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Penn State Focused Ahead of Regular Season Finale

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Top-ranked Penn State women's volleyball closes out its regular season campaign on the road this weekend, headed to No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 8 Minnesota.

On a 17-match winning streak with a share of the Big Ten title on the line, the Nittany Lions aren't focusing on any added circumstances this week, instead relying on preparation ahead of the final two matches before Sunday's NCAA Tournament selection show.

"I think we really do a good job preparing for every game like it's a big match," Lee said. "There's not really a time when we're saying this one match has precedent over the other. It's always, we need to focus on what we need to do on this side of the net, on our side of the net and we need to focus on how we can defend against the opposition. I don't think there has been a time when we're putting more pressure on ourselves because we've got to play so and so, versus a different team."

Penn State has plenty of power on its side of the net, having utilized the one match at a time mentality to not only scale the polls, but also the NCAA national standings, stifling opponents along the way.

On the year, Penn State's limiting its opponents to .165 hitting, which ranks second in the Big Ten. Penn State has also held its last five consecutive opponents to less than .100 hitting on the year, keeping Rutgers at a Big Ten season-low -.082 clip in the most recent road win last Saturday. Blocking-wise, Penn State's averaging 2.96 blocker per set, which ranks 12th nationally and leads the conference.

Offensively, the Nittany Lions are hitting at a national-best .355 clip, helped out by senior Haleigh Washington, who leads the nation with a .517 hitting percentage on the year. Although Penn State has utilized a fairly balanced attack in the final stretch of the conference slate, both Lee and Washington have record at least 10 kills in 14 of 18 Big Ten matches.

Always humble and hungry for more though, Penn State isn't letting its winning streak or even its 10-0 mark in road matches this year set the tone for the weekend, instead opting to focus on constant improvement. 

"Especially going into Wisconsin and Minnesota, they're very good blocking and defending teams and I think that's something we work on a lot in practice, playing a lot of 6-on-6 and making sure we are grinding it out, making sure we're tenacious in our efforts and trying to get the job done," Lee said.

Both the Badgers and the Gophers are just behind the Nittany Lions in the statistical standings. Wisconsin is outhitting its opponents .300 to .170, with a hitting percentage that's ranked third in the conference and ninth nationally. The Badgers are also averaging 2.67 blocks per set, led by 6-foot-8-inch freshman middle Dana Rettke, who's averaging 1.43 blocks per frame on the year, also hitting .445, which is slotted second in the conference to Washington and fourth nationally.

Penn State won its earlier meeting against Wisconsin this year, taking down the Badgers in four sets at home in late-October - which also happened to mark the 39th consecutive season Penn State head coach Russ Rose has led the Nittany Lions to a 20-win season.   

The Gophers are hitting .286 in 2017, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten, paced by first team AVCA All-American setter Samantha Seliger-Swenson, who's averaging 12.16 assists per set, good for first in the league and second nationally.

Much like Penn State, both teams are also among the national leaders in average match attendance, mean the Nittany Lions will have to contend with some hostile road environments, especially meeting Minnesota on senior night.

Penn State hasn't defeated either team on the road since 2014, the same year the Nittany Lions captured their seventh NCAA Tournament title in program history. With several members on the roster for both wins in 2014, including Lee, her message to the younger members of the team this year, is just to breath.

"Just know that your teammates have your back no matter what, there's not a time where we won't look you dead in the eye and say, hey, we got you or hey, you got this and I think that's something really special about this team, that we all trust each other so much. We really do take to heart the fact that we have each other's back and if someone's killing it, we're going to keep pushing them, keep giving them the ball and then if someone's not, we're going to say, we got you, what do you need from us."

With packed crowds hardly surprising across many Big Ten road venues, the Nittany Lions will only utilize the experience headed into the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

"It's a big crowd in either arena and I think that it's a really good challenge for us because going into the tournament, there's going to be a lot of people cheering us on or cheering against us and I think that's something we have to look forward to," Lee said.

Giving Thanks
The Thanksgiving break doesn't impact the Nittany Lion practice schedule too much, but per tradition, practice is still on schedule with a team meal to follow. 

