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VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Haleigh Washington (9/22/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - caught up with sophomore Haleigh Washington as the Nittany Lions prepare for the 2015 Big Ten opener against Wisconsin. The top-ranked Nittany Lions will face off with the 16th-ranked Badgers on Wednesday inside Rec Hall at 7 p.m.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

From the Court to the Stage: Lee Hoping to Impact More Than Just Teammates

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11328225.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ever since a young age, sophomore outside hitter Simone Lee had been on the court all her life when she lived in Texas.

The basketball court, that is.

Lee never had plans to play volleyball. She was always the basketball star in the family, while her sister, Chelsea Lee, was the one that participated in volleyball.

But one day, after moving to Wisconsin, an opportunity came for Lee, and she never looked back.

"Chelsea never wanted me to play the same sport as her, but one day, my sister played for the Milwaukee Sting in Wisconsin, and their 14s team needed an extra player, so I was like, 'I'm tall, available and have nothing else going on!'" said Lee. "I was 12 at the time, so I signed up and that's kind of how it all happened. They asked me to play on that team. Then, I tried out the next year, made the women's team and everything just kind of went up from there."

A transition from basketball to volleyball can be difficult for some people, but Lee always had her experienced sister to help her along the way.

"My sister does play volleyball at Eastern Illinois University," said Lee. "She is a rock star. I definitely look up to her. She's always so poised and so composed every time she plays, and on and off the court. She's one of my biggest role models."

Chelsea Lee has not been the only one supporting her along the way because athletics actually runs in the Lee family. Simone's mother, Karen, was a student-athlete who ran track at Drake University.

"My mother has always been so supportive and helped me push myself to the pivotal point that I know that I could be at," said Lee. "She's just really supportive in everything me and my sister do...She said that she's always going to love me no matter what, and I just always want to do my best."

In high school, Lee was a four-year letterwinner, a two-year captain at Menomonee, a 2013-14 Under Armour All-American and much more. It's no wonder that she was recruited to play volleyball at Penn State, and she had no doubt in her mind that this was the school that she wanted to attend.

"Coach Rose is such a tradition, but just the tradition of this school [is why I came to Penn State]," said Lee. "Penn State is known for its excellence and ever since I've been here, it has lived up to that. I love the campus. I'm majoring in broadcast journalism, and I'm really enjoying the classes I'm taking. I enjoy the people I have met, athletes or non-athletes. My professors are amazing, and just everything about this school is everything that I could have wanted in a college experience."

Lee played in her debut collegiate match against TCU in August 2014 and recorded six kills. She built on that mark for the rest of the season and tallied 135 kills in her first season at Penn State. In the NCAA regional final versus Wisconsin, Lee notched a career-high of 12 kills to help lead the Nittany Lions to the national semifinals.

She has advanced her skills greatly since last season, but her biggest improvement has to do with more than herself.

"I've definitely been learning to keep being a team player, no matter what," said Lee. "It doesn't matter if I'm on or off the court, I always want to be supportive of my teammates. I always try to get better in the gym, always coming and doing extra reps, but definitely being supportive of the team and making sure I can do everything in my power to help my team be successful."

Lee's biggest asset is her constant energy on the court, and that is clearly helping the team to be the No. 1-ranked in the nation.

"You'll hear me at the end of the bench, screaming and shouting," said Lee. "I'm always the one jumping up-and-down and shoving my teammates. I always try to bring as much energy as possible because that's a big part of volleyball."

At the moment, Lee is motivating and pushing her fellow teammates, but in the future, she wants to build on her broadcast journalism degree in order to inspire and encourage others all over the world.

"I want to be a motivational speaker, that's my biggest goal," said Lee. "Broadcast journalism just seems like the best fit because whether it's on TV, at public forums, universities, wherever, I just want to public speak to people about certain topics and social issues."

Though she aspires to motivate more than her teammates in her future, Lee is making her main focus on the volleyball.

"We definitely want to come off strong, especially versus Wisconsin in our first match in the Big Ten," said Lee. "We want to continue playing strong throughout the Big Ten, and hopefully win that. We want to continue working hard and playing Penn State volleyball. We know that we're a very talented group of girls, and we know that we can do a lot of things if we believe in ourselves and put our minds to it."

Nonetheless, Lee loves everything about Penn State, and she would never change anything about it.

