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Homecoming Crowd Fuels Sweep Over Rutgers

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - An electrifying crowd of 5,312 fans packed Rec Hall to watch No. 15 Penn State women's volleyball sweep Rutgers in three-straight sets (25-13, 25-16, 25-10) on Saturday evening of homecoming weekend. 

"I thought the story of the night was the great crowd," head coach Russ Rose said. "It was terrific. I know the players appreciate getting a crowd like that in there...We're certainly never going to be disappointed when we have a full gym like that."

The Nittany Lions and the Scarlet Knights were exchanging points back-and-forth early in the first set, but redshirt freshman Tori Gorrell hammered the ball over the net for a kill that sparked Penn State's offense. The Blue and White continued their offensive streak to create a six-point stretch that eventually led them to win the opening frame, 25-13. Gorrell finished the first set leading the team with five kills.

Gorrell ended the night with a team-high 11 kills on .714 hitting, leading the offense for the first time in her collegiate career. She also recorded three blocks. Junior Simone Lee notched 11 kills, as well, while also adding six digs and three blocks.

Junior Haleigh Washington rounded out the effort recording 10 kills, hitting a team-best .750, where she put away kills on six of her seven swings through the first two sets. Washington also had two digs and a match-high of five blocks. 

"Haleigh is always a really good attacker. She's got a great vision," coach Rose said.

Rutgers opened the scoring in the second set and Penn State tried to catch up early on, but the Nittany Lions were still down by two points. However, after a quick regroup on the court, Penn State went on a 7-1 run to get the lead and a two-set advantage in the match.

"You can feel everyone [in the crowd] with us, too, for every single point," senior Carley Muller said. "People are invested in the game - they're ready for us to win. [When we were trailing], I think we wanted to come back and win it for the crowd. Obviously, we could feel that everyone wanted us to win, and we could tell that everyone was investing in what we were doing. We just wanted to get them the win."

With the win over Rutgers, Penn State has now won its last 12 straight victories, improving to 6-0 in Big Ten conference play. The Nittany Lions aren't going to let that record interrupt their focus.

"We just have to keep playing at a high level, so we just need to take it one game at a time, and just stay at a high level," redshirt sophomore Nia Reed said.

Penn State will hit the road next week to continue its Big Ten conference play. The Blue and White will take on Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind. Friday, Oct. 14 and Indiana on Sat, Oct. 15 in Bloomington, Ind.

Frantti Embracing Growth to Find Success

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - "If I could tell my seventh grade self that I was going to go to Penn State, I would have said I was joking," junior Ali Frantti said.

Frantti wrote an email to head coach Russ Rose when she was in seventh grade because she watched Penn State volleyball all her life and it was her dream to become a Nittany Lion. Though coach Rose never actually saw the email, her wish to come to Penn State eventually came true.

The Spring Grove, Illinois native graduated high school early, practiced hard and made her way into the Blue and White starting lineup her freshman year. Her rookie season was one she will also never forget.

She helped Penn State win the 2014 National Championship, was named the AVCA DI National Freshman of the Year and the AVCA All-Northeast Region Freshman of the Year, earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors three times, and led the team with 3.20 kills per set on .310 hitting.

"Coming off of freshman year, I wasn't expecting any of that," Frantti said. "Winning National Freshman of the Year was a surreal moment for me. I take great honor in that and people recognize that because I know there were many, many candidates that could have won that, for sure. I definitely am very honored that I could be National Freshman of the Year in 2014."

However, when someone wins such a big title, there's always going to be some type of pressure from it afterwards, especially when you're a six-rotation player, someone that receives serves, makes passes and leads the offense.

"Being a six rotation player, you always have to be focused and queued in on players and servers," Frantti said. "As an outside hitter, especially, we do a two-passer still. A majority of the balls are going to be served to me, so for every play, I'm doing something. It's always crucial to stay focus and have a good mindset the whole time."

