By Anita Nham, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team welcomed the Big Ten's two newest members for the first time in conference competition over the weekend.
Thanks to a pair of consistent outings, Penn State (24-3, 12-2) logged back-to-back sweeps against Rutgers and Maryland on Friday and Saturday, respectively, inside Rec Hall.
On Friday evening, after senior Micha Hancock's opening serve led to the first point of the match, Penn State cruised through the first set by creating a strong 14-4 lead. Rutgers mounted a small rally, but the Nittany Lions were able to close out the first set with a 25-11 win on a solo block by freshman Ali Frantti.
Hancock opened up Penn State's scoring surge, once again, in the next set to produce a 6-2 lead. From there, the Lions rolled to a 25-12 set victory.
The Nittany Lions' momentum continued in the third set by generating another early advantage, 9-3. Rutgers put up a tough fight to end Penn State's drive, but they were unable to hold Penn State for long as the Nitany Lions' secured the match with a 25-10 win in the third set.
"I thought we played a pretty good first and third game," said coach Rose. "I thought we were a little sloppy in the second game, but it was a good opportunity to get some other people involved in the match...It was a good match for us, not a great match, but I'm pleased that we completed a little harder in the third game after slowing down in the second game."
Freshman Haleigh Washington recorded a team-high of 13 kills on .688 hitting along with two blocks and one dig. Frantti followed with nine kills, three blocks, seven digs, and two aces.
"My teammates, Megan, Micha, Aiyana, and Nia, have just really stepped up and helped me focus in the front row," said Washington. "Telling me where to go, what to do, just helping me keep my mental game on point, so it's easier for me to focus on the physical things."
There were some familiar faces at Rec Hall on Saturday evening as it was a homecoming for Terrapins coach Steve Aird and assistant coach Adam Hughes. Aird served as an assistant coach at Penn State for seven years prior. Hughes, a 2006 Penn State alum, was Penn State's Director of Volleyball Operations for the last four seasons before becoming the assistant coach at Maryland.
"I haven't seen Maryland for a number of years, so I would expect that [Steve] would do a real nice job as he did when he was here," said coach Rose. "They served tough. They blocked well and I think the previous coach left him with some good talent and they're doing a nice job with it. You know it's tough to come into the Big Ten, not for Steve and Hughes, because they know what's going on in the Big Ten, but for the players. You can't tell them what they don't know till they really experience it."
In the first set, the Nittany Lions took an early lead on a 6-1 run, but Maryland answered to make it 9-5. Nonetheless, the Lions finished off the set with a block by Hancock and Washington to win, 25-11.
It was a close matchup in the second set as the Terrapins opened with a 5-4 lead. Penn State surged to a 9-5 edge, but Maryland remained within striking distance when it set the score at 17-16. The Lions scored eight of the next 10 points to score a, 25-18.
Penn State capped off the match with a 25-15 win in the third set with a kill from Washington at match point.
"It's weird [to be against Aird and Hughes], but I'm happy for them and it's kind of cool to play against them," said junior Aiyana Whitney.
Overall, it was a good weekend for the Nittany Lions, who extended their winning streak to eight-straight matches.
"Anytime you can have a great crowd and good energy in the building and the young kids play well, you should feel pleased about that," said Rose.
Recently in Women's Volleyball Category
By Anita Nham, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
By Anita Nham, GoPSUSports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNVIERSITY PARK, Pa. - If you have attended a volleyball match at Rec Hall this fall, then it's likely that you have witnessed freshman Haleigh Washington's high energy on the court as she brings encouragement to her teammates with high-fives and fist pumps after successful points.
"I think my parents helped kindle that [lively personality]," said Washington. "I've always been kind of a goofball and just loud and obnoxious. My dad always said that if someone has a problem with how you act, then that's their problem, not yours, so just go out and be yourself, and that's what I do."
