UNIVERSITY PARK, PA. -Penn State women's volleyball teams have always had standouts. As one of the most storied programs in collegiate volleyball, the Nittany Lions have developed some of the nation's top talent in the game. This year's Penn State team is not without standouts, but if this past weekend is any indication, a balanced attack might be the best way for Penn State to find success.
The Nittany Lions swept the Penn State Invitational, playing some of their better volleyball this season on the way to straight set victories against Rhode Island, Howard and Clemson. Led by a balance of offensive fire power in all three matches, Penn State had at least two Nittany Lions with seven or more kills. In two matches (Clemson, Howard), the Nittany Lions had at least three with seven or more kills.
"When it comes to offense, we really wanted to move the ball around," setter Abby Detering said after Friday's match. "Simone [Lee] has been fantastic for us but we have so many good hitters that we don't lose much if we spread it around. That's my mentality going in to the games, is to try to open up and spread the ball around."
Lee has been the focal point of the Penn State offense throughout the first four weeks of the season, but the past couple of weeks, the emphasis on getting multiple arms involved has paid dividends for Penn State.
"I think Haleigh [Washington] and Heidi Thelen had a great match," head coach Russ Rose said after Saturday's match against Clemson. "Heidi has been taking some good swings and Haleigh had a very efficient match."
Thelen, a middle converted to right side, had 21 kills on .447 hitting in three matches this weekend, swinging with authority. Washington had 27 kills for the Nittany Lions and recorded a .610 hitting clip across the tournament.
The added emphasis on a balanced attack has fueled an early season rejuvenation for the Nittany Lions. After starting the season 2-3, the Nittany Lions regrouped with six straight wins. It hasn't just been the result that has been positive, but the energy and continued improvement from Penn State has been a breath of fresh air as well.
"I thought the crowd was great and we had very good energy," Rose said following Saturday's match. "When we were 2-3 I didn't know how ready we would be to head into Big Ten play, but were playing better and we feel better about the way we have been playing. I'm pleased with where we are right now."
The Big Ten regular season will come in a hurry for Penn State as they have just a few days of rest before heading to Rutgers for their first conference match up. Though Penn State has improved, by the same token, the Big Ten will present a whole new challenge in terms of competition.
"We like where we are, but we can be better," Rose said. "I think the players understand that and want to be better as well."
With Big Ten play, comes a gauntlet of eight teams teams ranked in the top 25 nationally, including Penn State. Historically one of the best conferences in collegiate women's volleyball, Penn State will have to dig deep in the upcoming months.
"For the next 10 weeks we play two games a week that hold the same weight," said Rose. "It will be tough but we like where we are."
Penn State travels to Rutgers Wednesday, Sept. 21 with first serve scheduled for 7 p.m. in Piscataway, New Jersey.