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Grant Off to Hot Start During Final Season

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10370582.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The journey to Penn State for Nia Grant was an interesting one. In middle school, she missed volleyball tryouts and instead decided she wanted to become a professional basketball player.

But that all changed when her mom brought her to a local gym near her Warren, Ohio, home to practice volleyball. The skills stuck, and Grant ran with it. She tried out for the team, made it and the rest was history.

Grant began her college search during the Christa Harmotto and Arielle Wilson era of Penn State women's volleyball. Watching the standout athletes win national championships and Big Ten titles, Grant knew she wanted to play for Penn State. When Grant and Wilson met, they quickly became friends and Grant found herself in Happy Valley very frequently to spend time with Wilson.

"I just loved [Penn State]. And it was where I wanted to be all of the time," Grant said.

Now, five years later, Grant is playing in her final season as a Penn State women's volleyball player. She has grown as a player over the last four years, especially from her junior to senior season. This season, Grant tallied 100 kills on a .525 hitting percentage during the non-conference slate. At that point last season, she had 53 kills.

But Grant said it's her mental game that has really improved.

"My mindset is different. Something clicked. Being good is a decision, and I need to be good," Grant said. "Everything just seems like it's falling into place."

This season, Grant has been playing with much more confidence, approaching the net with swings like never before. She said the confidence boost is the product of being a senior and understanding that she has a leadership role this season.

"Being a senior, having to play a big role, having a lot of freshmen and knowing that you have to teach them a lot of different things, I had to step up," Grant said. "And I feel really good about it."

Leading the freshmen is something that Grant has loved so far this season and said that she could not have asked for a better class of freshmen. But rather than telling the newcomers how to be successful as a Nittany Lion, she shows them.

"I hope more so that I lead them by example, rather than teach them anything with my words," Grant said. "They're an awesome group of girls."

With conference play kicking off this week, Grant and the other veterans have explained the nature of the Big Ten to the freshmen. They also have established goals to achieve as a team during the 10-week conference schedule.

"[We] just want to grow and win as many games as possible. I want the team to peak when we need to peak and just continually get better every day and keep working hard in the gym," Grant said.

Individually, Grant said she wants to improve her blocking during her senior season.

The Nittany Lions head to Minnesota on Saturday following a 3-0 sweep at No. 5 Wisconsin on Wednesday. Grant and the Lions are fired up for the Big Ten season.

"I'm really excited...I can't wait," Grant said. 

Nittany Lions Set for Big Ten Play

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10366343.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Established nearly 120 years ago, The Big Ten Conference is the oldest Division I collegiate athletic conference in America.

The conference's storied history includes a rich tradition of excellence in women's volleyball.

Since Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1991, Penn State teams have acquired 60 regular season conference titles and 13 tournament titles, including a record of eight-straight wins in women's volleyball (2003-'10), which is the longest streak in Big Ten volleyball history.

The 2014 version of Nittany Lion women's volleyball is determined to build on the legacy that they have set for themselves within the past decade, but this year may feature one of the deepest fields in the Big Ten.

The Nittany Lions will begin their first 20 Big Ten matches on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. (BTN) against No. 5 Wisconsin (9-1) in UW Fieldhouse. These two teams will be meeting for the first time since the 2013 NCAA title match where the Nittany Lions emerged with a 3-1 victory (25-19, 26-24, 20-25, 25-23) against the Badgers.

"The last time we played them was in the national championship," said senior Lacey Fuller. "So playing them in the first game in the Big Ten is an intense first game, and I hope we play well."

The Badgers are just coming off their first loss of the season after they fell to now-ranked No. 4 Washington Huskies in five-set match.

"It's the two teams that played in the finals of last year's national championship match although in our case, it's not the same roster, it's just the same school," said head coach Russ Rose. "It's just the first of 20 matches, in my opinion, but I certainty also acknowledge that Wisconsin may be the top team in the conference certainty watching them on television last weekend against USC and Washington. I was impressed by a number of things that they do so well."

The players were also impressed by Wisconsin's performance last week.