Washington made her collegiate debut against Yale on Sept. 12 and recorded six kills on .545 hitting with zero attack errors, but that was just the beginning. She entered the starting lineup against Illinois on Oct. 11 and though the team fell against the Fighting Illini, Washington had 14 kills and a team-high of seven blocks. Since that match, Washington has been a regular in the rotation for the team and has been making huge contributions during the Lions' six-match winning streak.
This week, Washington earned her first Big Ten Player of the Week honors following career-high performances in the two wins against Ohio State this past weekend.
In the matches against the Buckeyes, Washington led the team in blocks with 16 blocks, averaging 2.67 per set. She set a career-high record with nine total blocks in Columbus last Saturday. She also logged 15 kills in those two matches.
"It's really humbling [to be Big Ten Player of the Week] and it's just an honor and blessing that I get to represent Penn State in such a positive light," said Washington. "It's just a very humbling award and I feel very blessed."
Washington began playing volleyball in the seventh grade, but volleyball wasn't her first sport of choice.
"I actually really wanted to start playing football, but my dad wouldn't let me because well, he's my dad," said Washington. "He said, 'You're not allowed to play football,' so my best friend said, 'Hey, I'm going to this volleyball camp at the middle school if you want to go,' so I said okay. I went to this volleyball camp, played, ending up really liking it, and then I played club for our local club team, and then a bigger club, and then Colorado Springs found me and said, 'Hey, come play for us.' That's how I competitively started playing."
During her volleyball career in high school, she broke the Colorado state record by logging 48 kills in a single match and led her high school team, Doherty, to a state championship title in 2012. Her success continued as she was selected as the 2012 Colorado Volleyball Player of the Year, a two-time Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year from 2012-'13, the 2013 Volleyball Magazine Player of the Year, a 2013-'14 Under Armour First Team All-American, among many other accolades.
Nothing was able to hold Washington back from playing collegiate volleyball at Penn State. Not even the 1,500-plus miles that separated herself from her home in Denver, Colorado.
"This gym - I love this gym; it just feels like home," said Washington. "I love the program, I love Coach Rose's coaching style, and then the campus is just beautiful and it felt like home. [Penn State] offered a wide variety of majors and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I still don't, but it's good to have options."
Teammate senior Lacey Fuller has really enjoyed playing alongside Washington.
"It's definitely been great [playing with Haleigh]," said Fuller. "I love playing with people with high energy...Someone who you can rely on to keep you fired up and it's just great to play with someone who is equally passionate about the game as you are."
Even with a bubbly personality, Washington is unaware of the effect she has on her teammates.
"I never really thought about it. I just kind of go out and play and I get excited," said Washington.
Aside from her play and extraordinary energy, Washington brings another special element to the team even though she's an underclassman
"She brings not only great energy, but a lot of wisdom for a young player," said Fuller. "I like to listen to what she has to say; she has a lot of great input that can help the team rally and do well."
Though Washington has earned numerous awards in her volleyball career, she believes that she still has plenty to improve on.
"I need to be better at so many things," said Washington. "My blocking still struggles; it needs to get better. I don't really trust my read. Getting smarter on hitting shots and improving my serves. I don't really serve yet, but I still need to be able to that in future seasons...Being a more versatile player, not just a one-trick pony."
Washington continues to push herself to become a better player, but her favorite attribute of herself is one that every teammate and fan loves.
"[My] energy and my personality is a pretty good thing. I mean, we have people on the team who can hit pretty hard and people on the team who have more experience, more volleyball IQ, so my volleyball energy is something I bring to the team. It's like a fire and it gets people hype, it gets people excited," said Washington.
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNVIERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Eighty-six years ago, a new building stood on the corner of Burrowes Street and Curtin Road. They called it Recreation Hall. It quickly became home to many Penn State sports teams, and in 1976, it became home to Penn State women's volleyball.
Tradition and history are what makes Rec Hall so special for the Penn State women's volleyball team. Thirty-four All-Americans and six National Championship teams have played in the same facility that the 2014 Nittany Lions play in now.