There were high expectations for Frantti for her sophomore year. She was aware of that and setup goals for herself, but when she wasn't doing as well as she was in her first year, the stress got to her. At the end of the season, but she tied for third on the team with 2.63 kills per set, totaling 303 kills for the year, and finished fourth on the team with 1.83 digs per set.

"Winning National Freshman of the Year kind of leaves an expectation for you to maintain," Frantti said. "I wouldn't say all the eyes are on you, but it's an expectation to carry a great performance all the time. I think sophomore year, I definitely felt the pressure because that wasn't the best year I wanted to have. It was kind of a struggle, but I found some good in it."

During the times she was struggling on the court, Frantti used her faith to carry herself through the good and bad days and put perspective into her life.

"My faith played a huge role in my development as a person," Frantti said. "It's easy to get caught up with school and sports but without my faith, I would feel empty inside."

This season, there were a variety of questions about whether or not Frantti would play like her freshman year-self or her sophomore year-self, but in actuality, she's neither - she's a new Ali Frantti on the court. Frantti realized that there are only a number of matches left in her collegiate career, so she needs to make the most of all of them. 

"This year, I have been making a conscious effort to get away from [the pressure]," Frantti said. "I keep it simple now and I don't really think too much of things. Honestly, I just got back to having fun, and that's the most important thing - that's why I play volleyball. That's what I learned last year and coming to this year, it's been a grind, but I enjoy every day. I've definitely grown a lot since last year."

Coming into the season with a younger team, there were a lot of question marks about how Penn State would perform, especially in the early part of the season. However, the Nittany Lions' chemistry and volleyball IQ has grown so much that they've won 11-straight matches. This wouldn't have been accomplished without veteran Frantti.

In a critical matchup against then-No. 18 Michigan State, Frantti led the offense for the first time all season, recording 11 kills on a .391 hitting clip, while also posting a team-high six digs. She also recorded a season-high 13 kills in the match in the win against top-ranked Minnesota the following week. 

"Ali did phenomenal in that match against Michigan," junior Haleigh Washington said. "She had a lot of veteran plays, she's seeing the court very well and she was hitting shots that were very mature for her game that only an experienced player would think to hit. High, deep, in the corners. She was tipping really well and her attack in the back row was awesome. 

Washington has been by Frantti's side throughout their entire time at Penn State, whether that be teammates on the court or roommates off the court. Either way, Washington has certainly seen Frantti grow in the past three years.

"Frantti has improved because she's a ranged hitter," Washington said. "Our freshmen year, she would hit a lot of 4-to-4 and a lot across, so that was her go-to shot. It was hitting that deep, almost to the libero, but now she has a deep corner shot, a down-the-line shot and others. Her serve is more versatile, her block has improved. She's become a better all-around player and her passing since freshmen year has made her one of our primary passers in our offense. She's a key part of why we are as successful as we can be and are."

Though Frantti has certainly gained experience in her communication skills, leadership abilities and volleyball IQ, she still hopes to learn more this season.

"In all aspects of the game, I definitely want to improve," Frantti said. "I feel like I'm getting my hitting back, which is great. I have a great connection with the setter, junior Abby Detering, right now. I think it's being physically aggressive through the whole season. I just want to maintain that level. It's a long season and you have to stay healthy, maintain physicality and be strong every game."

This junior outside hitter loves Mexican food, burgers, relaxing and Penn State volleyball. Even with some struggles and challenges in her career, Frantti's using that experience to improve her game and help her teammates. And she wouldn't want to be anywhere else doing it.

"To know that I'm here now, and to be part of this legacy and tradition, it's such a humbling experience. Girls dream about coming here, and I am so privileged to be part of this. I don't take it for granted at all. The opportunities that I am given to represent this great school, it's a huge honor. I couldn't picture myself going somewhere else...It's crazy how dreams work and if you put in the hard work, anything is possible. It's like a dream come true to be here."

BLOG: Lee, Detering Lift Penn State Past No. 1 Gophers

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a record-setting night in Rec Hall. More importantly for the No. 15 Nittany Lions, it was arguably their biggest win of the season. Penn State toppled the No. 1 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers in a five set thriller, battling back from multiple deficits, including a 2-1 hole to take the match (29-27, 21-25, 23-25, 25-14, 15-10). 

