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BLOG: Fall Sports Media Day in Review

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While the Penn State Fall Sports season may have kicked off with women's soccer in action last week, Nittany Lion fans got a unique perspective from the annual athletics Fall Sports Media Day.

Coaches and student-athletes from seven different Penn State programs set to compete this fall met with members of the media to talk 2016 and their expectations for the upcoming year.

Check out some highlights and links to videos, transcripts and extra coverage from today's event. 

Women's Volleyball
Entering his 38th season at the helm of the program, Nittany Lion head coach Russ Rose is ready to open another year in Rec Hall. Welcoming eight newcomers this season, Rose will also return First Team AVCA All-American Haleigh Washington and AVCA All-America Honorable Mention Ali Frantti. 

Not only did the current team enjoy watching Penn State alums Christa (Harmotto) Dietzen and Alisha Glass earn a Bronze medal with Team USA at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

"I was pleased for Alisha to be able to lead the team and I was happy for Christa being named captain of the team," said Rose. "To me it was great every night to be able to watch Penn State players whether it be the men playing for Team USA or a couple of guys I remember being at Penn State who were playing with the Mexican volleyball team." 

Press conference video

Periscope session with Haleigh Washington

BLOG: Fall Sports Media Day in Review

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12049574.jpeg

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While the Penn State Fall Sports season may have kicked off with women's soccer in action last week, Nittany Lion fans got a unique perspective from the annual athletics Fall Sports Media Day.

Coaches and student-athletes from seven different Penn State programs set to compete this fall met with members of the media to talk 2016 and their expectations for the upcoming year.

Check out some highlights and links to videos, transcripts and extra coverage from today's event. 

Women's Volleyball
Entering his 38th season at the helm of the program, Nittany Lion head coach Russ Rose is ready to open another year in Rec Hall. Welcoming eight newcomers this season, Rose will also return First Team AVCA All-American Haleigh Washington and AVCA All-America Honorable Mention Ali Frantti. 

Not only did the current team enjoy watching Penn State alums Christa (Harmotto) Dietzen and Alisha Glass earn a Bronze medal with Team USA at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

"I was pleased for Alisha to be able to lead the team and I was happy for Christa being named captain of the team," said Rose. "To me it was great every night to be able to watch Penn State players whether it be the men playing for Team USA or a couple of guys I remember being at Penn State who were playing with the Mexican volleyball team." 

Press conference video

Periscope session with Haleigh Washington

VIDEO: Athletes Volunteer at 2016 Special Olympics Pennsylvania Summer Games

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - More than 2,000 athletes from across Pennsylvania are on Penn State's campus this weekend to participate in the 2016 Special Olympics Summer Games.

The Opening Ceremonies took place on Thursday inside Pegula Ice Arena, kicking off a weekend of competition. Student-athletes from a host of Penn State teams will volunteer at the Summer Games over the weekend.

Members of eight Penn State teams greeted the Olympians as they entered Pegula Ice Arena on Thursday evening, taking photos and cheering them on in anticipation of the Summer Games.

Take a look through some photos and video of Penn State athletes volunteering at the Summer Games.

Photo Gallery: Special Olympics Opening Ceremony





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Penn State Athletics THON 2016 Coverage

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IMG_9032.JPGUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Athletics was heavily involved with the 44th IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) held at the Bryce Jordan Center over the weekend.

THON's 708 dancers began standing at 6 p.m. on Friday and did not sit down or sleep until Sunday at 4 p.m. to raise awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer in the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Since 1977, THON has partnered with The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital with one goal in mind: conquering childhood cancer. To date, more than $136 million has been raised by THON. THON revealed a fundraising total of more than $9.7 million for 2016 with 96 percent of THON's all-time funds being donated directly to Four Diamonds. 

Each year, more than 15,000 Penn State student volunteers dedicate their time to THON, making it the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Members of Penn State's Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) were active participants in THON, and led run several fund-raising activities once again this year including sending solicitation letters to friends and family and a lip sync competition. In addition to generating financial support for THON, SAAB also provides emotional support to its THON children, Isabella Messina and Colton Buckley, and their families throughout the year.