Senior Dominique Gonzalez said that playing in Rec Hall, a gym full of tradition, gives Penn State an advantage in home matches. She said playing in Rec Hall drives the players to strive to be great, because of all of the great players before them.
"There is a sense of pride that we have when we step out on to our home court [in Rec Hall]," Gonzalez said. "Other teams, when they walk into the gym, they can look up at the banners and see the tradition that we have here. And that gives us a little bit of an upper hand."
Because the building has the same feel of when it was constructed in 1928, junior Megan Courtney said she enjoys being able to see the past of Rec Hall while in the present. She said the banners that hang in Rec Hall speak to the tradition inside of Rec Hall.
The tradition is one of Courtney's favorite parts of playing in Rec Hall.
"When you step on that floor, you're like, 'Oh my gosh. There's so much great tradition that's been established here. So many great players have played on this floor that I'm standing on right now,'" Courtney said.
Thousands of fans flood into Rec Hall on match day to support the Nittany Lions. This season, Rec Hall is averaging 2,636 fans per match. On Oct. 24, 4,622 fans attended the Michigan match, setting a record this season for attendance.
Having thousands of fans in a facility like Rec Hall, where the fans are so close to the court and the players, provides an advantage for Penn State. Courtney said the setup of gym creates a great environment.
"You have fans on both sides. Boosters on one side, student section on the other. And the band on the backside," Courtney said. "Each different section has their own way of cheering for you. Whether it's the band being loud, or the student section or the boosters, who are just incredible, you're surrounded by moral support."
The student section, known as The wRECking Crew, is one of Rec Hall's main sources of energy during matches. The name, a play on words including 'Rec' for Rec Hall, also serves as a theme for the student section. Every match, the members of student section wear construction hats to "demolish their opponents."
Vice President of The wRECking Crew, Mackenzie Rupert, said that the passionate group of students loves to support Penn State women's volleyball at every home match.
"We are the seventh man on the team as an outside source of energy for the ladies when they need it most. When opponents come to Rec Hall, The wRECking Crew is there to make it loud," Rupert said.
Gonzalez appreciates the fan base in Rec Hall and said that it helps fire up the team.
"You have a certain fan base that follows us all of the time. You have the boosters and the loyal student section that come, and that means a lot to us," Gonzalez said. "It's very warming for us to look up in the stands and see a group of people that we really appreciate and know is there to support us every home match. I think it's great to play behind supportive fans. "
Whether it's the tradition or the fan base, there is something about Rec Hall that gives the Nittany Lions a true home court advantage. Penn State is 253-19 in Big Ten matches in Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions are looking to extend that record this weekend as they take on their new Big Ten foes, Rutgers and Maryland.
"I love everything about Rec Hall. The fans, the sense of being at home, it's a place where I looked at for four years before I came here," Gonzalez said. "So being able to step out on the court in Rec Hall and be a part of the program is my favorite part."
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The recipe for success can be modeled after Penn State women's volleyball senior Micha Hancock. The ingredients are simple - be competitive, be tough, work hard, be a leader and be humble.
Hancock is adorned with many awards during her decorated Penn State career. She was the 2013 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, was named AVCA First Team All-America for two consecutive years, was named a finalist for an ESPY, among many other accolades. All of the recognitions begin with Hancock's drive to be the best.
Hancock started playing volleyball when she was very young. Her mom, a volleyball player herself, brought Hancock into the gym with her before she could even walk. When she was nine, she began playing competitive volleyball with her older sister.
The Oklahoma native grew up trying to keep up with her sister, who is three years older, whether it was on the court or off. This is where Hancock's competitive spirit originated.
"Even when we're running to the car, I want to get there first. I've always been pretty competitive," Hancock said. "I feel like it's in my blood."