"We played pretty well tonight, our fans helped out a lot," head coach Russ Rose said. "The crowd and the band played a big part. When you hit .588 in the fifth set against the number one team in the nation you have to feel pretty good." 

Two Nittany Lions also produced record-setting performances to help lead Penn State past the Golden Gophers. Simone Lee totaled 30 kills, the most for a Nittany Lion since in the 25-point rally scoring era. Lee, who has led the offense all season for Penn State, took her game to a new level when the team needed it. Not only did Lee collect 30 kills, but she also hit .333, an impressive hitting percentage for the amount of swings the junior outside took.

"I thought that Simone was really good offensively tonight for us," Rose said. "She has been all season and continued to be tonight." 

Lee proved key from the very start of the match, as she guided Penn State to a crucial win the in first set with five of the final six Nittany Lion kills, breaking open a tied score, 24-24, to lift PSU to a 29-27 win in the opening frame. She came through again in the clutch during the decisive fifth set, leading the team with four kills on six swings, opening and closing the final frame with a pair of kills. 

Along with Lee, Abby Detering set the Nittany Lions better than she ever has before in the Blue and White. Detering collected a double-double with 10 digs and 61 assists. Her tally is good for third best all-time for the Nittany Lions during the 25-point rally scoring era as well. Detering also totaled five kills and three service aces, producing in all areas for a focused and determined Penn State team. 

"The setting was great," Lee said. "Abby was great all night and I was set up very well with perfect sets and a lot of single blocks, my team made it very easy on me." 

Lee and Detering's record-setting performances were certainly the highlights of a tremendous Wednesday night, but at the same time, Lee and Rose credited the entire team with a fantastic effort throughout the five-setter.

"Ali [Frantti] had a big block for us, Heidi [Thelen] had some really good moments also," said Rose. "I just thought it was a really good team win for us against a really good program."

Though the team did play exceptionally, it would be remiss to fail to highlight the performance of Lee. She now has more than 200 kills for the Nittany Lions on the season and has proven to be an extremely consistent and dynamic offensive option. No match was quite as hypnotizing as the record setting one put forth on Wednesday as Lee surpassed the totals of former Nittany Lion Ariel Scott, who put down 27 kills in a five set match back in October of 2011. In total, Lee is the first Nittany Lion to reach the 30-kill plateau in single match since former Nittany Lion Nicole Fawcett had 31 kills against Cal Poly in 2007.

The win for Penn State marks the 11 consecutive win for the Nittany Lions, who also remain undefeated in a challenging Big Ten field as well, moving to 5-0. 

"It feels great," Kendall White said. "Especially where we were in the beginning of the season. It shows how we grow and how we don't stay in a certain situation. It feels really good."

Penn State is back in action on Saturday, Oct. 8 against Rutgers. First serve is set for 7 p.m. in Rec Hall as the Blue and White will look to remain perfect through the first three weeks of Big Ten Play.

Veterans Guide Penn State Past Michigan

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State women's volleyball went undefeated against two Top 25 teams during the first weekend of Big Ten play at home, earning a victory against Michigan Saturday night.

No. 16 Penn State and No. 20 Michigan started in electrifying fashion with the two teams trading points back-and-forth early on in the first set. Both teams were tied at 4-4, but a kill from junior Ali Frantti after a long rally sparked momentum to bring the Nittany Lions ahead. She recorded another kill, leading the Nittany Lions to a five-point cushion. The Lions captured the first set and went on to complete the sweep in the next two (25-20, 25-19, 25-15).

Frantti powered the team the rest of the night and led the offense for the first time all season, recording 11 kills on a .391 hitting clip, while also posting a team-high six digs.

"I thought Ali had a terrific night passing," head coach Russ Rose said. "They served her every ball, she passed great and we moved the ball around well." 