"We watched [Wisconsin] play USC and Washington and they've been playing really well against really good teams early in the season so we know they're really good. I feel like they're better than last year and they definitely have a hunger to win, especially having lost to us in the national championship," said Fuller. "They play really hard. They dig a ton of balls, so they have really good defense, and they have a very good setter who makes it difficult to read the offense and everyone on that team is very skilled and I think they're a close-knit team that plays well together."

Freshman Ali Frantti will be playing her first Big Ten match in her collegiate career, but she seems to be eager and prepared for it.

"I'm excited to be on the road and just play all the teams. I've watch the Big Ten season on BTN and I'm just real excited to be out there playing these great teams," said Frantti. "I think the Big Ten conference is the best conference out there for volleyball."

The leadership provided by the upperclassmen and returning players have helped Frantti to compose herself for the upcoming matches.

"Before every match, Dom [Gonzalez] usually pulls me aside and she'll do a scavenger report with me, like this girl takes cross. Just stuff like that," said Frantti. "She gives me little advice here and there and it helps me stay calm and collective."

Penn State's Big Ten slate continues on Saturday, Sept. 27 when they take on No. 17 Minnesota (10-1) at Sports Pavilion. The Golden Gophers concluded their non-conference season in a straight-sets win against IPFW (25-11, 25-14, 25-23). Their only loss this season was to the Louisville Cardinals back in August, and they're currently on a nine-match winning streak.

"Last year, we just had a veteran team...and now I might have two or three freshmen starting. They'll see a similar [to Wisconsin] sold-out gym I would imagine on Saturday at Minnesota and the following week in Nebraska because they've been filling their gym for a number of years," said Rose. "It's all part of the process; I don't think you win or lose the conference championship the first weekend and from a coaching standpoint, you want your kids to play well. For sure you want to win, but more importantly, you want [the players] to play well and you want to see how certain individuals handle different match-ups, and how they handle the crowd, and expectations, so it's an exciting thing for the players."

The next 20 matches for Penn State will all be strenuous, but the Nittany Lions are excited for the challenges that are ahead. Penn State opens with four-straight matches on the road before hosting Northwestern on Oct. 8. 

Nittany Lions Notch Four Wins at Alumni Classic

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10358855.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 3 Penn State women's volleyball (12-1) wrapped up its non-conference portion of the 2014 season after capturing the Penn State Alumni Classic title with a straight-set victory (25-11, 25-17, 25-10) against East Carolina (6-2) Saturday night.

Redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney earned the Penn State Alumni Classic MVP honors for her excellent offense and defensive performances throughout the weekend. She tallied a .722 hitting percentage against UIC (5-9) and .667 hitting percentage against DePaul (2-8) and EIU (5-6). She also recorded her second double-digit kill performance of the season in a win against Illinois-Chicago with 13 kills. Senior Dominique Gonzalez also joined her on the all-tournament team.

"Aiyana had a great weekend attacking," said head coach Russ Rose. "Dom had a good weekend passing and playing defense."

Head coach Russ Rose is now in first place on the all-time DI NCAA wins list with 1,137 wins after passing current Hawaii head coach Dave Shoji.

Penn State vs. Eastern Illinois
The Nittany Lions opened up the tournament with a straight set victory (25-10, 25-9, 25-17) against EIU Friday afternoon.

Senior Nia Grant led the offense with 10 kills and a .625 hitting percentage. Grant also recorded a team-high of five blocks for the match. Freshman Simone Lee tied with Grant in recording 10 kills and helped the team defensively with three blocks.

Junior Megan Courtney and Whitney each finished with seven kills for the night. Courtney tied alongside with senior Micha Hancock with ten digs apiece.

Penn State started the game with an early advantage of 11-4 and though EIU came back with a kill, Penn State scored five unanswered points. The Nittany Lions continued their surge and ended up with a 25-10 win.

The momentum continued into the second set with another early advantage of 5-2, but the Panthers were no match for the Penn State as they extend their lead to 17-3. Courtney scored the set point with a kill and ends the set at 25-9.