Hancock's competitive nature grew with her and eventually became a part of her. And it helped her land a spot on Penn State's roster. In high school, Hancock was committed to play volleyball at another college. During spring break of her senior year of high school, she visited Penn State, talked to head coach Russ Rose, changed her commitment... and the rest was history.
"I liked the staff, I loved the campus, I loved the school, and I had heard great things about it, so I made the decision to come here," Hancock said.
Her teammates and coaches have appreciated her competitive nature as well. In fact, Rose's favorite part about Micha is how competitive she is.
"She's really competitive, she's got a great arm and she's physically competitive," Rose said.
Hancock and associate head coach Salima Rockwell have a close relationship and it shows during matches. Against No. 17 Ohio State on Tuesday night, Rockwell took Hancock aside and had a one-on-one conversation with her during a time out. As Rockwell spoke, Hancock nodded her head, seeming to be on the exact same page as Rockwell.
"Micha's awesome. She's so much fun to coach. She's someone that's confident. And she's a severe competitor," Rockwell said.
Playing on the court with a player like Hancock benefits the entire team. Teammate and friend Megan Courtney said she has formed a great relationship with Hancock over the past three years.
"She's like no other person I've ever played with. She's competitive, she's a great role model, she does what she does really well and she expects the best out of you," Courtney said. "She's a great person to play with because she's never too high or too low. She's always consistent."
That's the sound of the crowd in Rec Hall while Hancock serves. The cheer, replicating the sound of a bomb, is because of her aggressive, explosive serve.
Her serve came from playing as both a hitter and a setter in her early years of volleyball. She uses the skills she learned from being an attacker in her serving. Hancock has 322 career aces, a program record.
Being an attacker gave Hancock the skills to become a successful hitter on the team, as well. Against Ohio State, Hancock had five kills on seven swings.
Hancock is both mentally and physically tough. She rallies the team after losing a point, dives for every ball and serves tough.
Freshman Haleigh Washington admires Hancock for how tough she is. Washington said she hopes to play like Hancock one day.
"[It] doesn't matter if we're down, [it] doesn't matter if were up, [it] doesn't matter what's happening, she's a really tough kid. She's a hard worker, she'll hit the ground, she'll dive, she'll roll around, she'll keep going, she'll get criticism," Washington said. "She's a tough kid that can handle a lot. It's really admirable and it's something that I want to develop as a player myself."
Hancock's efforts against Ohio State did not go unnoticed. In addition to her five kills, the senior setter had four digs and a season-high seven blocks. She is working hard both physically and emotionally as a leader of the team, trying to rally the team and increase the level of play during the remainder of her senior season.
"The biggest thing were trying to focus on is coming out of the gate strong. It's nice to have three 3-0 wins in a row, you feel like you're getting tighter with the group," Hancock said. "We needed to have more energy [earlier in the season] and I think we've been showing that with our 3-0 wins."
Hancock has been a hard worker since she stepped on the court. She holds the Penn State record for career aces, she has been named Big Ten Setter of the Year, AVCA First-Team All America, Big Ten Player of the Week, Big Ten Freshman of the Year and much more.
Her hard work paid off in 2013 when the team won the NCAA National Championship. But surprisingly, that isn't her favorite memory as a Penn State women's volleyball player.
"[My favorite memory] was the two years leading up to the national championship because it created the fight we had that third year, my junior year, to win the championship," Hancock said. "And that's the most important thing, just being a team."
Be a Leader:
As a freshman playing in every match, Hancock was guided by seniors, who showed her the ropes of Penn State women's volleyball. Now, as a senior, it's her time to be a leader.
Her goal for her senior season is to continue as a successful leader of the team.
"[My goal is to] lead the best I can, get as much out of this team as we can," Hancock said. "I'm trying to work with the staff, work with the girls individually, watch film, know what I can be better at and ease the path to hopefully compete for a championship."
Hancock's leadership during matches is what sets her apart from other players. In every huddle, she is the one telling her teammate, 'good job', telling the team what to do next and encouraging the team after a lost point.
