side-out' means a team is regaining control of the ball. Established in 2004, the Side-Out Foundation is a support and advocacy organization that is dedicated to helping people with breast cancer regain control of their lives. The Side-Out Foundation unites volleyball players and coaches to have them work toward the common goal of furthering breast cancer awareness, education and patient services.

"It's a great cause," said head coach Russ Rose. "The organization that runs it is a national organization, and breast cancer is a challenge that affects a lot of people. It's certainly great that in women sports, we can take the opportunity to try and generate some revenue that goes toward either the research or providing treatment for people that are inflicted with cancer."

The Side-Out Foundation has raised millions of dollars that goes towards high-quality support services for cancer patients and their families, scholarships for young students to encourage them to continue achieving their goals, as well as, funding for the development of treatments for breast cancer patients so they are another day closer to finding a cure.

"It really hits home," said Krause. "It makes you think about how lucky you are to be where you are and how great of a university it is that we can have all this support for such a great cause throughout this entire campus."

Pink shakers will be provided for everyone attending the match, and fans are encouraged to wear pink on Saturday evening. The women's volleyball team will also be hosting a silent auction featuring game-worn pink warmup T-shirts where proceeds will go directly toward Penn State's "Dig Pink" profile. Last year, Penn State generated nearly $4,000, the highest amount raised since the event began. This year's goal is set for $4,500.

"Honesty, I think all of us here, at least the girls, like seeing the pink, in general, but it's cool to see something that people can get behind," said junior Laura Broerman. "It's cool that people get behind us as a team and want to support, but it's cool to see people getting behind something bigger than us."

Last season, Penn State defeated Iowa in straight sets, but the team is aware that last year's performance means nothing for this season.

"The Big Ten season is an incredible test every time, so I'm sure we'll be tested again this weekend with Nebraska and Iowa," said coach Rose. "Iowa is also a very much improved team from last year. There's never an easy match in the conference. I think if you asked any of the coaches in all the other sports, they're all going to say the same thing. You might be in favored to win, but that doesn't mean you are susceptible to getting beat by anybody you play." 


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