The Nittany Lions continued their rhythm into the final set by gaining an eight-point lead to make it 12-4. The Panthers closed to within four at 19-15, but Penn State regrouped with a six-point streak to earn a 25-17 win to complete the sweep.

Penn State vs. DePaul
Penn State improved to 2-0 in the Alumni Classic with a straight-set victory (25-8, 25-10, 25-13) against DePaul Friday evening.

Freshmen Ali Frantii led the team with nine kills on .571 hitting and Whitney and Courtney were close behind with six kills apiece. Whitney had three blocks, which was the most for the entire team. She also earned a career-high of two aces.

Hancock and Gonzalez finished with six digs each.

The Nittany Lions went up 16-4 in the opening set to create a safe lead for themselves. DePaul trimmed the lead down to 10, Penn State ended DePaul's brief surge and went on a 7-0 run to win 25-8 in the first set.

Penn State opened the second set with a six-point advantage and went on to claim set two, 25-10.

Penn State finished off the match with a 25-13 win by creating an 11-point advantage mid-way through the set.

Penn State vs. Illinois-Chicago
Penn State went 3-0 in the Alumni Classic with a straight-set victory (25-18, 25-13, 25-16) over Illinois-Chicago.

Whitney had superb match with a double-digit kill performance of 13 kills on .722 hitting percentage. Courtney had nine kills and six digs. Grant and freshmen Haleigh Washington and Simone Lee finished the match with seven kills each.

Penn State started with a one-point lead, but spurted ahead to earn 15-11. The Lions didn't look back from there en route to a 25-16 set victory.

Instead of repeating the first set, the Nittany Lions started the second set with an early 12-4 score. From there, UIC never got within 10 points and Penn State won the second set, 25-13.

The Nittany Lions and Flames opened the third in a tight fashion. Penn State used a run to claim a 9-6 edge. The Lions never looked back from there on their way to a 25-16 victory to close out the match.

Penn State vs. Eastern Carolina
Penn State captured the Penn State Alumni Classic title with another straight-set victory (25-11, 25-17, 25-10) against Eastern Carolina after the raising of the 2013 NCAA national championship banner.

Frantii and Courtney led the offense with 10 kills apiece, and Washington, Grant, and Whitney each earned seven kills. Gonzalez ended the night with a team-high of five digs and Hancock finished with a standout performance of 33 assists, four digs, and a season-high of eight aces.

"Micha came out of the gate and served really well," said head coach Rose. "I think that really set the tone for most of the night."

Penn State started the match with a 6-1 lead and eventually won the set, 25-11, as Hancock delivered an ace.

The Pirates started the second set off with a 5-1 lead, but a service error led to a big swing in momentum before the Lions roared to a 25-17 win.

The Nittany Lions finished their final set of the weekend with 25-10 win.

Penn State will begin their conference portion of the schedule at No.4 Wisconsin in a rematch of the 2013 NCAA national finals on Wednesday at 7:40 p.m.

One Volleyball Family

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10358795.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-- Prior to any sporting event, the coaches shake hands. But in Rec Hall this weekend, that was not the proper etiquette.

Penn State women's volleyball head coach Russ Rose greeted each of the opposing coaches with a hug, like he was welcoming a family member. And that's because he was.

Fourteen former members of the Penn State women's volleyball family returned to Rec Hall to be honored at this weekend's Penn State Alumni Classic as part of the 50 years of Women in Sport celebration.

Four of these women were on the opposite side of the net this weekend, coaching teams of their own. Eastern Illinois, coached by former outside hitter Kate Price, fell to the Nittany Lions in straight sets on Friday night. Price said she was happy to be back in Happy Valley, but playing against the Nittany Lions was tough.

"The cool thing about being a Penn State player is that you walk on the court and you have the confidence. You know you're going to walk out with a win," Price said. "Coming in and playing against Penn State is just the opposite feeling."

Three other coaches, DePaul's Nadia Edwards (2001), UIC's Katie Schumacher-Cawley (2002) and East Carolina's Julie Torbett (1990) were also a part of the tournament.