"This Thanksgiving, we'll go to the Nittany Lion Inn, we actually do it every year and it's really fun," Lee said. "We have practice beforehand and then we all get really cute and dressed up in the locker room and then we get to go have really good food at the Nittany Lion Inn and just kind of spend time with each other and kind of really realize how grateful we are and thankful we are to be here and be with our teammates on Thanksgiving."

Selection Sunday
Penn State will await its seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, which is unveiled Sunday, Nov. 26. The show will air live on ESPNU at 9 p.m. ET.

Net Presence Carries Nittany Lions in Sweep

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By Tom Shively, student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a perfect letdown situation for the top-ranked team in the country. A weeknight home game against a team with only one conference win would have been easy to overlook, especially with a three-game road trip looming.

Instead, Penn State women's volleyball swept Indiana, 25-21, 25-16, 25-16 to push their winning streak to 16 consecutive matches. A large part of the victory came by way of the blocking success, as the Nittany Lions could rely on a timely block anytime Indiana showed signs of momentum.

Anywhere the Hoosiers tried to attack at the net, it was met with a wall of Penn State defenders. The Nittany Lions denied the overmatched Indiana hitters all night, racking up 13 blocks for the match. The Hoosiers hit at a .083 clip, in large part because of the Penn State pressure.

Tori Gorrell and Heidi Thelen were the biggest road blocks for the Hoosiers, combining for 13 blocks. Gorrell credited most of her success tonight to Thelen being a reliable teammate and putting her into positions to succeed. 

"With Heidi being a middle in the pass, it's easier to know what she's doing because we have different arm swings," Gorrell said. "Some outsides do short arm swings, some do long arm swings, but Heidi is very consistent with that on her blocking. I know where she's going and she'll talk to me and push me." 

Gorrell's play didn't go unnoticed by head coach Russ Rose, who commended her as well as Haleigh Washington for their complete efforts on the night.

"I thought Tori played a great match, she hit and blocked really well. Haleigh, as is the norm, hit better and got some blocks," Rose said.

Washington added four blocks and 10 kills, hitting at a .667 clip, leading both teams in kills and percentage.

While the Nittany Lions may have cruised to a win on the surface, nine service errors caught Rose's attention as he stressed the errors as a point to work on for the future. 

"It's a learning experience for the players. I thought we blocked well and served poorly," Rose said.

The Nittany Lions started out slow in the first two sets, trailing 10-7 in the first and 7-5 in the second before turning those frames around.

Penn State played its best volleyball in terms of hitting in the third set, registering a scorching .632 hitting percentage in the final frame, siding out at 87 percent.

Washington's four kills on four attacks set the tone for the Nittany Lions in that third set, and her leadership showed all night even as Penn State was struggling to distance itself from Indiana early in sets.

It's a quality that she has had all year and something critical to this team's success in both the immediate future and the postseason as well.

"As a leader, it's about instilling that sense of urgency, that focus and that drive that everything matters," Washington said. "It's not just when we play, it's when we practice too. We're going to have teams we play in the first round of the tournament that will be serving us tough and hitting really hard. Everybody competes and everybody goes hard." 

Rose also highlighted the importance of putting a quality effort together, as errors and mental mistakes cannot be absorbed if this team wants to make a run at a championship, a very realistic goal as things currently stand.

"Everybody cares in the NCAA Tournament, it's just how much you care," Rose said. "A 'C' effort won't get us very far in the NCAA Tournament. It certainly wasn't a great performance by everybody today but if you're trying to get some momentum going down the stretch, you'd like to think that you'd be able to start your own engines and get out there and do it."

The Nittany Lions travel to Rutgers this weekend before a trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin after Thanksgiving to close out the regular season.

Nittany Lions Tested in Maryland Sweep

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By Will Desautelle, student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Top-ranked Penn State swept Maryland (25-14, 25-21, 25-16) in front of a packed house in Rec Hall to extend its win streak to 15 consecutive matches.