Junior middle blocker Haleigh Washington also contributed to the victory over the Wolverines. Washington registered a team-high eight blocks, while also leading from the service line with three aces and adding eight kills.

Junior Simone Lee also contributed eight kills, while also finishing tied for second on the team with four blocks.

Having moved from middle to the right side for the Nittany Lions this year, junior Heidi Thelen recorded six kills on nine errorless swings, leading the team with a match-high .667 hitting efficiency. Thelen also logged four blocks.

Together, Frantti, Lee, Washington and Thelen combined for 15 block assists, with Washington and Thelen both attacking at better than .570 through three sets.

 "We don't hit over .430 in some practice drills, so to be able to do that against a top-25 team and one with as many skilled players, you feel every good about the effort this evening," Rose said. 

The Nittany Lions had just finished a sweep against No. 18 Michigan State Friday night and they used their time off to practice for the win tonight. 

"I thought we passed really well [tonight]," coach Rose said. "We missed nine serves last night and we missed nine serves tonight, so I think that there's going to be some situations where we're having a more risky approach to serving rather than a prudent decision, but when you're playing at home and you're siding out well, that's probably not the most opportune time to do that...I think we have a good rotation right now." 

With the win, Penn State has its last 11 sets, improving its overall record to 12-3 and 4-0 in Big Ten play. While the Lions faced adversity early on this season, they will be coming out of this weekend more confident than ever.

 "I think we're trying to stay as a team, stay strong and stay together as our core group," Thelen said. "I think we're just trying to push through with what we have. Every team that we play is a good team and we just try to stay together and fight." 

It will be a quick turn over for the Nittany Lions as they're set to face No. 2 Minnesota on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at Rec Hall for a "White Out in Rec Hall."   

Nittany Lion Duo Leads Penn State Past Spartans

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was an electric atmosphere inside Rec Hall as No. 16 Penn State fed off the electricity in what was one of the more convincing wins for the Nittany Lions this season, topping the No. 18 Michigan State Spartans in three sets.

Penn State, coming off an unblemished first week of Big Ten play, faced their first ranked opponent since playing then-No. 9 Stanford, the Nittany Lions improved to 9-0 in individual sets across three conference matches.

"I thought the crowd and the energy from them and the band were tremendous tonight," head coach Russ Rose said. "I'm always happy when we win a match."

Behind a dominate performance, the Nittany Lions took down the Spartans, who had just taken top-ranked Nebraska to five sets a week earlier. The Nittany Lions, as they have been all season, were led by Simone Lee who totaled 12 kills to lead all players. However, Ali Frantti, who has struggled with consistency this season, certainly stepped up in this match. Frantti finished second on the team with 10 kills, hitting higher than .300, while also passing well.

"I though [Simone] and [Ali] both played extremely well and I though Ali really passed well tonight for us," Rose said. "I though Simone had a couple good blocks and overall the two of them carried the offense. We set them over 50 percent of the time and that's a lot to ask but for the most part that were up to the task."

Michigan State is well known in the Big Ten for being one of the more imposing teams in terms of physicality and overall height. Still, it was the Nittany Lions who won the physicality battle, using a slew of solo blocks to turn the tide in the second set.

"I think I was on the bench for those blocks, but you could tell that they really fired everyone up," Frantti said. "It's plays like that that can really help you out as a team."

Not only were the Nittany Lions solid at the net, but for the most part they nullified a large Michigan State block with quality spotting of the ball and solid high and hard swings to keep the Spartans off balance.

"Against a team like that you have to swing high and hard," Lee said. "You also have to tip well and hit spots and I thought we did both of those well tonight. You have to give credit to our middles as well for really holding the blocks and freeing up space for us to take swings."

Penn State has started to play a more complete game, led by Frantti and Lee at the helm of the offense in the past two weeks. At 3-0 in Big Ten play, Penn State is off to yet another strong start in the conference. In the beginning of the season, the Nittany Lions found themselves struggling when taking the lead in matches, but now it seems with a 2-0 set lead, Penn State has started to play their best volleyball rather than falling behind.