In between the second and third sets of the evening matches this weekend, the fourteen former players were honored, celebrated and greeted with a standing ovation and a roaring crowd.

"It's awesome to be back. It's awesome to see our home fans," Price said.

Rose has seen these former players grow from to college stars to college coaches. He's also watched them grow as players, students, coaches and as women.

For current players, meeting the women who left behind the legacy that they are playing for is second to none. They are the women who started the traditions and rituals that the team still has.

Sophomore Laura Broerman said it's great to meet the pioneers of this program and the players that created the team's traditions.

"We are a program based a lot in tradition. Almost everything we do before games and in the middle of games is all tradition," Broerman said. "It's cool to see the girls who started the tradition of winning and everything else we do."

The Penn State women's volleyball team began in 1976. In those 38 years, six national championships have been won, countless individual accolades have been earned awarded, and history has been made. This weekend was a celebration of the program's rich history and those who made Penn State women's volleyball into what it is today.

Rose said it was special to see the individuals who have shaped this program.

"So many of those guys had great experiences here. Their pictures are all over the walls for multiple All-American awards," Rose said.

In 32 out of Rose's 33 seasons coached, there has been at least one All-American on the team. While the players may have been stars individually, as a program, they shined even brighter.

The team has made it to the NCAA tournament every year since the tournament began in 1981. After the 2013 season, the Nittany Lions have won 16 conference titles to go along with the six national titles.

The program's history is rich with great players who turned into great coaches and teammates who turned into family.

"It's a family. Whether or not you played with any of the players, it's one family. You gotta love it," Price said.

The Nittany Lions went 4-0 on the weekend. Up next for the team is a trip to Wisconsin on Wednesday to kick off conference play. 

Success Begins with Guidance

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10320311.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Penn State women's volleyball team is off to a great start this season, with much of its success coming from the novice players. But the team's success isn't possible without a veteran corps of talent.

The success begins with the veterans leading the way.

Playing on a defending national championship team is a big adjustment from high school volleyball, so how did the freshmen adjust so quickly? They have guidance from the defending national champs themselves.

Head coach Russ Rose said this guidance is "tradition." The responsibility to be a good role model and provide good direction is something that Rose expects out of the older players.

Veterans like seniors Dominique Gonzalez, Nia Grant, Lacey Fuller and Micha Hancock, along with junior Megan Courtney, are being challenged to teach the younger players what it takes to work hard, recognize challenges, and take care of themselves and their academic responsibilities.

Gonzalez said the veteran leadership is crucial to the team's success.

She said that her goal is to ensure in the younger players what is going to happen before each play.

"[We] make sure they know the rotation if we're changing it up, explain to them which players like to hit which shot, and [tell them] where they need to stand," Gonzalez said. "If something doesn't go right in the play, [we're] not jumping down people's throats. [We're] being more helpful rather than critiquing people." 

Courtney has also been leading the younger players by encouraging them to take big swings and showing them that if the block is there, she will be there to cover them.

She is also trying to instill in the freshmen that they can make errors. Courtney said telling them it's OK to make errors has allowed them to take big swings without fear. She said that is the reason why the young players have been so successful.

"It's a great thing for them to be able to have, just knowing that we've got their backs and that we'll take the pressure off of them by putting the pressure on us," Courtney said.

Setter Micha Hancock, a prominent leader on the team, has been in the same shoes that the current freshmen are in now. The older players taught her as a freshman and helped shape her into the player she is today. And Rose hopes that she can do the same for the freshmen this season.

"She knows so much of how I'll judge senior year is how she can lead the youngsters," Rose said.

For a freshman like Haleigh Washington, advice from older players is an important factor in her success. In just a few months, they have taught Washington many things, but above all else, they have taught her to always give it her all.

"Whether it's in practice, passing back and forth with a teammate, or serving before practice," Washington said. "Always going hard."

In her collegiate-debut last weekend at Villanova, the veteran players helped Washington figure out what was going on. She said the older players got her into the flow of things. During practice, they make sure she knows the rules, where to stand, how loud she needs to be, and what's happening.