Although the score might not reflect it, the Nittany Lions didn't play as clean as intended, and to head coach Russ Rose, it was the large crowd on homecoming weekend that played an integral role in propelling Penn State to victory. 

"I thought it was a fabulous crowd," Rose said. "We are very appreciative of the promotions and marketing people that put a lot of time in." 

It was arguably one of the best Rec Hall crowds of the entire season, as spectators lined the  upper track level to watch the match, with standing room only space available.

Prominently contributing to Saturday night's win was the evenly distributed effort from Rose's team.

All-American outside hitter Simone Lee led the way with 10 kills for the Nittany Lions, but no other Nittany Lion had more than five kills, with five different individuals adding at least three kills.

Tori Gorrell was efficient out of the middle for the Nittany Lions, adding five kills on seven total attacks.

"I thought [Tori] was in a better position to hit the ball," Rose said. "We talk to Tori a lot about getting her more swings and part of that in the equation is that she has to be in a position where she can take a good swing. I thought she took some good swings." 

Gorrell helped lead a dominant performance at the net for Penn State, contributing three of the Nittany Lions' 13 total team blocks Saturday night.

"I just think we do a really good job in practice of reading the other team and trying to see where they are going and make plays," Gorrell said.

Maryland, however, gave the Nittany Lions a lot of free point throughout the match, as they committed 29 attacking errors and 11 service errors. They also hit just .047 for the match. Despite the numerous self-inflicting errors, Rose thought Maryland gave his team a necessary tough test. 

"They had more kills than we did and they made more errors, but they've got young kids and I think [they] are doing a great job of building the program," Rose said. "That was a really good team we played tonight."

Rose also pointed out that Maryland's tendency to serve aggressively gave Penn State problems passing in serve receive when they were able to put the ball on the court.

"On the balls they serve in, they serve really hard," Rose said. "Everybody has a plan and I don't think they become distracted when they miss their serves," Rose said. "They're going to do what they do well. We knew they were going to be good." 

Rose, who has made a blueprint in his 38-year tenure for hardly being satisfied after a win, made several indications that Penn State still has plenty of work to do before he becomes satisfied. 

"It's nice to win, but I hope Maryland taught [our] players the lessons they needed to because they won the serve-pass game in spite of the fact of missing 11 serves," Rose said.

He ended the night with what he feels is a valuable quote from a book he reads frequently for his team to focus on heading into next week.

"Would you rather have discipline or disappointment?" Rose said. "Some people are happy how we played -  I think we'll get in the gym and work a little bit harder on Monday." 

The Nittany Lions will take on Indiana  Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall for their final home game of the regular season. 

A Special Senior Class

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By Tom Shively, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Last weekend's senior night ceremony was an emotional one in Rec Hall, as Penn State women's volleyball held its annual senior night Saturday, Nov. 4 to recognize the contributions of eight seniors who have helped to continue the longstanding tradition of excellence.

Simone Lee, Haleigh Washington, Ali Frantti, Heidi Thelen, Abby Detering, Lainy Pierce, Clare Powers and Jen Halterman have accumulated no shortage of accolades in their four years at Penn State, with time still remaining to shape how they're remembered at Penn State.

Starting and Finishing at the Top
Three years ago, five of the eight seniors from the group were on the roster when Penn State captured its seventh NCAA title in program history. Both Frantti and Washington earned conference and national recognition, making significant contributions throughout the 2014 title run.

Being on the roster allowed the group of five Nittany Lions to learn from Penn State All-Americans like Micha Hancock, Aiyana Whitney and Megan Courtney. Immensely helping the development process of the then-freshmen, it provided an opportunity to play alongside elite teammates who imparted the dedication it would take to one day lead this program to yet another NCAA national championship.

Fast forward three seasons and a couple of NCAA regional appearances, and the Nittany Lions now find themselves right back at the top of the volleyball world, winners of 13 straight matches and sitting at the top of the AVCA top 25 coaches poll for the fourth week in a row.

"It's an honor to get the respect from the coaches who are voting that they think your team warrants their vote," head coach Russ Rose said.