Four Penn State student-athletes are represented SAAB as dancers in THON 2016: Liisi Vink-Lainas (Wynantskill, N.Y.) and Angela Widlacki (Naperville, Ill.) of women's soccer, Emily Rivers (Washington, D.C.) from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato (Burke, Va.) from football.

"This means the world to us. As athletes you are given a platform that a normal student might not have," said Zanellato. "It's one of those things that when you come in as a freshman, you know that you will have that platform for a few years. I wanted to make the most of it. I realized that THON was something special to me when I came to Penn State. I wanted to use my platform as best I could."

Additionally, Angela Connors and Jessica Spellman from the Lionettes squad and from Penn State cheerleading Kenny Fuhrman, Paige Gentry, Jordan Hinkle, Kylie Tobasco and Mike White danced in THON.

Within Penn State Athletics, strategic communications student assistants Emily Hesidence and Kate Brandell were also among the dancers at THON, as well.


Check out the GoPSUsports.com extensive coverage from THON 2016 weekend.


Friday - 6 p.m. - THON 2016 Begins
The 46-hour dance marathon kicked off at 6 p.m. on Friday evening when the 708 dancers stood. They will remain on their feet until Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.

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Saturday - 9:30 a.m. - Student-Athlete Interviews
With Bryce Jordan Center buzzing with energy during the 16th hour of THON 2016, GoPSUsports.com spent some time with student-athletes and THON dancers Liisi Vink-Lainas  and Angela Widlacki of women's soccer, Emily Rivers, from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato from football. Representing Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), the group is thrilled to carry the Penn State Athletics banner as dancers in the 2016 THON. Take a look at some of their remarks from the floor at the BJC.



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Saturday - 2 p.m. - Football Hosts THON Explorers Event
Approximately 40 members of the Nittany Lion football team welcomed approximately 30 THON Four Diamonds children and their families to a special event inside the Lasch Football Building on Saturday afternoon as part of the THON Explorers program.

The THON event in Lasch is circled on the calendar for the Nittany Lions every year. The THON families gathered inside the home of Penn State football to take photos, get autographs, participate in athletic stations, tour the facility with the Nittany Lions, eat ice cream from the Penn State Creamery and take a group photo.

The Nittany Lions formed a high-five tunnel for the families upon entry into the building before the student-athletes took the families around the football facility. Take a look at the THON Explorers event at the Lasch Football Complex on Saturday.

Football THON Explorers Event



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Saturday - 6 p.m. - Student-Athletes Participate in Athlete Hour
Athletes from several teams on campus spent times with the THON Four Diamonds children inside the IM during athlete hour on Saturday.  Here are a few snapshots and video highlights from the event.

Athlete Hour Photo Gallery



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Saturday - 11 p.m. - Football Wins Pep Rally Dance Competition
One of the THON highlights every year comes on Saturday night when the teams of Penn State Athletics hop on stage and compete in a dancing competition during the annual pep rally. In all, 12 different teams competed in the 2016 version of the dance-off.

The pep rally included a speech from former Nittany Lion football great Devon Still and his daughter Leah.

As for the dance competition, the football team claimed top honors in the men's side of the action, while the reigning national champion women's soccer team took top honors on the women's side. The two teams then battled in a dance off, with the football team earning the bragging rights as the 2016 THON Pep Rally dancing champion.

We have highlights of every team dancing on Saturday night at THON. 

THON 2016 Pep Rally Photo Gallery



9185732.jpegTHON 2016 Pep Rally Full Dances
Football (Men's & Overall Champion) 
Women's Soccer (Women's Champion)
Men's Fencing
Men's Golf
Men's Gymnastics
Men's Hockey
Men's Rugby
Men's Soccer
Men's Tennis
Men's Volleyball
Field Hockey
Women's Golf
Women's Gymnastics
Women's Hockey
Women's Rugby
Women's Volleyball

Sunday - 11:30 a.m. - VIDEO: Coach Franklin Addresses THON 2016
Head coach James Franklin took the stage of THON 2016 on Sunday morning to urge the dancers on in the final hours of the 46-hour dance marathon.  Franklin's message epitomized what THON's mission has been since it started in 1977.