The No. 3-ranked Nittany Lions have a busy weekend beginning on Friday, as they take on Eastern Illinois and DePaul. On Saturday, the Lions will face UIC and East Carolina.

The team has three matches in a very short amount of time (4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday and 9:00 a.m. Saturday). Rose would like to see the team play at a high level despite the hectic schedule.

"You don't want to give games away. I'm not just going to play everybody, just so they have a chance to play," Rose said.  "I want us to play at a high level, whoever is on the floor, and respect the opponent and respect the game. That's always something we want to continue."

This weekend is also the celebration of 50 years of women's athletics at Penn State. During two of the matches this weekend, on Friday and Saturday evening, former Penn State women's volleyball players that now coach Division I teams will be honored.

With less than two weeks until conference play begins, the Nittany Lions are gearing up to compete in the rigorous Big Ten. The team's first conference match is next Wednesday at Wisconsin. The veteran players will have to step up even more to help the freshmen when conference play begins.

"We are a work in progress. I don't think we're a finished product and I think we will find a lot of challenge, maybe not as much this weekend as we will once we hit Big Ten play," Rose said.

The veterans have a very important role on this team. They are expected to perform at the caliber of a national championship team, while making sure the younger players perform well by guiding them in practices and matches.

Much of the team's success must be attributed to the older players. Their guidance, advice and leadership is driving the team to match wins. 

VIDEO: One-on-One with Dominique Gonzalez - Sept. 17

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - talks with senior libero Dominique Gonzalez to recap the first three weeks of 2014 and look ahead to a busy weekend in Rec Hall.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Nittany Lions Head to Villanova Classic

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10267656.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 3-ranked Penn State women's volleyball team (4-1) will be heading back on the road again this weekend for the Villanova Classic to face off American, Villanova, Yale, and Kansas.

The Nittany Lions will be playing doubleheaders on Sept.12 by taking on American at 2:30 p.m. and Villanova at 7:30 p.m. The action will continue into Sept. 13 as Penn State competes against Yale at noon and Kansas at 5:30 p.m.

Penn State traveled to California last weekend for the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. The Lions fell to No. 2 Stanford (4-0) in a tight five-set match. Freshman Ali Frantti led the offense with a career-high performance of 22 kills, in addition to 11 digs and two blocks. Junior Megan Courtney finished the match with 18 kills, nine digs and five blocks.

"Obviously Stanford didn't turn out the way we wanted [it] to, but I think we did a lot of things good and a lot of things not as good that led to us losing, like we can't make six errors in the last game, especially when they made zero," said Courtney. "Honestly, a win is a win just like a lost is a lost and a lost is a way to learn. It's not a way to sulk in your sorrows; it's a way to take what you did bad and turn it into something better the next day."

After the team fell to Stanford, the group rallied back by sweeping UCLA (3-2) the following day. Frantti logged her fourth double-digit kill record with 14 kills on .619 hitting. Senior Nia Grant chipped in with nine kills.

"Losing to UCLA was not an option. It was a great team effort by everyone and I think everyone brought their energy and understood that losing sucks, so we don't want to feel that feeling again," said Courtney. "It was a collective effort."

"It's a long season. We will work on the things that we need to work on," said head coach Russ Rose.  "I am not discouraged by losing to Stanford."

Penn State vs. American
The Nittany Lions are 6-0 all-time against the Eagles. The two teams last met on Dec. 3, 2004, and Penn State won the match, 3-0.

Scouting the Eagles
American (4-2) started the season well with a four-game winning streak, but is currently on a two-game losing streak after falling to Marquette (3-0) and seventh-ranked Florida State (5-0) over the weekend.

Penn State vs. Villanova
Penn State leads the series with a 13-0 record. The last matchup was on Aug. 28, 2010, and the Lions defeated the Wildcats in three sets.

Scouting the Wildcats
Villanova (4-3) opened up the season with a solid 3-0 start at the James Madison Classic, but recently struggled at the USD/SDSU Tournament by losing all three matches. The team was able to gain their winning record once again after beating Lehigh in straight sets at their home opener.