Opposing coaches have had good reason to keep their eyes on the Nittany Lions, as Frantti, Lee and Washington have all eclipsed 1,000 kills in their respective careers this season. It's a rare feat to see three individuals on the same team all reach the 1,000-kill milestone in the same year, but it speaks to the consistency and work ethic of all three Nittany Lions.

Lee made perhaps the biggest jump toward reaching the milestone, emerging as an offensive force for the Nittany Lion to surpass the mark.

Speaking of rare feats, Washington won her fourth Big Ten Player of the Week award two weeks ago. It was the ninth time in her career that she has won the honor, which passes Megan Hodge and Nicole Fawcett for the most in Penn State history as well as second-most in Big Ten history.

Washington also tallied her 500th career block a couple weeks ago, making her the newest member of the 1,000 kill-500 block club, one of seven Nittany Lions in program history to do so. 

As a middle, Washington doesn't always get the chances that Frantti and Lee do on the outside, but she's made the most of her opportunities.

Last Saturday's Scene
A large crowd came out to Rec Hall Saturday to honor those eight seniors, and the Nittany Lions rewarded the crowd with a three-set sweep against Rutgers.

"It was a nice opportunity for the seniors to be recognized for their years of commitment and time spent on the volleyball team," Rose said. 

For Washington, the night gave her a chance to reflect on playing in Rec Hall and how memorable her time has been as a Nittany Lion. 

"My mentality was just trying to revel in the atmosphere. You don't always get the chance to appreciate Rec Hall and I really tried to appreciate the band and the fans that night. Just living in the moment and being in that environment is what I took from that night," Washington said.

Having seen many of these seniors develop since their high school days, Rose has developed close bonds with each member of the 2017 senior class. It's always difficult for him to say goodbye to seniors but he focuses on what he has done in his time with them and how he has shaped them to go out and be positive contributors in the world.

"You know them for almost half of their life and then it's time for them to go," Rose said. "You hope you made a positive impact on their development. My goal is to always make them a little tougher and a little bit better of a communicator. I hope for great things from all of them."

Not Done Yet
Although senior night was this past weekend, there are still two more matches left at Rec Hall and almost a month of the regular season still remaining. Factor in the NCAA Tournament and the Nittany Lions could be playing as far as into late December. 

"It's not bittersweet because we have so much left in the season," Pierce said. "We have six regular season games left and hopefully six more. My dad was able to make it and it was really cool."

While the seniors are happy to be recognized, they stressed the importance of staying focused and disciplined throughout the rest of the year so they can achieve their ultimate goal - winning a national championship.

"There are always ways we can improve, we just want to keep going up from here," Thelen said.

That never-give-up attitude and desire to strive for perfection is exactly what these Penn State seniors saw three years ago, and exactly what could push them to bookend championships.

"I always say to the seniors, 'you're judged by your last year," Rose said.

Fresh off a straight set win at Iowa, top-ranked Penn State returns to action Saturday against Maryland, hosting the Terps at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall.

Seniors Shine in Rutgers Win

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By Will Desautelle, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Penn State cruised past Rutgers at Rec Hall Saturday night, winning in straight sets (25-9, 25-9, 25-12) to improve to 23-1 (13-1 Big Ten) on the season.

"We hit .700 for the match so you have to be impressed by that and I thought we played a clean game," Penn State head coach Russ Rose said.

Senior Haleigh Washington continued her strong play, leading the Nittany Lions with 12 kills and five blocks. Redshirt sophomore Tori Gorrell also added seven kills and two blocks in an impressive collective evening for Penn State's two primary middles.

The Nittany Lions overwhelmed Rutgers with their size all match, out-blocking the Scarlet Knights 9.0-5.0, hitting a combined .567 on the night to their .056 hitting percentage.

"Rutgers is challenged in some areas right now," Rose said. "They're in transition with personnel, and it's a really tough year in the conference to be in that situation."

Saturday was also the second home game in a row in which Penn State saw impressive contributions from players off the bench. Senior Clare Powers entered in the second set and recorded four kills on as many attempts, along with an ace.