"This is special. What you guys do is what Penn State is ultimately all about," said Coach Franklin.

Take a look at his full remarks.

James Franklin at THON 2016 Photo Gallery



4:14 p.m. - THON 2016 Raises $9.7 Million
For the second-straight year, THON's fundraising efforts raised more than $9.7 million. The grand total for THON in 2016 was  $9,770,332.32 for fight against pediatric cancer.  Congratulations to everyone involved in THON 2016.  Here is a look at the reveal from Rec Hall prior to Penn State wrestling's bout against Oklahoma State. The Nittany Lion faithful in Rec Hall let out a big cheer as the total was unveiled.

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GoPSUTony

VIDEO: THON 2016 Pep Rally - Women's Volleyball

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NCAA Volleyball Tournament Content Central: Lions Head to Regionals

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w_volleyball_blog.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The seventh-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (28-5) travels to Des Moines for a showdown with Hawaii (28-1) in the NCAA regional semifinals on Friday at 8:30 p.m. (Live coverage on ESPN3).

The winner of the Penn State-Hawaii match will move on to face either No. 2 Minnesota (28-4) or Illinois (21-12) on Saturday in the regional final at 6:30 p.m. live on ESPNU.

"Well, it's always great to still be playing this time of year," head coach Russ Rose said. "We look forward to playing against a great opponent in Hawaii. We've played against each other a number of times over the years. Their performance last weekend; coming back and beating TCU, and then beating the SEC champion Texas A&M, 3-0, on their home court was a clear indication that they are playing great volleyball this time of year."

Penn State enters the weekend after knocking off Howard (3-0) and Dayton (3-1) inside Rec Hall in the opening two rounds of the tournament.  The Nittany Lions last met Hawaii in the 2009 national semifinals. Penn State is 5-0 against the Rainbow Wahine all-time.

Under the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament began its current 64-team setup, the Nittany Lions have advanced to the third round of the tournament 13 straight years. The Lions have played in the regional finals in eight of the last nine seasons.

The NCAA field has been trimmed to 16 teams.  Penn State's quest for a return to the national semifinals goes through Wells Fargo Arena this weekend.  First up is a clash with Hawaii on Friday.

Take a look through preview content to get ready for the regional round of the NCAA Tournament.



VIDEO: NCAA Regionals Preview Video


Regional Semifinals Statistical Rundown

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Feature Story Corner

Nittany Lions Head To Regionals
By Sam DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-- The Penn State women's volleyball team is headed to Des Moines for the NCAA Regionals after defeating Howard and Dayton this past weekend.

11550774.jpegThe road to the national championship starts with a match against Hawaii on Friday night. If the Nittany Lions defeat the Rainbow Wahine, they will move on to face the winner of Minnesota-Illinois on Saturday. The winner of that match advances to the national semifinals.

"All of the teams at this point are good. There are 16 teams left and everybody has to win two games to get to the Final Four," head coach Russ Rose said. "That's what the is intent for all of the volleyball teams and players."

Setter Bryanna Weiskircher, who is playing in her first NCAA Tournament after redshirting last season, said she's excited to have made it to this point in the tournament.

"Our team has been working really hard all year long and we have a great group of kids that have great versatility in all aspects of the game," Weiskircher said. "We control our own fate at this point. Coach always says, it's not who we play, it's how we play. And it's a great opportunity for us."

Hawaii
Hawaii is 28-1 on the season and has the best winning percentage in the country. The Rainbow Wahine advanced to the NCAA Regionals after defeating TCU and Texas A&M last weekend. Penn State head coach Russ Rose said he is looking forward to playing Hawaii, a familiar foe.

"It's always great to be playing this time of year and we look forward to playing against a great opponent in Hawaii. We've played against each other a number of times over the years," Rose said. "Their performance over last weekend and coming back to beat TCU and being able to beat the SEC Champion, Texas A&M, 3-0 on their home court was a clear indication that they're playing great volleyball this time of year."