Penn State vs. Yale
The Nittany Lions have won all eight matches against Yale. Penn State's most recent win was a 3-0 sweep on Sept. 21, 2013. 

Scouting the Bulldogs
Yale owns a 1-2 record so far this season. It opened the season with a 1-2 record at the Yale Invitational where both Minnesota and Boston College swept Yale in three sets, respectively. The Bulldogs did end up with a win after beating Albany, 3-1. 

Penn State vs. Kansas
This is the first meeting between the Jayhawks and the Nittany Lions.

Scouting the Jayhawks
With a 6-1 record and a four-game winning streak, the Jayhawks are off to a strong start this season. They opened their season in the Kansas Invitational against Utah Valley, Lipscomb, and Creighton. The Jayhawks came out of the tournament with only one lost by falling to Lipscomb 2-3. A week later, the Jayhawks became tournament champions at the Denver Invitational after they defeated Bradley, Sam Houston State, and Denver. The Kansas winning streak continued earlier this week when the Jayhawks defeated UMKC.

Following the weekend in Philadelphia, Penn State will return to Rec Hall on Sept. 19 and 20 to take on Eastern Illinois, DePaul, UIC, and East Carolina in the Penn State Alumni Classic.

Freshman Ali Frantti is Ready to Take on California

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10274760.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-- Six years ago, a young Ali Frantti sent head coach Russ Rose an email, telling him that she wanted to be a part of the Penn State women's volleyball team.

Now, as a freshman in college, that dream has come true.

After graduating from high school early, Frantti arrived in Happy Valley last January. In just six months, she has found herself in the team's starting lineup.

How did the Spring Grove, Illinois, native earn that spot so early on in her collegiate career?

Head coach Russ Rose said he was first impressed with her ability to score. After graduating 60 percent of the team's points, it was crucial to find players to fill the void. Frantti was, and is, a key figure in that process.

"We needed individuals that were prepared to cut a lot of the slack offensively. She came in and her best skill was attacking," Rose said. "That's what I thought her main calling card was when she arrived."

Her ability to score points started seven years ago when she first started playing volleyball.

She began participating in local volleyball camps as a fifth-grader, after her mother encouraged her to try it out. Frantti fell in love with the sport and she began playing competitively in sixth grade.

From then on, Frantti watched Penn State play, watching them win multiple national titles, and knew this is where she wanted to play.

So when the time came to pick a college, the choice was easy.

"I thought it was a great place. Academically, and I just love the community. [I love] how every sports team is like one team and everyone supports each other," Frantti said. "It was a great fit and I'm so lucky to be here."

To her, being on the Penn State women's volleyball team is an honor.

"I couldn't be prouder to represent Penn State and their work ethic and what they stand for," Frantti said.

This weekend, Frantti will have her first taste of tough competition, when the team travels to California to play No. 2 Stanford and UCLA in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge.

UCLA is 2-1, after falling to Loyola Marymount last weekend. Two seasons ago, Penn State lost to UCLA in the NCAA regionals, and the Bruins went on to win the national title.

Stanford beat two Top 20 teams on the road last weekend. Rose watched Stanford beat Nebraska last weekend and said the team played like a veteran team.

"Their 2012 recruiting class was the No. 1 class in the country. We've played against those kids the last couple of years and they keep getting better," Rose said.

Matching up against Stanford is hard to prepare for the entire team, but especially for the freshmen.

Frantti said the team is preparing by running plays in the gym and utilizing the scouting reports. Aside from that, Rose said playing this weekend at home was also a way to prepare the young players for the weekend ahead. 

Frantti, the other freshmen and the upperclassmen know how good Stanford is, but Rose said they scheduled this tournament for a reason - to play good teams.

"I think that the Pac-12 and the Big Ten are the best conferences in the country in college volleyball," Rose said. "It helps us to play good teams before we play great teams in our conference. Certainly UCLA and Stanford fit the bill in my mind."

Despite it being her first match on the road, Frantti is fired up to play Stanford.