During timeouts, after Rose talks to the team, it's Hancock's turn, getting the players ready for the next series of points.
She's the first to high-five the player who got the kill, ace or block, and she's the first to lift a teammate's spirit after an error or lost point.
Washington said Hancock's leadership has been efficient and it has helped her adjust to playing college volleyball.
"She keeps us very focused, which is a good trait to have, especially as a leader. She focuses on the next point, focuses on staying calm, focuses on staying excited," Washington said. "She makes sure that we're paying attention, that we're ready for the next play and that we know what's going on. Especially as freshman, we haven't played the game very much, she keeps us locked in."
From a coaching standpoint, Rockwell also sees her success as a leader.
"She's a senior now, she's got that sense of urgency. She wants to win, she wants to be great," Rockwell said. "The girls feel that, they follow along with that. She's doing an excellent job leading this team."
The match against Ohio State on Tuesday was an important match between two Big Ten teams. The Big Ten Network had a camera set up on the court during warm ups and most of the time, the camera was on Hancock.
As she stretched, jogged and talked to teammates, the camera was right there with her. But not once did she act differently, or even acknowledge that that camera was on her.
Courtney said that despite the attention that Hancock gets for her level of play, she always remains humble.
"She gets a lot of hype for how good she is, but if you actually have a chance to talk to her, and sit down with her and actually have a meaningful conversation with her, she is so down to earth," Courtney said.
As a senior, this season is Hancock's last time in a Penn State uniform. She said being a senior feels very different.
"I definitely feel the urgency of senior year and trying to lead these girls, the young ones especially, who have so much talent," Hancock said. "It's great to see them working hard, but also getting them mentally prepared for the years to come. It's really fun."
After graduating, Hancock hopes to play professionally.
"I love the game so much, and that's what I want to do," Hancock said.
The team and the Penn State volleyball community will miss Hancock when she graduates, but her legacy will live on.
"I'm really going to miss her, but I wish her the best of luck in what she does. And I know even then, if she plays professionally or for the national team, she's still going to be humble and great," Courtney said. "She's just an all-around great person, not just a great player."
By Anita Nham, GoPSUSports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On the heels of two weekend victories, the Nittany Lion women's volleyball team marched to an assertive three-set sweep (25-15, 25-22, 25-12) against No. 17 Ohio State on Tuesday evening inside Rec Hall.
"I thought it was a well-played match for us to block as well as we did and everything we did was good tonight," said head coach Russ Rose. "It was a nice thing to have happen at home. It's great to have a nice crowd and the band out on a Tuesday night."
The Nittany Lions came strong out of the gate by earning the first point and maintaining a big lead throughout the initial set. The Lions were on a three-point streak with a score of 18-10 when Ohio State called a time out. The Buckeyes notched a point out of the break, but Penn State pushed ahead and won the set 25-15 with a service ace from senior Nia Grant.
"I thought we came out and played a great first game," said coach Rose. "We hit .650. We didn't have any hitting errors and I think that kind of set the tempo for the match."
Though Penn State had a dominant first set, the team was unable to gain a lead on Ohio State for much of the second set. The Buckeyes had a 7-2 lead and never trailed until the Lions notched a 22-21 lead on an Ohio State service error. The Nittany Lions battled through the adversity in the second set en route to a 25-22 win and a commanding 2-0 lead in the match.
"A lot of times, you're fighting yourself because we contributed to them getting a number of those early points, but when we were down 7-2, I wasn't too concerned other than how they got to seven," said coach Rose. "I thought we were going to score more than two points."
Penn State didn't want to fall behind Ohio State in the third set, so the Lions continued their drive from the previous set. They opened the set with a strong score of 6-2. Ohio State attempted to interrupt the streak, but the Nittany Lions continued their power and finished the third set 25-12 to complete the sweep.