Rose also understands the level of competition that the Rainbow Wahine brings to the court.

"They've got great size. The middles are big. They've got great right side players and their two left side players are really good ball handlers. They're a physical team," Rose said.


Hawaii plays in the Big West conference. Rose said that some people may underestimate Hawaii because of this, but their record shows that they can play.

"When somebody only has a number one [in losses] after their name, you know they're really good. It doesn't make a difference what conference you're in," Rose said. "It's hard to be successful in a rally-sport [like] volleyball and certainly they play a lot of teams that have great tradition and care about the sport at their institution. I'm sure we'll have our hands full with a really good volleyball team."

Coaching Legends
Penn State's Russ Rose and Hawaii's Dave Shoji are two of the best coaches in collegiate volleyball. They are the only two coaches with more than 1,000 wins in NCAA Division I women's volleyball.

Shoji has 1,178 wins in his 41 seasons at Hawaii. Rose is the all-time leader in wins in NCAA Division I women's volleyball with 1,189 wins in 37 seasons.

Rose said that when he was doing his graduate work in the late 70's, Shoji's team was one of the teams he tried to model his thoughts about the game after. Today, the two have a great relationship.

"I don't look at it as me against Dave, we've known each other for a long time. We'll want to beat each other during the match and whoever wins will wish the other good luck," Rose said.

Minnesota-Illinois

Minnesota, the Big Ten champion, will face Illinois on Friday night. Penn State defeated Illinois (21-12) in their only meeting of the season in October.

Minnesota is 28-4 and is coming off two tournament wins against Jackson State and Marquette. This season, Penn State split with Minnesota (each team won one match). Rose noted the strength of Minnesota's team this year. 

"The freshman setter, next to Carlini (Wisconsin), I thought she was the best setter in the conference this year. They had a great season, a great performance," Rose said.

Rose also said that there's an advantage to playing a Big Ten team in the tournament.

"One of the benefits of going to a Regional with two other Big Ten teams is you don't have to kill yourself on scouting because you're at least familiar with those two teams," Rose said.


Megan Courtney's Impact Deep at Penn State
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Co-captain Megan Courtney played in her final match at Rec Hall last Saturday evening as Penn State defeated Dayton in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

11550792.jpegAfter the match point was scored, the handshakes between the Nittany Lions and Flyers were finished and the waves of appreciation were given out to the fans in the crowd, Courtney was the last person to jog off the court.

The Dayton, Ohio, native finished her home-court career with a win and an advance in the tournament, but Courtney has left a defining impact on the history of the Penn State women's volleyball team that will always help to inspire future Nittany Lions.

"I don't want to regret anything [in the tournament]," said Courtney. "I don't want to say 'What if?' I don't want to let me team down. I don't want to let the coaching staff down, so it's not necessarily what can I do, it's what can I do to help everyone else around me because when I'm helping people around me, then other people can help those around them. It's 'what can I do to make everyone else better?'"

Before attending Penn State, Courtney was already receiving numerous accolades in high school. She was named the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year, weighed in ats the fourth-ranked overall recruit in the nation and led her team, the Archbishop Alter High School, to the Final Four State Championship three times as a three-year captain.

But when head coach Russ Rose first noticed Courtney, she was not even halfway through high school. Courtney was only 15 years old when she playing against All-Americans, who won four-straight national titles, during a Penn State volleyball summer camp.

"I first saw Megan when she was between her freshman and sophomore year of high school, and she was at camp playing with a roster of players that are now playing for USA Volleyball, and went on to win national championships," said coach Rose. "She was playing with them, and you would have had a difficult time, if you were the outsider, picking the 14- or 15-year-old out of those people. Her volleyball IQ has always been great."

Since starting her entire collegiate career under head coach Russ Rose, Courtney's volleyball IQ has only continued to grow to make her into one of the most versatile volleyball players in collegiate play.

In her freshman year, Courtney participated in all 36 matches, and started in 35 of them. Through practice, she was able to develop textbook blocks, passes, serves and swings to notch honors for: Big Ten Freshman of the Year, AVCA Mideast Region Freshman of the Year, Big Ten All-Freshman Team and more.