Redshirt junior Nia Reed also came off the bench and had three kills on four attempts, in addition to a solo block. Reed, who had eight kills on her first eight swings against Wisconsin last week, has given Penn State another reliable option off the bench for coach Rose.

It was also senior night on Saturday, as the Nittany Lions honored eight Nittany Lions who all entered the game at some point.

Together, the Nittany Lion seniors combined for 31 of Penn State's 42 total kills and 14 of 24 total digs in the win against Rutgers.

"They are terrific people," Rose said. "The goal is always to leave the program at a better place. All of them are great young people. They're all great students and great representatives of their families and Penn State."

Several of the Nittany Lions seniors also reflected on the impact Penn State has had throughout their careers.

"I don't think I'd be the player I am today if I went to any other school," senior Lainy Pierce said.

Washington also called it a blessing and incredible honor to wear a Penn State uniform for the last four years. 

"To be given the opportunities that some of the players who helped build this program has been an absolute blessing."

The top-ranked Nittany Lions will be on the road against Iowa on Wednesday looking to extend their current 13-game winning streak.

Career Performances Push Penn State Past Wisconsin

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By Will Desautelle, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Russ Rose's number-one ranked Nittany Lions defeated the ninth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in four sets (25-19, 25-22, 23-25, 25-16) Wednesday night to improve to 20-1 (10-1 Big Ten) on the season.

"I thought it was a typical Big Ten match," Rose said. "These were two really good teams that were playing hard throughout the match."

Penn State's dominant presence at the net was the difference early on in the match, as the Nittany Lions recorded seven blocks in the opening set.

A front line of seniors Haleigh Washington, Heidi Thelen, Ali Frantti, and Simone Lee all contributed in holding the Badgers to just a .022 hitting percentage through one set. Penn State, however, had offensive struggles of their own, as they hit just .125 in the opening set as a team.

When Wisconsin scored four of their first five points off of Penn State hitting errors, it seemed like the Nittany Lions would be in for a long night offensively perhaps having to rely on their blocking and defense to escape with a victory.

With the Nittany Lions trailing 16-9, Rose opted to make a move that changed the entire match. Redshirt junior Nia Reed entered the match for Frantti, who at the time had just two kills on 17 attempts with four errors.

Reed provided the offensive spark the Nittany Lions needed and then some, turning in eight kills on nine attempts in just the second set, including four in a row to clinch a close second frame with a 25-22 win.

"Coach is always telling me to be ready," Reed said. "As a designated hitter, I'm always ready, so the game plan was just to go up, go in and take big swings." 

Reed would find the floor only three more times for the rest of the match, but finished with a career high 11 kills. 

"Nia is a tank," Washington said. "She goes into practice everyday and works so hard. To see a result like that is just phenomenal. You love just seeing your teammates succeed."

Also with a career night was Lee, who made her impact defensively Wednesday night with 18 digs. Sophomore libero Kendall White also chipped in a game-high 21 digs to anchor the Penn State back row.  

"It's great seeing your teammates succeed, especially when you have such great passing out of Simone, so it's great to see Simone pass well," Washington said.

The third Nittany Lion to turn in a career day on Wednesday night was Washington. Early in the fourth set the senior middle blocker became just the seventh Nittany Lion in Penn State women's volleyball history to reach 1,000 career kills and 500 career blocks.

Although Penn State hit just .241 for the match, the Nittany Lions sided out on nearly 63 percent of their attempts, compared to the Badgers side out rate of just 52.6 percent. Wisconsin also committed 15 service errors to just five for the Nittany Lions.

The Nittany Lions will head back out on the road on Saturday night for a matchup with Illinois. Rose and his team will look to knock off the Illini for the second time this year and remain at the top of the Big Ten. 

Nittany Lions Embark on Pivotal Road Stretch

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By Tom Shively, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Top-ranked Penn State has jumped out to a 7-1 start in Big Ten play and part of its success has come from the momentum of a raucous atmosphere inside Rec Hall on a consistent basis. Penn State has played six of its first eight conference matchups at home, seizing the opportunity to ascend to a tie for first place atop the Big Ten standings and a No. 1 ranking in the latest AVCA poll.