"I thought for the most part in that third set we were in control and Michigan State looked a little disoriented," Rose said. "When you have a chance to pull away from a team in this conference you have to."

Penn State certainly pulled away and led by Frantti and Lee, put together an overall emphatic victory for the Nittany Lions' first win over a ranked opponent this season. It will be a quick turn around for the Nittany Lions as they are set to face No. 22 Michigan tomorrow at 8 p.m. in Rec Hall.

Detering Adjusting to Penn State

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - This time last year, junior Abby Detering was playing volleyball in the O'Connell Center alongside her teammates at University of Florida.

Now, she's wearing blue and white to represent the Penn State women's volleyball team.

"It's been awesome playing for Penn State," Detering said. "The girls are amazing. I played against some of them in club, so it was really nice coming to a new program where you already know some of the girls, so it was a great welcome to come into it. But it's also Penn State. Playing with such an amazing program and coaches, it just an amazing feeling."

On August 26, Detering made her collegiate debut for the Nittany Lions in Rec Hall against West Virginia. She led the team with 29 assists while posting five digs and three kills. Despite helping the team secure the first win of the season, Detering's setting position wasn't protected. She was still splitting time with redshirt sophomore Bryanna Weiskircher. It was after her performance in the Syracuse Classic, recording 108 assists including a career-high 41 against Hofstra, that Detering took over at the setting position. 

"Every day, you have to be working hard in this program," Detering said. "It's crazy, it's awesome, it's exactly what I want, I am working hard every day, so to be playing more and seeing an outcome that you want to see, it's awesome. 

Starting over is never easy. With Detering only having one summer to get adjusted to Penn State, there was a lot to learn on and off the court, but the transition was made easier with the help of her teammates.

"I thought [the adjustment] was going to be a lot more challenging than what it was, but there are so many supportive people here that they helped me along the way," Detering said. "The girls are the main ones that helped me get adjusted, but not only with volleyball, but with school. They taught me where to go on campus, good places to study, even where my classes are. The girls have been amazing helping me make this an easy adjustment coming from another program."

While Detering was at Florida, she played in 36 matches in two years, so collegiate volleyball nothing new to her, but she's also bringing skills and traits that she's learned to help the Nittany Lions.

"You learn this at a young age, but the most important thing that transferred over from Florida to Penn State is just really getting to know your teammates and knowing how to play with them," Detering said. "The biggest thing is about connections for a setter and a hitter and with all your teammates, so the biggest thing coming in is knowing how the players play, how the players react well and figuring each player out to get their best effort. I know that that was a huge thing at our last program because you have to get that. The main goal is to win and you have to get everyone to play at their best. I knew that I had to transfer that right away after I transferred here."

The Mentor, Ohio native first started to get involved in volleyball because she and her older sister, Lauren, used to play the same sports, like figure skating and softball. When Lauren began to play volleyball, attending a middle school camp, Detering knew that she wanted to play too.

"I was in fourth grade, so I was the youngest kid, but I just loved it," Detering said. "I just liked how it was more of an aggressive sport while ice skating isn't really and it was more of a graceful sport."

Detering's family has supported her all her life, especially in high school when she was selected MVP of the Ohio Division II State Championship game in her freshman year and the 2013-14 Ohio Gatorade Volleyball Player of the Year. By transferring closer to home, her parents, sister and brother have been by her side every step of the way during her first season at Penn State. 

"That's the best thing about being here and being in the Big Ten. My parents and my whole family are able to come to all my matches," Detering said. "They've been to every home game. My dad just came to Northwestern, so they're able to go to all my matches, and it's amazing to have them there for my last two years."

Although she always appreciates all the fans on the road, there's no better feeling than playing at Rec Hall.

"When you first go out there, the nerves kick in but now we're getting things down," Detering said. "My favorite moment has been playing at home because the crowd is so amazing and it's a really neat atmosphere. There are so many people there, so when you go, it's just all these people that are cheering for the team so you have a lot of adrenaline, but it's a great feeling." 