But this was only the beginning for Courtney. Since her arrival to Penn State, she has helped lead the Nittany Lions to three straight appearances in the Final Four of the NCAA tournament, as well as, back-to-back national championship titles in 2013 and 2014. She was named the Most Outstanding Player from last year's NCAA tournament.

"Fortunate for us, last year, during the final four, Courtney stepped up, and was recognized as the MVP of the final four," said coach Rose. "You know, that sums it up. She wasn't recognized by the Big Ten, but she went on and did great things on the big stage."

During her final season of volleyball, Courtney's list of honorees and achievements is still lengthening. She currently has 1,130 kills and 1,107 digs recorded in her career, and is only the eighth player in the history of Penn State to reach a 1,000 double-double.

If it wasn't for coach Rose's constant support and push to be the best, Courtney would not be where she is today.

"I'm hard on Megan because Megan can handle me being hard on Megan," said coach Rose.

In a mere two weeks, Courtney will be graduating from Penn State, but she still has more to prove in the rest of the tournament and her career.

Courtney and her fellow seniors are going for their third consecutive national title this season. She has the resume and biography to prove what she is capable of, but her biggest motivator for succeeding and ending her collegiate volleyball career at a high level is to play to win.

"We have the most national championship experience on our staff and in our gym, so that, especially with a team full of sophomores and freshmen playing big roles, it's comforting, but it doesn't guarantee anything," said Courtney. "I think that when situations do get tough, when we are put in a position with our backs against the wall, it's a good chance for us to push back and say 'We've been here before, we've come out on top. This is what we did in that circumstance, maybe this will work. If not, what is it that we've got to do to change it.' ...Our biggest motivation is that we don't want to feel that emotion of losing again. Winning the national championship is great, but it's the losing that really stings."

Next season, the 6-foot-1, brown-haired, outside hitter with the pink ribbon in her hair will not be in the Penn State starting lineup, but Courtney's hard work and success is something that won't be forgotten anytime soon.



Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

 

A Team Effort Sends Nittany Lions to NCAA Regionals

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11545654.jpegBy Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Behind a balanced offense and a valiant team effort, the Penn State women's volleyball team defeated Dayton (25-17, 13-25, 25-14, 25-17) in the NCAA second round on Saturday night in Rec Hall.

"[Dayton] entered the match with the longest winning streak in the country," said head coach Russ Rose. "We knew that it was going to be a tough match...Dayton is a terrific opponent, and we feel fortune to advance. We know it's never a given. It's always hard. Every match has its challenges and this one is no different. I'm really thrilled with our effort tonight, how we competed, especially after playing as poorly as we did in the second game."

Redshirt senior Aiyana Whitney and sophomore Ali Frantti led the Nittany Lions offense with 14 kills each. Whitney hit .448, while Frantti hit .407 and notched seven digs.

"I thought we did a real nice job offensively," said coach Rose. "...I thought it really was a valiant effort. I thought Ali played great tonight. Aiyana was great offensively."

Sophomores Heidi Thelen and Haleigh Washington collected seven kills each. Thelen finished the night by hitting .875, and Washington recorded a team-high of four blocks.

"Heidi made a great impact in the match and on our team," said coach Rose.

Redshirt freshman Bryanna Weiskircher assisted the offense by passing out 46 assists, adding along seven digs and four blocks on Saturday night.

"Bryanna does a nice job of putting a good ball up for the most part," said Thelen. "...It's a good thing to mix the ball around because if you keep setting the same person every time, then the block on the other side will just commit to that person, so when you open things, it gets a little trickier for the other team to stop our hitters, so [Bryanna] did a nice job."

On the defensive end, senior Megan Courtney led the team with 15 digs, while also recording eight kills. Senior libero Kendall Pierce finished second in digs with a career-high of 13 digs.

"Kendall and Megan did a great job defensively," said coach Rose. "It's nice to advance."