A home-heavy opening to the conference slate inevitably leads to challenges on the road in the later part of the season and the Nittany Lions are about to enter into one of those critical stretches.

Penn State plays four of its next five games away from Rec Hall, including trips to No. 17 Purdue, Indiana, Illinois and No. 18 Michigan State over the next two weekends.

The lone home game for the Nittany Lions? A top 10 showdown with No. 8 Wisconsin next Wednesday.

"The schedule is what it is," head coach Russ Rose said. "Coaches are responsible for the preseason schedule, the conference is responsible for the conference schedule and the NCAA volleyball committee is responsible for the postseason schedule."

Alongside the Nittany Lions in the NCAA standings for highest home attendance, Purdue is also  consistently among the top 10.

The Big Ten as a whole sets the standard for NCAA volleyball attendance, averaging just more than 2,800 fans per match all together, with four programs averaging nearly 4,000 fans per home outing.

"The Big Ten, as always, is leading the nation in attendance, so you know wherever you go there's going to be a pretty strong fanbase," Rose said.

The Nittany Lions don't have much time to relax after their home match against the Badgers either, as they'll head to Illinois the very next day. 

"Illinois is one of the best unranked teams in the country, Rose said. "We'll do our best to try and put a game plan together to be ready to go."

Penn State does have some experience playing in Champaign already this year, sweeping Colorado and Stanford in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. The Nittany Lions have also already seen Illinois, taking down the Illini in three competitive sets at Rec Hall in late September.

Just as daunting as the games themselves is the travel schedule, with teams typically playing on back-to- back nights at different venues. Some program have the luxury of chartered flights, cutting out commercial airport traffic, but that hasn't always been the case. 

When the Nittany Lions went to Texas A&M earlier this year, they weren't quite sure of their travel plans until shortly before they left, based on the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey affecting the entire region.

"The trip to Texas was really long and we didn't have the luxury of chartering," senior outside hitter Heidi Thelen said. "Traveling takes a toll on everyone's body but we're used to it. A lot of us, since we're seniors, are used to it and know what to do and how to prepare for travel."

Coupled with their visit to Illinois the following week, it helped the Nittany Lions prepare for this stretch coming up. 

"Traveling to places like that just gave us a little more experience coming into these games. I think we're confident in where we are right now," sophomore libero Kendall White said.

Rose agreed that the veteran leadership of the team guided by its senior leaders is a huge advantage whenever Penn State goes on the road.

"We have some older players, so I'd like to think they've at least been around the block and hopefully they'll be able to handle the challenges of being on the road," Rose said.

An added wrinkle of this particular road trip is that aforementioned number next to Penn State's name. The No. 1 ranking comes with knowing that most teams will put forth their best effort to try to be the team to knock off the best in the country. Just last week, then-No. 1 Florida (at the time the only undefeated team in the country) lost at home to Kentucky. 

"Being No. 1 and being Penn State gives us a target on our back," Thelen said. "We're just focused on how we can improve. It's better to be No. 1 at the end of the season than in the middle of the season."

Seniors Shine in Michigan Sweep

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By Tom Shively, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - There comes a time when excellence becomes the norm for a program, when winning is no longer a cause for celebration, but an expectation. 

Every so often, performances like the Nittany Lions put on against Michigan Saturday night cause the viewer to take a step back and truly appreciate how talented this Penn State team has become. 

Speaking of storied, Penn State's senior class was on the floor when it hoisted a seventh NCAA national championship trophy in 2014. Tonight proved why this group of Nittany Lions has all the right tools to make another deep run in the postseason.

With a straight set win and the outcome never really in doubt, Penn State's seniors put on a show for the nearly 5,000 fans in attendance at Rec Hall, the largest home crowd of the season. 

All-American seniors Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington led the way for the Nittany Lions all night, combining for 27 kills on 49 attempts. Adding to the complete win, the Nittany Lions limited the Wolverines to only 31 kills as a team.

Washington hit at a blistering .571 clip for the match, turning in an error-free 12-kill performance.

"We're accustomed to having her hit for pretty big numbers," head coach Russ Rose said. "I thought she had a couple of really good swings and a couple of nice block moves." 