"My favorite part about Penn State, volleyball-wise, would be playing with all my girls; they're like my sisters. My teammates are awesome. I love them so much...Playing for this university is awesome, and I know that my mom, my father and my sister are really proud of me for earning scholarships and being able to play high-level volleyball," said Lee.

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Megan Courtney & Ali Frantti (9/16/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with senior Megan Courtney and sophomore Ali Frantti as the Nittany Lions prepare for weekend No. 4 of the 2015 season. No. 1 Penn State is 8-0 heading into its final non-conference weekend of the season. The Lions will play three matches in Tampa this weekend (Auburn, St. John's and USF) before opening Big Ten play against Wisconsin on Sept. 23.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Weiskircher Gaining Confidence with Each Match

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11308187.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Setter Bryanna Weiskircher had big shoes to fill at the start of this season. Coming in as the setter behind three-time All-America setter Micha Hancock was no easy task. But through training and with the help of her teammates, Weiskircher is on her way to starting a legacy of her own.

The foundation of her college career began many years ago in Rockford, Illinois. She comes from a volleyball family, as her parents and three siblings each had a volleyball career themselves.

"Although I started [playing volleyball] in fifth grade, I grew up around [volleyball]. I was in the gym all of the time," Weiskircher said. "I was always the kid underneath the ball carts during my sister's practices."

In her early years as a volleyball player, she was as a middle hitter. She then moved to the outside until she was on a 15 and under club team. After that, she played on both the right side and as a setter. But it wasn't until her senior year of high school that she became solely a setter.

Her nine years of volleyball led her to continuing her career at Penn State. Weiskircher committed to Penn State during her sophomore year of high school on her third visit. The volleyball program, the academics and the Penn State atmosphere helped make the decision easy.

"I just completely fell in love with the school. Everything about it," Weiskircher said. "Playing under the legend of Russ Rose and carrying on the tradition that is Penn State volleyball is just amazing."

She spent her first year as a redshirt freshman, running the "B-side" offense at practice and working to make the "A-side" better. She watched and learned from Hancock from the other side of the net.

"[Micha] showed me how tough she was," Weiskircher said. "She showed me that [setting] is about making the hitters be the best that they can be and making an impact in any way you can. Whether it's from the service line, setting, blocking, or defense. "

In her five matches in the lineup this season, she has averaged 9.6 assists per set and has had five aces, eight kills and eight blocks. She led the Nittany Lions to victory against then No. 2-ranked Stanford last weekend and has helped the team achieve a 5-0 record on the season.

Head coach Russ Rose said Weiskircher has been gaining more confidence with the players that she is playing with and has adjusted well to playing at the collegiate level.

"She's progressing. She has a really good serve, she's a good blocker and her hands are good," Rose said. "One of the great intangibles of a good setter is the ability to make others better and the ability to take a bad pass and make a good set. That is why we practice everyday."

Another important aspect of being a setter is strong communication. It is crucial that a setter communicates with the hitters. Setters must understand where the hitters want the set, how they want the set and if they are ready for the set. Outside hitter Aiyana Whitney said Weiskircher has done a great job of communicating and gains more confidence everyday.

"Naturally, when any young player comes into a program like this, it takes a minute to find your feet. Through the communication from the hitters, I know sometimes it can be super overwhelming for a setter at any program, much less this one," Whitney said. "She's done a really good job working with us, trying to be as communicative as possible with us, as well as listening to what we need from her."

Weiskircher hopes to continue progressing with each practice and to continue winning as a team. But above all, her goal is to get the offense going during every match.

"Being able to spread out the offense is always great. Having four hitters with over ten kills is amazing and having that makes it so much easier for me."

Weiskircher and the first-ranked Nittany Lions hope to remain undefeated through this weekend as they travel to Sound Bend for the Golden Dome Invitational. They will first face Eastern Kentucky on Friday at 6 p.m. On Saturday, Penn State will take on Mississippi State at 10 a.m. and Notre Dame at 7 p.m.  

Kendall Pierce Impacts Team and Community On and Off the Court

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11308066.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - From the moment that senior Kendall Pierce played in her debut collegiate volleyball game as a defensive specialist against Morehead State in her freshman year at Penn State, Pierce has made a dynamic impact on the team.

Pierce played in 18 matches her freshman year, and 35 matches her sophomore year, including the NCAA title win against No.12 Wisconsin. Last season, she took action in 37 matches, where she helped lead the Nittany Lions to their seventh national title, and she was honored as a 2014-15 Big Ten Distinguished scholar.