Thelen opened the match with a kill for Penn State's first point of the night. It was a back-and-forth matchup at the beginning, but the Nittany Lions were able to take a six-point edge at 23-17, and secure a 25-16 win in the first set.

In the second set, Dayton came out with five consecutive points. Penn State continued to catch up throughout the set, but the Flyers went on a 9-2 run to take the second set at 25-13.

"We side-out right out the gate as we've done traditionally," said coach Rose. "I thought what happened was [Dayton] had .556, and when somebody hits .556, it's not so much as to what you're not doing, it's you can't stop them." 

The Nittany Lions were able to rebound and defeat the Flyers in the third and fourth sets to advance to the NCAA regional semifinals for the 13th consecutive season. Penn State will take on Hawaii in Des Moines, Iowa, on Friday evening.

"We started mixing up our serves in the third and fourth game, but I thought we got a little better results from that, and it was a nice team effort," said coach Rose. "It was nice to watch the kids out there." 

Whitney Leads Lions Past Howard in NCAA Tournament Opener

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By Sam DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Penn State advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after a 3-0 victory over Howard on Friday night. The Nittany Lions are back in action on Saturday, in the second round, to face the Dayton Flyers.

Penn State faced Dayton last year in the second round of the tournament, as well, defeating the Flyers by a score of 3-0.

Leading the team on Friday night was senior Aiyana Whitney. She notched 10 kills on a .588 hitting percentage and tallied two blocks. In last year's first round match against Siena, she had eight kills on a .312 percentage and two blocks. Head coach Russ Rose was pleased with Whitney's performance on Friday.

"She hit really well. And that's not a shock," Rose said. "She's our best attacker, [she] has been our best attacker and at times, is one of the best attackers in the country."

There is more on the line during the tournament because you win or go home, but Whitney said this match was similar to the regular season matches because she treats every opponent the same.

"[It felt different because] it's more of a neutral site and it's definitely a different routine for us and a little bit of a different atmosphere, but ultimately [we are] treating every team the same and going out about our preparation the same," Whitney said.


Whitney said playing this first match in Rec Hall, on their home court, helped the Nittany Lions.

"It's definitely an advantage to play in your own gym and have your fans here," Whitney said. "It's always great to play at home, it's always an advantage."


With the win, the Nittany Lions will play on their home court for the final time this season.  The first serve in Saturday's second-round match against Dayton is slated for 7:30 p.m.

Whitney's goal for the match against Dayton? To be victorious.

"I just want to win," Whitney said. "I want to get to Iowa."


2015 NCAA Volleyball Tournament Preview Content Central

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w_volleyball_blog.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the 26th consecutive season, Penn State will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament. The two-time defending NCAA champion Nittany Lions (26-5) open the tournament against MEAC champ Howard (18-13) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall.

The winner of the Penn State-Howard match will move on to face either Dayton (26-5) or Villanova (25-8) on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Dayton and Villanova will meet in Rec Hall on Friday at 5 p.m.

For the Nittany Lions, they enter the tournament having gone 11-3 down the stretch. Seniors Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney, along with sophomore Haleigh Washington, were each named to the All-Big Ten team this week.

The Nittany Lions are one of nine Big Ten teams in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Minnesota is the No. 2 seed, while Nebraska is the No 4 seed, Wisconsin is the No. 6 seed, Penn State is the No. 7 seed and Ohio State is the No. 12 seed. Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue received at-large bids into the tournament.

Now, it is win or go home for all 64 teams on the bracket. The 2015 NCAA Tournament begins on Friday inside Rec Hall. Take an inside look Penn State and the NCAA Tournament.


VIDEO: NCAA Tournament Preview



First Round Statistical Rundown
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Feature Story Corner

Lions Shift Focus to 2015 NCAA Tournament
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is one of the only two collegiate volleyball programs in the country to have been selected to participate in all 35 NCAA postseason tournaments since its inception in 1981. The women's volleyball team holds a 90-27 record in the postseason and has won seven national championships.

11533168.jpegOn Sunday, the back-to-back defending NCAA national champions earned the No. 7 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

"It's always exciting, this time of year, and there is always that unknown about how your team is going to play and how the other team is going to play, but that's why you play the game," said head coach Russ Rose.