Washington, fresh off her record-tying eighth Big Ten Player of the Week honor last week, is now only 14 kills away from the 1,000 career milestone.

"Approaching her 1,000th kill is really exciting and it's something we all want to share," Lee said. "It's very much so a team effort, and it's something we are all very proud of her for."

Senior leadership has set the tone all year for this team, with Lee and Ali Frantti (both already eclipsing 1,000 kills this year), turning in dominant performances on a nightly basis. 

Experience becomes an increasingly valuable asset the longer a season progresses, something this senior class and Rose understand more than anything now that they have significant experience in everything from the grind of the Big Ten schedule to success in the NCAA Tournament.

"It's hard to win in the Big Ten and it's hard to win in the NCAA Tournament," Rose said. "In my opinion as a coach, it's hard to get people to understand the sacrifice you have to make to give yourself a chance to be successful. There's no guarantee that working hard is going to do it and there are a lot of other intangibles, but a couple of the seniors have made great commitments."

Sometimes lost in all the accomplishments of the big hitters up front is the defense and passing, which helped Penn State limit Michigan to only .215 hitting for the match. Sophomore libero Kendall White led both teams with 13 digs, while Frantti added 11.

Senior Abby Detering and redshirt junior Bryanna Weiskircher both had 20-plus assists, on a night where all aspects of the match were clicking for the Nittany Lions. 

"I thought it was a good passing match for us and I thought they played very good defense in the middle back area," Rose said. "Kendall played a great match defensively. We hit for a good number, and I thought it was a pretty nice effort tonight by the ladies."

The strength of the Penn State defense will be tested in the coming weeks, as the Nittany Lions play eight of their last 12 matches on the road, including four of the next five. 

"It's altogether a different animal anytime you travel," Rose said.

Rec Hall Lifts Nittany Lions Past Spartans

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By Tom Shively, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It is tradition at Rec Hall for the crowd to rise to their feet whenever Penn State has a set point opportunity. Tonight a few of those fans in the stands probably have some sore calves after a four-set win against Michigan State. 

The No. 2 Nittany Lions had seven set point opportunities in the third set after a furious rally from the No. 10 Spartans, holding on for a wild finish. Nia Reed had the final two kills for the Nittany Lions in the third set, capping a dramatic swing of emotions and securing a 30-28 Penn State win.

Despite allowing Michigan State to stay alive in the set after taking a 24-22 lead, the Nittany Lions never wavered in their confidence, proving why they are one of the premier teams in the nation.

"We were just focused on our side to finish the game," setter Abby Detering said. "You can't worry about what the other team is doing. If they get a point, great. We have to come back and finish."

Heidi Thelen had two monster kills back-to-back to provide a huge energy boost for the Nittany Lions in the third set. Her kills gave the Nittany Lions an 18-13 lead at the time and forced Michigan State to call a timeout. She finished with nine kills on the night.

"I thought Heidi was huge for us in that third set," head coach Russ Rose said.

The Nittany Lions and Spartans traded blows in the first two sets, with Penn State cruising to a 25-18 victory in the first set while Michigan State took the second, 25-15. Both teams hit above .400 in the sets that they won and below .100 in the sets they lost. 

"It was a tale of two different teams," Rose said. "Our effort was good in the first game and theirs was really good in the second game. Both teams battled in the third game."

After winning the aforementioned marathon third set, the Nittany Lions seemed to wear down the Spartans in the fourth. Penn State jumped out to a 7-1 lead and led the whole way through, winning 25-18.

Simone Lee led the way for the Nittany Lions with 17 kills and Haleigh Washington added 15 at a .433 clip. Autumn Bailey paced the Spartans with 17 kills.

The Spartans have had success on the road against top five teams on the road already this season, including back-to-back victories at then-No. 5 Wisconsin and then-No. 1 Minnesota to start conference play.

"Based on the results they've had to date, we knew Michigan State was very good," Rose said. "They certainly didn't disappoint with how they played and competed. I think they're terrific and I'm pretty pleased that we battled back."