This season, Pierce has already taken a step forward from last year in the first five matches. She was recently nominated as a candidate for the 2015 Senior CLASS Award.

But Pierce recognizes that there is more to life than athletics, and she is actively displaying that by being involved within the community while excelling in volleyball.

"I think the community has helped me a lot in this position with this program," said Pierce. "I see how important it is, and I think it is a big thing of what Penn State is all about. I love the community and I love the people that are involved. I think there is so much more outside of athletics that if we can connect, it's really important to us."

Pierce will be the co-president for Athletes Take Action, a program where Penn State student-athletes visit local middle schools to talk to sixth graders about the dangers of bullying and how to prevent, report and take action against it. The student-athletes go to the students' homeroom classes, and they interact with the sixth graders by working on lesson plans and teaching them how to stand up for each other and to stop bullying.

"[This year], I will be writing out the lesson plans and getting all our student athletes involved in that," said Pierce. "I usually help with a lot of the special events, like how we as athletes can interact with the community and anything we can do with our team."

In addition, Pierce is involved in SAA, as known as the Student Athletic Advisory board. The board contains a number of student-athletes that work hard at exceeding on their competition fields, in the classroom as well as in the community.

"I was the treasurer for SAA last year, so I did a lot of outreach community events," said Pierce. "I will be graduating in December, so I'm no longer on the board officially, but I will be helping with them...I'll be doing a lot of prepping for this year, in terms of transition notes from the positions that I was in for others."

Pierce also volunteers with State College's Special Olympics.

This offseason, while Pierce was working on her defense, passes and serves, she also had a summer internship at The Village Atrium of Penn State with the assisted living.

"I fell in love [with my internship]," said Pierce. "I worked in the recreation department, and I fell in love with working with the residents and the elderly, and I could see my future in that...We did a lot of therapy to work with the residents on memories, on movement and their day-to-day living. We visited them a lot and we did little activities and crafts with them. It was a really nice working position where I got to connect with other human beings, which was really special."

Pierce will graduate in December. And in less than four years, she has accomplished so much, but none of it would have been possible if it wasn't for her time at Penn State.

"If I didn't choose [Penn State], I would always think 'What if?' in life, so this is my 'What if, go get it, see how it turns out,' and it's been the best. I wouldn't do it any other way," said Pierce. 

Energy in Rec Hall Sparks Nittany Lions for Weekend Wins

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11302036.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's volleyball team took on ranked opponents for the first time this season in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge over the weekend, where the Nittany Lions defeated both No. 21 Colorado and No. 2 Stanford in three straight sets, respectively.

The strongest player from the two matches? The fans that were in attendance at Rec Hall. Most notably, the sold-out crowd of 6,055 supporters on Saturday evening as Penn State battled against Stanford.

"I think the key to the match was just the energy in the building," said head coach Russ Rose. "It was an electric evening...It was a great match against a really good team. Stanford is really good. I thought we had a really good game plan, but the hero of the game is the 6,000 people that came out and made the building electric. That's the story. We're the recipient."

Stanford jumped out to a four-point lead early in the first set, but the Lions quickly rebounded and regained momentum due to the fans' encouragement.

"[The crowd] is incredible," said senior Megan Courtney. "You make an error and the next play is a great play, and the crowd is right on cheering with you again. It's great to know that no matter win or lose a point, they're always going to have your back, and they always make sure that they're known to the other team, They were incredible tonight. That's the biggest crowd that I've played at here in Penn State, and it couldn't have come at a better time."

Aside from the fans, Courtney's efforts help lead Penn State to both victories over the weekend. Courtney led the team Friday and Saturday night in kills. She recorded 12 digs against Colorado and tallied her second double-double of the season with 11 kills and 13 digs against Stanford. She also rounded out her offensive success with two aces on Saturday evening.

"Megan hit .400 and leads in matches and digs [against Stanford]," said coach Rose. "It's a really good night for a captain to go out and play like that with some young kids."

Sophomore Ali Frantti, redshirt senior Aiyana Whitney and sophomore Haleigh Washington recorded double figure kills against Stanford, as well. Frantti and Whitney notched 13 kills apiece, while Washington followed behind with 12 kills.