Penn State finished the regular season with a 26-5 overall record, with a 15-5 record in Big Ten conference play.

"There were a number of years we were the top-seed, so there's different pressures and expectations," said coach Rose. "Our last ten matches certainly removed that expectation, but there's some players on the team that have had great experience in the NCAA tournament, and the hope is that they all play well and they enhance the play around them."

A Look Into the Tournament
The Big Ten conference led all other leagues in selections to compete in the NCAA Tournament.

In the 64-team field, where the top-16 teams are seeded, Penn State is joined by eight other Big Ten squads: No. 2 Minnesota, No. 4 Nebraska, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 12 Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and Illinois.

"I think the Big Ten will do well," said coach Rose. "Early in the year when we played Minnesota, I thought Minnesota was the best team we had played. Even though we had lost the next week to Nebraska, I thought Minnesota was the best team we've played. Right now, I would say that Minnesota is still the best team that we've played, but from watching Wisconsin, I think Wisconsin is playing the best of all the teams in the conference right now, so I look forward to a lot of teams playing well. Purdue is playing especially well, so the conference should do well. We want to do the best we can, but we also want the other teams to have success."

After making three-straight national semifinal appearances, senior Megan Courtney understands the pressure coming from the Big Ten conference and how it prepared the Lions for the postseason.

"The Big Ten is really competitive, so on any given night, anyone can win, and I think the same thing can be said about the tournament," said Courtney. "It's do or die. If you win, you advance. If you don't, you go home thinking, 'What could have I done better?'...I think any team and every team has that mindset of saying, 'I want to win. I don't want to go home,' and I think it's the same way in the Big Ten. I think it's really competitive."

The top four seeded teams alongside No. 2 Minnesota and No.4 Nebraska are No. 1 Southern California and No. 3 Texas. Outside of the Big Ten teams, there are two teams Penn State faced during the regular season - Villanova and No. 8 Stanford.

"What you've done doesn't really impact what you're going to do," said coach Rose. "You need to be ready to play because there's another team on the other side with uniforms, hope and dreams that are going to play, and do the things they do well, and that's always the excitement of the championship."

In the Bracket
The journey to the national championship is not an easy task. It takes six perfect matches to get there, and each match gets tougher with every round.

The No. 7 Penn State women's volleyball team is joined by No. 2 Minnesota, No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 15 Louisville as the seeded teams in the Des Moines Regional bracket. If the Nittany Lions find their way to the regional semifinals and finals, they will be held in Des Moines, Iowa. The national semifinals and final match will be played at Century Link Center in Omaha, Neb. Take an inside look at the other seeded teams in Penn State's quarter of the bracket.

No. 2 Minnesota (26-4)
The Gophers were on a 15-match winning streak until Purdue ended their streak in five sets. They won their last two matches against Ohio State and Indiana.

Penn State and Minnesota split their matches from this season. Back in September, then-No.1 Penn State outlasted then-No. 21 Minnesota in five sets (25-22, 25-16, 19-25, 20-25, 15-12) at Rec Hall. Later in the season, in November, Minnesota cruised past Penn State in three straight sets to give the Nittany Lions their third loss of the season.

Penn State owns a 45-9 advantage in the all-time series against Minnesota.

No. 10 Texas A&M (23-6)
If Penn State makes to the third round, a potential opponent is 10th-seeded Texas A&M.

SEC champion Texas A&M is coming off its most successful regular season in school history with help from SEC player of the year Stephanie Aiple and conference coach of the year Laurie Corbelli. The Aggies have won their past 14 matches.

No. 15 Louisville (24-6)
Louisville dropped its final match of the season to Syracuse in three sets, but the Cardinals enter the tournament as the ACC regular season champion.

Round One
The seventh-seeded Lions will start the quest for a three-peat on Friday against MEAC conference champion Howard (18-13) at 7:30 p.m. at Rec Hall. The last time the Nittany Lions and the Bison met was on Sept. 28, 1979, with Penn State claiming a 2-0 win.