"I can't wait to get there. They are going to be a great team and were expecting them to come full force on us. We're going to go in there and play Penn State Volleyball."

The No. 1 Nittany Lions take on Stanford at 9 p.m. ET on Friday and will face UCLA on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.

Freshmen Key in Opening Weekend Wins

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10267672.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. --The Nittany Lions kicked off their first weekend of the season with success as champions of the Penn State Classic inside Rec Hall. The team defeated TCU, Iona and William & Mary and won each match in three sets.

Much of the success came from offensive powerhouse Ali Frantti. Frantti, a freshman outside hitter, set the bar high in her collegiate debut. She was the leading scorer against TCU and Iona. Frantti also proved her blocking skills in all three matches.

Head coach Russ Rose was impressed with the freshman's performance. He said it was a "marvelous introduction" into college volleyball for her and never doubted starting her this weekend.

"Alli has been starting since she showed up. She's pretty much been on the starting side since her first breath on campus," Rose said.

In the first match against TCU, Frantti had 13 kills and hit at a .500 hitting percentage. She also had four blocks.

Frantti said that the support from the veterans helped her shake off her nerves in the first match.

Veterans like setter Micha Hancock and outside hitter Megan Courtney also led the No. 1 Nittany Lions to victory in their first match of the season. Hancock dished out 37 assists and had two kills and two blocks. Courtney had 12 kills on .556 hitting. Senior Nia Grant had seven kills and two aces.

Penn State beat the Horned Frogs in three sets, 25-10, 25-17 and 25-17, respectively.

Rose noted that blocking and serving needs improvement, but was happy with the team's first performance of the season.

"I feel fortunate that we played as well as we did this evening," Rose said.

Freshman Simone Lee also had her collegiate volleyball debut this weekend. Against TCU, she recorded six kills. Like Frantti, the encouragement from the upperclassmen helped Lee stay focused and calm throughout the game. 

"For me, going in to the back row and seeing everyone on the sidelines saying 'good job', 'keep it up', 'you can do it', they're always so encouraging and helping you no matter what," Lee said. "All the support and everything that comes with Rec Hall is just amazing."

The next match against Iona was equally as successful, as the Lions defeated the Gaels in three sets (25-13, 25-14, 25-11).

Frantti led the offense again with 11 kills, two aces, two digs and two blocks. Freshman Heidi Thelen made her debut against Iona, with eight kills and a team-high three blocks.

Again, Rose was impressed with the performance of the freshmen players.

"If you can average five or six errors per game in the first weekend of the year, with 3 freshman on the floor at times, you have to feel good not even taking into account who is on the other side," Rose said.

In the final match of the weekend against William & Mary, Penn State defeated the Tribe in straight sets (25-13, 25-12, 25-9). Freshmen Lee and Frantti and redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney, who was nine for nine in kills, led the offense in Saturday night's match.

Lee recorded 10 kills, four digs, and a block. This was her first collegiate double-digit kill performance. Frantti had seven kills, four digs and four blocks. Frantti was also named Penn State Classic Most Outstanding Player.

Rose said it was a great tournament for Frantti to kick off her college career. He said he will have an even better parameter of "how bright the star might shine" after the matches next weekend against No. 3 Stanford and UCLA.

"She had a great weekend and she plays really hard and plays with a big smile on her face. I think those things are for real, I don't think they're manufactured. That's just the way she is," Rose said.

Hancock, who made the All-Tournament team, acknowledged the performance of the freshmen and the support of the upperclassmen.

"Alli had a great weekend. She passed really well, hit well, no one backed down or curled up when the lights turned on and that's what you like to see in your teammates," Hancock said. "I think the upperclassmen did a really good job of trying to talk to them and keep them focused on what's going on; not so much of what's going on around you, but what's going on in the match."

Next up for the Nittany Lions is a trip to Palo Alto, California, to play Stanford and UCLA. 

Defending Champions Are Back with Young Roster

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10253095.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Having won five of the last seven NCAA titles, expectations are always high for the Penn State women's volleyball team. Despite losing a host of production from last year's squad, the squad expected to be among the nation's elite.