Aside from volleyball, Detering loves waking up early to go outside to find new coffee shops, go hiking or spend time relaxing in her ENO hammock.

But now, her focus is inside Rec Hall.

"For this season, I want to win a national championship, that's definitely the goal in the end, but we have to be looking at each game, we can't just look at the end game. We have to look at the little things, the little goals before we get to the big goals. Right now, we're focusing on Michigan State and Michigan, and we're going to keep on playing from there. Overall, the big goals are winning the Big Ten and the National Championship, but right now, we want to beat Michigan State on Friday," Detering said. 

Tori Gorrell's Unexpected Path

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When redshirt freshman Tori Gorrell was in sixth grade, she already knew that after high school she was going to attend Penn State. How did she know that she wanted to attend Penn State?

A Google search.

"When I was younger, I knew that I wanted to play volleyball at the top level, so I jokingly went to my dad and asked him who the best team was," Gorrell said. "He Googled it because he had no idea about volleyball, and it said 'Penn State.' The young me said, 'I'm going to go there.' When I got older, I looked into it more and talked to Coach Rose and the other coaches. Then, I came for a visit, and it was nothing I had ever seen before. It's a beautiful campus, Rec Hall is beautiful, the coaches were amazing, the girls were amazing, and that's why I chose Penn State."

Hailing from Ontario, Canada, Gorrell has a longer trip home than the typical Penn State student, while requiring a passport along the way. Her father, Miles Gorrell, is a former all-star offensive lineman who played in the Canadian Football League, but now works as a talent acquisition specialist for the CFL's Ottawa RedBacks. Despite his busy schedule, he organizes his commitments so he and Tori's mother can attend every match in Rec Hall.

"My dad and my mom both attend every home game as long as he's not working," Gorrell said. "It's like a five-hour drive, so it's not that far and they both have weekends off. My dad still works for a professional football team and unless he's at games, he's at every one of my games."

Even though Gorrell's father doesn't know too much about actually playing volleyball, he is always by her  side giving sharing advice. 

"He knew nothing about volleyball so he just had the athlete's perspective," Gorrell said. "He always comes up with these cheesy inspirational quotes for me and that's all we've gone off of, like last week, he said, 'Play every game like it's your last.' I always try to follow that." 

Before playing for the Nittany Lions, Gorrell helped her high school, Abbey Park, win the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association AAA volleyball championship, the Halton Tier I and Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference AAA titles. She also led the team to an undefeated season. 

Gorrell thought all of these accomplishments would allow her to play during her freshman year at Penn State, but she went on a different path and redshirted for the season instead.

"I think the [redshirt season] helped me tremendously," Gorrell said. "At first I was on the fence about it, but then I talked to other girls who were redshirted and they said it really helped them. So I just watched every other girl and learned and I think that gave me a better sense of what I can do to help the team and how to make the team more complete. I think doing the redshirt season was really valuable to me so I could become a better player and be a better teammate for these girls."

Gorrell adjusted to her unexpected position for the season by finding a role model on the team. Junior middle blocker Haleigh Washington soon became the teammate that Gorrell could rely on to help her feel more comfortable during that stage.

"My role model this past year would be Haleigh. She's a little crazy, a little funky, so Haleigh is definitely someone I look up to," Gorrell said.

Washington has been by Gorrell's side since she came to Penn State and can notably see how the middle blocker has improved. Her connection and timing with her teammates, especially Abby Detering, has gotten stronger as well as her steps on offense. But more importantly, Washington is happy to finally see Gorrell play in front of the fans at Rec Hall.

"She's a goon. She's so excited when she's on the court," Washington said. "When she does something big, she turns around and does a set move where her mouth gets really big and she's smiley and hyped. It's awesome watching her play. She comes off the court with her head in the game and determined. She's competitive and wants to win, so she's awesome to play with." 

Gorrell helped the Blue and White open up the 2016 season in the match against West Virginia. In her collegiate debut, she tailed six kills on nine errorless swings (.667), recorded two solo stuffs and led the team in blocks alongside Washington with three blocks each.