"They're an enthusiastic team, very athletic, and there's a lot of ways to play," said coach Rose. "There's a lot of different combinations that can give teams opportunities, whether it's a team that's seeded or a team that's making the tournament for the first time. We'll have to play well. That's how it is."

This is the Bison's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but Howard is entering the tournament on a 13-match winning streak.

"It's always nice [to host the first and second rounds]," said senior Megan Courtney. "It's nice not having Senior Night be the last game we play at Rec, but it's considered an advantage, but I think any team can beat any team on any given floor. I think Rec Hall is a great place to play, but just because we're playing at Rec Hall, we're not guaranteed to win. We showed that this season with a couple of losses at home, so it's more about how we play instead of who we play or where we play. It's about how our team is playing at that given moment."



The Final Tournament for Senior Class
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It's the final go-around for the seniors of the Penn State women's volleyball team. The first round of the NCAA Tournament begins this weekend and these seniors are no strangers to the tournament. This group has made it to the national semifinals three times and won two national championships together.

11533171.jpeg"They've always cared and had to work hard," Head Coach Russ Rose said. "You can't have the success we've had in the past without the seniors."

The regular season has come to a close, but this senior squad knows that there is still a lot more work to be done. And they are not looking back on years past. This team is focused on this season and the upcoming match against Howard on Friday.

Although the seniors are focused on the present, having experience will help them during the tournament.

"We have the most national championship experience on our staff, on our team and in our gym. That, especially with a young team full of sophomores and freshmen playing big roles, is comforting," senior Megan Courtney said. "But it doesn't necessarily guarantee anything."

Courtney said that when times get tough during tournament matches, the team is able to realize they have been in this position before and still came out on top. They take what they did in the past situations and apply it to the current situations.

Having experience as veterans also gives the seniors the opportunity to help younger players who have never played in tournament before. Senior Kendall Pierce said that she hopes to lead the younger players the same way she was led years ago.

From being taken under the wing of older players, to being the senior guiding the young ones, it has all come full circle for Pierce. And as her time in Blue and White comes to a close, she said she's not sad, she's "ready to go."

"I can't look at it as a countdown anymore. We did for a time. We said, 'We have 30 more days of volleyball left,' but the countdown is surreal and it's not something we want to focus on," Pierce said. "[It's] one game at a time and what you can do be the best you can in that game."

One game at a time - that is instilled in the minds of all of the players. They are focused. They are prepared. And more than they want to win, they don't want to lose.

"Our biggest motivation is that we don't want to feel emotion of losing again. Winning the National Championship is great, but it's the losing that really stings," Courtney said.

Controlling your emotions and coming together as a team is also key in this tournament.

"I hope we can treat every game as equal and we don't get too hype about something, but also aren't afraid to go after and see what we can do," Pierce said. "If we can really focus in and get our freshmen, sophomores, juniors and our senior class just feeling good and as one team going into this tournament, I think we'll be all set."

Pierce and the Nittany Lions will face Howard in Rec Hall on Friday night. Having the first round of tournament on your home court is exciting, but Courtney says it's anyone's game.

"It's considered an advantage, but I think any team can beat any team on any given floor. Rec Hall is a great place to play, but that doesn't mean just because we're playing at Rec [Hall] were guaranteed a win," Courtney said. "It's about how we play, instead of who we play or where we play. It's about how our team is playing at that given moment."

Catch the game in Rec Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m. If the Nittany Lions defeat Howard, they will square off against the winner of the Dayton-Villanova match on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.





Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Happy Thanksgiving from Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 'Tis the season for giving thanks, and the Penn State Athletics would like to take an opportunity to say thank you to the loyal fans on Thanksgiving.

As you sit down with family and friends to eat your traditional meal while the Lions and Cowboys host their annual Thanksgiving day home games, Penn State Athletics would like to thank you, the fans, for the unwavering support you give every team on campus.  Penn State's teams would not be the same without the greatest fans in college sports.

As a token of their appreciation, several student-athletes from teams on campus would like to say thank you and Happy Thanksgiving for the support you give them throughout the athletic season.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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