The win moves Penn State into a tie with the Nebraska Cornhuskers atop the Big Ten standings at 6-1 in conference play as Michigan State falls to 5-2 in the conference losing for only the second time in the last nine games.

Lee Joins Elite Company

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By Tom Shively, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the second time in 2017, Penn State women's volleyball is celebrating a major milestone, as senior outside hitter Simone Lee reached 1,000 career kills in Friday's victory at Ohio State.

Lee is the 27th Nittany Lion to reach the plateau, with senior outside hitter Ali Frantti having accomplished the feat in the first week of the season against West Virginia.

Frantti and Lee have a special bond that dates back to club volleyball in high school. The two played on the same club team for a year before arriving at Penn State early their freshman year alongside fellow early enrollee Lainy Pierce. 

"It was nice to have someone else be there with you during that time," Frantti said. "It made the transition a lot easier."

Together, Lee and Frantti have developed a clear chemistry on the court, which Frantti attributes in large part to their connected roots.

"We're very familiar with each other on the court and she's a really good teammate," Frantti said. "We have each other's backs."

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Lee's feat is the amount of time it took her to reach the milestone. Bolstered by a strong junior campaign, Lee more than doubled her individual single season kill totals from her freshman and sophomore seasons.

As a freshman on the 2014 NCAA national championship team, Lee shared playing time with former Nittany Lion All-American upperclassmen Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney, both who are now training with USA Volleyball. 

In 2016, Lee emerged as a key cog in the offense, leading the team with 503 kills on the year, marking the third-highest single season kill total in Penn State history during the 25-point scoring era. Recording at least 10 kills in 28 of 24 matches, she totaled seven outings of 20-or more kills on the way to All-America honors. 

"Certainly Simone has improved significantly each year that she's been here," head coach Russ Rose said. "She was an All-American last year and I think she's headed toward that again this year. She's a great offensive player and a really strong net player." 

Now in her senior season, Lee is once again pacing the Nittany Lions in kills, already with 225 at about the midway point in the season.

"I don't think we'd anticipate winning big matches without Simone being one of our main contributors," Rose said.

In the middle of a season defined by a chase for a championship, sometimes the individual accolades can take a back seat, part of the team-first attitude installed for so many years under Rose's brilliance.

Still, the team sees the accomplishment as a fitting way to celebrate a special player.

"It's always great seeing success," senior middle blocker Haleigh Washington said. "Nobody really knew what happened and then we were like 'Oh my gosh, Simone that's amazing and we are so proud of you.' It's great to see that she's grown so much in her time here and having done it in the amount of time that she did it is crazy."

As any great leader of a team does, Lee is staying focused on the team's ultimate goal of finishing the season on top. 

"It's exciting, but it's not the whole goal," Lee said. "It's just something else that happens but that's not the end goal for me. Obviously, we're still playing and not done yet." 

While she may be laser-focused during game time, Lee brings plenty of humor and positive energy to the team off the court. 

"I've enjoyed my interactions with Simone," Rose said. "Her eyes light up, she has a great smile. She's receptive to banter and kidding and I've enjoyed that. I'll miss Simone Lee being gone, I've enjoyed my time with her." 

Her teammates shared the same sentiments.

"Simone is just a ray of sunshine and she has a very infectious smile," Washington said. "On the court, she's very serious and down to earth and focused. She wants to take care of business. Off the court, she's very bubbly, loves to be in the sun and loves to drink tea." 

Washington herself isn't too far away from the 1,000-kill club, which would complete the very rare feat of having three players reach that mark in the same season. She is less than 50 kills away, but doesn't really think about it that much because of her position.

If anything, being a middle blocker makes Washington's potential accomplishment even more impressive.

"It's tough for middles to get a thousand kills, just because we're not in for all six rotations," Washington said. "They (outside hitters) swing more in the back row and they are the more out of system options."

Washington, Lee and Frantti are all set to return home from the road with the rest of the Nittany Lions this weekend. Penn State hosts Michigan State Friday evening before wrapping up the weekend welcoming Michigan to Rec Hall Saturday night.    


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