"A lot of people really stepped up and did some great things. We had four people step up," said coach Rose. "Stanford had two people in double-digit kills, and we had four. It certainly gives you a better chance when you can spread the ball out, but Stanford power-played great."

Freshman setter Bryanna Weiskircher made a valuable impact on the offense, too. She had 18 assists and two aces against Colorado.

"I thought Bryanna really stepped up," said Washington. "I think she's beginning to step up and take a role as a setter and leader on the court, which is really good. Her and I are figuring out connections more, which makes it easier to run plays, so in practice, we'll work on that, and timing, tempo and transition."

Weiskircher also recorded a career-high of 41 assists against Stanford. She couldn't have done it without her teammates or the crowd.

"It's really great to have that kind of support behind me, so I'm not worried about 'Oh, I have to get this perfect set to the same person every single time,'" said Weiskircher. "I know I can distribute to whichever direction that I want to and I trust them to put a kill on whatever I put up, or keep it in play and make my sets even better. [The crowd] is just a great support system, even coming in as a redshirt freshman setter, who's never played in front of a big crowd like that. It's just electrifying and amazing."

Though Penn State is still ranked No.1 in the nation, that is no indication of the rest of the season to come.

"We go on the road next week. It's always tougher on the road. Obviously, Stanford experienced that...They saw a great venue and a great night for volleyball...Players will remember it. I'm sure there will be some great pictures that they'll look at, but it's not going to win any other matches for the rest of the year," said Rose.

Whitney's Growth Highlighted by Work Ethic

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11289767.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When redshirt senior Aiyana Whitney was in middle school, she decided to follow her sister Anissa Whitney's footsteps of playing volleyball after she saw her on the court. Her sister mentored and taught Aiyana numerous volleyball skills as best as she could throughout the rest of middle school and into high school.

Nearly seven years later, in 2011, Whitney played in her first collegiate match at Penn State.

Today, Whitney is leading the way in helping a young Penn State team grow.

After the Penn State Classic, Whitney was named to the All-Tournament team. In the season opener against Buffalo, Whitney led Penn State's offense with a match-high of 11 kills on .400 hitting. Her skills continued to shine as she recorded five blocks and six kills against Stony Brook, and 14 kills and two digs against Villanova in the two matches on Saturday.

"This offseason, I worked to get my volleyball IQ up, studying the game as much as possible, working on my blocking and trying to be a bigger presence at the net," said Whitney.

Whitney's impact at net and on offense is nothing out of the ordinary, but as a senior, Whitney knew that it was her time to truly lead the Nittany Lions to success.

"[There's] more responsibility [as a senior], which at this point in my career, and I would speak for the rest of the seniors, we can embrace because we try to set the tone in practice, and try to set an example for the younger girls," said Whitney. "[Being a senior] is about taking on more responsibility, doing as much as we can, doing more and helping out the rest of the team in that."

Nonetheless, it was not an easy ride for Whitney to get to this point in her career. During her sophomore year, she redshirted. However, she wouldn't change anything about that year.

"Absolutely [that redshirt season] made a difference," said Whitney. "At the time, I was playing with incredible upperclassmen and they pushed me every day in practice. I learned so much from them, so I really cherished that year in terms of development and learning the game."

Whitney's growing talent is evident. Last season, during her redshirt junior year, she started every match, recorded 15 double-digit kill performances and led the team in kills on over 10 occasions - once with 10 kills against then-No. 1 Stanford in the NCAA national semifinals, and once with 11 kills in the national championship win against BYU.

Furthermore, she received second team American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-America honors and was honored as Big Ten Player of the Week (11/17) last year.

None of this would have been possible without the guidance from head coach Russ Rose and the other coaches.

"[The coaches] are super awesome. They help me get my game airtight, help me see the bigger pictures and seeing the game more and helping me take on more," said Whitney.

Her success continued this past summer as Whitney participated in the inaugural Big Ten Volleyball Foreign Tour. Big Ten volleyball student-athletes from all 14 schools traveled to Slovenia, Croatia and Italy to compete against some of the best athletes in the world as well as participate in community services initiatives.

Even with all these accomplishments, Whitney believes that she has room for improvement.

"I am definitely tired of getting tooled on the blocks, so it's definitely something I need to work on in the gym," said Whitney. "I need to work on my hands, getting the ball over and taking up more space. Just seeing the court more, attacking and making sure I'm playing defense."

Whitney has already made a huge mark on the Penn State women's volleyball program, but this is Whitney's final year, and she is more than ready to contend as the season wears on.