"Playing at Rec Hall for the first time was an amazing experience," Gorrell said. "I have been coming here for quite a few years and watching all of the girls on the court and just saying 'Wow, this is amazing.' Talking to girls like 'Yeah, playing at Rec is one of the greatest feelings you will ever have,' and stuff like that. I was excited to experience it. But then my first time happened and it's like nothing you could ever imagine...All the fans surround you and they're cheering for Penn State volleyball and the band is playing, the coach is talking, the other team is there and it's just super intense. It's a really amazing experience."

Though the environment been surreal at first, Gorrell is planning to leave her own mark on Rec Hall in the years to come.

"I would like to be the middle that the other team has to worry about. I don't want the other team to just send two blockers on another player. I want them to focus on me and not automatically think, 'Okay, the ball is going to the outside or the inside or the center.'  No, they have to be worried about me getting the ball and not leaving me right away when I get the ball. That's really what I want to focus on - being a threat to the other team."

Balance Improves as Penn State Heads Toward Big Ten Play

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9440242.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer

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.

Kendall White Brings Experience to the Back Row

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By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Freshman Kendall White never really thought about playing volleyball when she was younger. She thought she was too short in comparison to the other players on the court. However, that all changed when her older sister, Sloane White, got recruited to play volleyball.

"My older sister played volleyball at College of Charleston in South Carolina," White said. "She's a lot taller than me, so when she was about 12, she was recruited to play volleyball and I went to all of her tournaments. I started playing volleyball because of her when I was eight years old and just fell in love with it from there."

Ever since the 5-foot-five freshman stepped on to the volleyball court for the first time, she has been making a name for herself on each court she's ever played on. During her four years of high school at Cathedral in Indianapolis, Indiana, she was a four-year letterwinner and concluded her career with a school-record 1,546 digs. She led the Fighting Irish to a 36-0 record as well as the Class 4A state championship in her senior year as the team's libero and captain. This was the first Indiana 4A team to have an undefeated season. In addition, in 2015-16, she was selected as the Indy Star Player of the Year, Cathedral's High School Female Athlete of the Year and Indiana's volleyball Gatorade State Player of the Year.

"My high school season was amazing," White said. "They helped me so much going into [Penn State's] team because that was probably the best team as a unit I have ever been part of. We were all so happy together and we used each other's personalities differently and each other's strengths so when someone was messing up, someone would rise to the occasion. That's helping me a lot here because that's exactly what the team needs - we need people to rise to the occasion when other people aren't rising to the occasion. We need to work on team unity. We all love each other so much on this team, and we're all really good friends, and I think it's awesome. I think we can develop our team unity like that team did, and we can fight back in games and tough situations and just move on to grow as a team." 

The Nittany Lions are only eight matches into the season, but White has already started to become a staple in the back-row for Penn State as she wears the opposite colored-jersey in each match as the starting libero. In the season-opener, White made a phenomenal collegiate debut, leading the team with 16 digs against West Virginia. 

"You'd think it would be overwhelming at [Rec Hall], but with all the people in there, I loved it," White said. "I absorbed the energy. I thought it was amazing. I thought the crowd and cheering made me want to perform better and being surrounded by all my teammates...It was awesome -  I enjoyed it so much." 

This season, she already leads the team with 106 digs and recorded a career-high of 22 digs in the match against Stanford. Even though White holds a smart court presence, she believes that she still has a lot to work on for this season.

"I want to do whatever is possible for the team in order to win," White said. "I'm going to go out there no matter if I'm playing bad or if I'm playing well to make sure I keep the energy high and help the team through attitude because I think we can use that no matter what the situation is. Specifically, I just want to work hard on defense and be the top defender this weekend, hopefully, and the season, but I have to get better in order to do that."

None of this would have been possible without the help of her teammates, especially the upperclassmen. They're there for her 100 percent of the time, and they're all constantly helping all the freshman get adjusted to not only the volleyball court, but also to classes, the professors, campus and everything else.