The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions graduated six seniors last season, including blocking powerhouse Katie Slay to back row weapon Deja McClendon.  Head coach Russ Rose will turn to a roster blending eight new faces with veterans as the Lions look ahead to the start of 2014.

"You enjoy great players when they're here and you hope the players that come after them respect the tradition and work hard to make those same sacrifices and contributions," Rose said.

After being on a team with players like McClendon, Slay and Ariel Scott for many years, it may be hard for some players to get used to so many new faces. Defensive specialist Dominique Gonzalez, who, as a senior, will be a team leader this year, said she enjoys having the new faces in the gym because they are excited to be there and are working hard to get better.

Junior outside hitter Megan Courtney will also be taking on more of a leadership role this year. One of her jobs will be to instill what needs to get done in the younger players.  Being an older player also means that she will become a go-to hitter. Courtney says that even though she is a veteran, she will still need to perform well because the novice players this year are "studs."

"If I play well, everyone else will be play well and that's what I can do to make the team better," Courtney said.

Just two years ago, Courtney was entering her freshman season, so she knows what the newcomers are going through right now. As a freshman, Courtney played in 36 matches and said that sometimes her head would get clustered during the match. She understands that this may happen to the freshmen this year, but it's her job as an older player to make sure they maintain a positive mindset.

"They're freshman, they make mistakes, we all make mistakes, so it's a matter how we come off of those mistakes and learn from them. To just prepare for the next point and not dwell on the past," Courtney said. "We all make mistakes so it's a matter of how we turn those mistakes into good points."

Outside hitters Alli Frantti and Simone Lee are two freshmen that Rose said played well this preseason, but there is competition going on between all of the new players.

"There's battles going on at all the positions, but a lot of it is impacted by who is cleared for practice that day," Rose said. "All of the net players have showed some talent and potential. I saw it in most of them when I recruited them."

Rose said the speed of the game is going to be the biggest transition for the younger players. And what bigger change of speed than going from high school and club volleyball to the Big Ten Conference. Rose said the much of the success of the team will be based on how the coaching staff and older players prepare the younger players to compete in the Big Ten environment, both at home and away.

"I know how good the conference is and the quality of the players and coaches. [I know] how tough the venues are. The older players who have been in the conference for two and three years, they have a much better handle on it than the young people," Rose said.

Gonzalez shared a similar outlook on the Big Ten and knows that the team must practice hard this season.

"We know conference is tough. Every match we have to be prepared for. No ones going to be an easy game or giveaway games and were trying to instill that in the other players," Gonzalez said. "You start off the season completely new, we won it last year but that means nothing this year. We are going to work to be successful again but we know that's going to be a lot of work."

This weekend, the Nittany Lions will kick off their season with three home matches. On Friday, they will face TCU at 7:30 p.m. Last season, the Horned Frogs were 16-15.  

On Saturday, Penn State will play Iona and William & Mary in a doubleheader at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively. Iona went 16-14 in the 2013 season and William & Mary was 11-21.

Senior middle hitter Nia Grant is ready for the weekend, but knows there is always room for improvement.

"You always want to get better, so I'm going to still use this week to get ready for the games and continue to get better as the season progresses," Grant said.

Rose said earlier this week that Grant is one of only three players (Micha Hancock, Grant and Courtney) who will definitely be on this weekend's starting lineup. The rest of the starting lineup has been impacted by injury and inconsistency, so the time is now for the freshmen to step up.

"We might start up to three freshmen. It's hard to start [the expected starters] when they're not cleared to play right now," Rose said. "So we'll play this weekend, and then we'll play the next weekend and we'll play hopefully the next 17 weekends."

Winning the 2013 National Championship means that all eyes will be on Penn State this season. And the Nittany Lions know the road in 2014 won't be easy.

"I think everyone on the team, coaching staff, players all agree with me when I say that its an expectation to go back to the final four, but we all know that it's not just given to us because we won last year," Courtney said. "It's what we do in the gym that's going to do the talking."