"Overall, I just hope that we can build to be a better team, build to play better together and work on getting back on the big stage," said Whitney.

Upperclassmen Led Nittany Lions to a Win in Penn State Classic

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11283007.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - The two-time defending national champions opened the new season right where they left off. The No. 1 Nittany Lions swept Buffalo, Stony Brook and Villanova, respectively, over the weekend to win the Penn State Classic.

Even after losing the leadership of the likes Micha Hancock, Dominique Gonzalez, Nia Grant and Lacey Fuller, the returning veterans' direction and leadership helped guide the new-look team to success during the first weekend of action.

Senior Megan Courtney was recognized as the Penn State Classic Most Outstanding Player and redshirt senior Aiyana Whitney and sophomore Ali Frantti joined her on the All-Tournament Team.

"There were some jitters and a little bit of nerves coming out in a few of us," said Whitney. "I think it's just one of those things where each game, we have to get more comfortable playing in your gym. This is the place where the atmosphere is positive towards us, so if there is anywhere we need to play well, it's at home."

Whitney powered the offense with a match-high 11 kills to allow Penn State to open the weekend with a sweep against Buffalo (25-18, 25-12, 25-16). Sophomore Haleigh Washington added seven kills and five blocks. She also earned her first service ace in her collegiate career.

"Buffalo does some things really well," said head coach Russ Rose. "They've got a couple of athletic kids that take big swings. I'm sure there were some nerves associated with how they came out of the gate, but I thought there a lot of nerves associated with how some of our players came out. I thought Aiyana and Haleigh were pretty solid...Aiyana and Haleigh had nice jobs hitting tonight."

The first match of the season was also a homecoming for Buffalo Bulls head coach Blair Brown Lipsitz. Lipsitz was a four-time national champion at Penn State (2007-10), a two-time first-team All-American (2009 & 2010) and during her time at Penn State, the Nittany Lions won 109 matches in a row. Friday's match was the first match in her head coaching career.

"I'm a big fan of Blair Brown," said coach Rose. "That was the first match that Blair Brown ever lost in Rec Hall. She's doing a nice job. She's a great player. She's a great mentors. She's a fabulous role model, and I think Buffalo selected a great young person for the job."

Penn State won in straight sets (25-13, 25-13, 25-20) against Stony Brook Saturday afternoon. Courtney tallied 11 kills, nine digs and four blocks. Frantti recorded 10 kills, her first double-digit kill performance of the season. Washington added seven kills and four blocks.

Washington had a fantastic rookie season last year, but she's been working a lot this offseason in order to be an even bigger component to the team.

"I focused a lot on my mental game [this offseason]," said Washington. "I really wanted to have a good, strong IQ so that way, this year, the seniors wouldn't have to worry so much about me, they can focus more on the freshmen and the other new players on the court. I tried to get my IQ up, so I could see the block, see where I needed to attack, try to do the best that I could do for me, so I could bring it to the team, so we could be a more dynamic flowing team together. I just tried to get as good as I could be so the seniors could focus more on who they need to focus on."

The Nittany Lions finished off the weekend with a win against Villanova (25-20, 25-23, 25-21) to claim the Penn State Classic crown.

Courtney earned a double-double of 16 kills and 13 digs in the match. Whitney also posted double figures with 14 kills alongside two digs. Washington led the team in blocks with six, and Frantti had the second most digs of the match with 12.

Even with the three wins, the team will work to improve with each set on the floor.

"We're a work in progress for sure," said coach Rose. "Long way to go."

VIDEO: 2015 Season Preview - Women's Volleyball

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The two-time defending NCAA champion women's volleyball team begins its 2015 on Friday inside Rec Hall.

The Lions will be home three times this weekend, including matches against Buffalo (Friday at 7 p.m.), Stony Brook (Saturday at 1 p.m.) and Villanova (Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). paid a visit to pre-season practice to talk with head coach Russ Rose, along with seniors Megan Courtney, Aiyana Whitney and sophomore Haleigh Washington. Take a look.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2015 Preview - One-on-One with Russ Rose

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The two-time defending NCAA champion Nittany Lion women's volleyball team returns to action on Aug. 28 with a season-opening match against Buffalo. recently spent some time at preseason practice and caught up with head coach Russ Rose for an exclusive conversation to preview the 2015 season. Take a look.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony


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