"I like playing with Kendall a lot," junior Lainy Pierce said. "She's taken up a huge role as a freshman and I think she's carrying herself really well and playing a really good game right now...She really cares about this program, and would do anything for it. I think she's a true leader."

Besides being a defensive specialist for Penn State, White is known to her teammates for her bubbly personality, which helps the team in many ways on the court.

"I think Kendall is really loud, and that's kind of her tone," Pierce said. "She's not afraid to speak her mind, which is great to have somebody like that on the court, but she also knows where she stands and who she is on the team, and we need a leader like that this year."

Outside of volleyball, White loves to use her energy by talking, hanging out with friends and meeting new people. When she has time to herself, she's binge watching "Gossip Girl" on Netflix, and when the season is over, White plans to volunteer at a nursing home like she did in high school.

"My grandma used to be at a nursing home, and I loved visiting her. I love helping elderly people and being around them, so that's definitely something I want to do in my future," White said. 

But right now, White's focus is on Penn State volleyball, and she wouldn't have it any other way.

"[My experience] has been great," White said. "The girls are amazing and the level of competition that we play at is awesome. It's exactly what I wanted an exactly what I came here for. I love it."

Nittany Lions Eager For Next Opportunity

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

BOULDER, Colo. - The bar is set exceptionally high when it comes to Penn State women's volleyball. As is human nature, reaching that bar cannot always be obtained. Despite a disappointing road trip results wise, the Nittany Lions can still take some positives out of their first trip to Boulder in program history.

Penn State, participating for the third year in a row in the Big Ten/ Pac-12 Challenge, was unable to earn a road win against either the Colorado Buffaloes or the No. 9 Stanford Cardinal. The Nittany Lions, who have had turnover on both their coaching staff and in their starting lineup, are still working through some early season adjustments.

Despite the losses on Saturday and Sunday, associate head coach Salima Rockwell feels that the Nittany Lions are close to turning a new page early in the 2016 season.

"Obviously you game plan for a different outcome and you never prepare for what happened," Rockwell said after the match against Stanford. "All we can do is focus on what we did well in these matches and move forward from there."

One aspect of the Nittany Lions' game that was noticeably different on Sunday in comparison to Saturday was the level of competition. After looking flat at times against Colorado, Penn State showed fire and grit against the ninth-ranked Cardinal.

"I definitely think our level of competition was higher," Rockwell said. "I thought our communication on the court was better as well. It's good to see that growth in certain areas but we are still looking to play better. You can tell that in the locker room too, I think the girls would go out and play again tomorrow if they had the chance."

Though volleyball is a team sport, certain individuals shine through on a consistent basis. Newcomer Kendall White has been that bright spot for Penn State early on.  As a freshman, White has already established herself as a vocal presence both on and off the court and one of the leaders on the team. White, the libero for the Nittany Lions, has totaled 78 digs (4.11 per set) in just five games. The dominance in the back row is impressive and the coaching staff has taken notice.

"I thought Kendall White has been one of our best players so far this season," head coach Russ Rose said. "She has done very well so far for us and we expect it to continue."

Both the stats and performances from the young libero speak for themselves, but arguably what is more impressive is the way that White has already stepped up to be one of the leading voices on the floor.

"We're lucky to have her," Rockwell said. "She's doing an amazing job and Coach [Rose] always says that leaders emerge. That's exactly what Kendall is doing. That's one of the reasons why we recruited her. She's tough and she competes all the time and that is Penn State Volleyball."

Penn State will look to flip the script on the road next weekend traveling to Syracuse, N.Y. for a three match tournament. The quick turnaround will give the Nittany Lions just two full days home in State College before returning to the road, meaning the focus needs to continue to be high for the team.

"It's always a challenge getting back, but the team is used to it," Rockwell said. "The biggest thing is that we get a lot of rest and get ahead on school work so that we are fresh and ready to go."

Penn State will face Siena on Friday at 10 a.m. before taking on Hofstra and Syracuse on Saturday. 

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