"I think the biggest thing we're trying to focus on is coming out of the game strong and sustaining it," said senior Micha Hancock. "It's nice to have three 3-0 wins in a row. You feel like you're getting tighter with the group and we're getting to a more consistent level, so I really feel like we need to show more energy and I think we've been showing that with our 3-0 wins."
Hancock recorded 31 assists to earn a total of 5,010 all-time assists. She's the sixth player at Penn State to reach 5,000 or more career assists. Hancock also logged a season-high of seven blocks.
"I thought we had great performances tonight from all the hitters," said coach Rose. "We pass the ball well. I thought Micha did a nice job...Micha was good with distributing the ball tonight."
Senior Lacey Fuller also played a key role in the victory, finishing with five digs.
"[Lacey] played hard. Had a couple of good digs," said coach Rose.
With her performance, Fuller had a great time tonight.
"I felt fabulous," said Fuller. "It was amazing. The crowd was great. It was a really good game."
The team will continue to practice for their matchup with the Buckeyes once again on Friday evening, but this time, they have a better idea of what they will be up against.
"It's nice [to play a team] because it's one thing to watch film on a team, but getting to play them, you get more of a feel," said Fuller. "At least for defensive players, you know exactly where they hit the ball and hopefully going into Friday, I'll be more prepared since we just played them."
Even with a sweep, Coach Rose was pleased to earn a victory against a talented Ohio State team.
"They're ranked 17th in the country and they've beaten teams in the top 10 in the country. They're really good. They just didn't have their best outing tonight and we know that and we'll work hard [today] and Thursday and we'll have a tough match on Friday," said Rose.
Penn State will take on the Buckeyes again this Friday at 7 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following two wins on the road against Purdue and Indiana, the Nittany Lions returned home to Rec Hall this weekend to welcome Big Ten conference opponents, Michigan and Michigan State. Penn State continued to build on momentum from the road matches to finish the weekend off with two victories.
Though most of Happy Valley was concerned about Saturday's White Out, the volleyball team focused on a different color. Penn State teamed up with Side-Out Foundation in Friday evening's match against Michigan to feature the annual "Dig Pink" match in support of breast cancer research.
Established in 2004, the Side-Out Foundation is a support and advocacy organization that unites volleyball players and coaches to have them work toward the common goal of furthering breast cancer awareness, education, and patient services.
Friday was the seventh consecutive year that Penn State has held the "Dig Pink" match, and they have raised nearly $6,000 for the Side-Out Foundation.
"I think it's important for all the players to get involved in different causes," said head coach Russ Rose. "I think it's something that gets a lot of people and it's great that we're part of a special evening."
Freshman Haleigh Washington echoed her coach in support of breast cancer awareness.
"I think it was fun and I thought it was nice that [us and Michigan] were all united in a cause," said Washington. "Michigan had pink on their warmup [jerseys], too, and it was kind of interesting to see that even though we're two opponents playing against each other, we are still united in a cause, and there are still things that brings us together as a community. It was inspiring and it was energetic and it was fun."
The Nittany Lions swept Michigan in three sets (25-18, 25-16, 25-16) in front of the biggest home crowd the team has seen all season. The crowd also came out to support the cause for breast cancer awareness as it was impossible to look anywhere without seeing any pink. The atmosphere was filled pink pom-poms, rally towels, wrecking crew hats, and pink T-shirts.
"I thought [the energy] was ecstatic," said Washington. "I love having a big crowd. I think it's fun. I think it makes Rec Hall even more home...The support is awesome because you know that whether you're hitting the ball into the net or bouncing the ball at the 10-foot line, the [crowd's] got your back and they're ready to support you. It's awesome."
Teammate and fellow freshman Ali Frantti played in her first "Dig Pink" match alongside Washington and had a great time.
"It was a big crowd tonight and I think it was just fun," said Frantti.
Frantii and Washington were huge components in Friday's match as they each recorded double-digit kills. Frantti had 15 kills on .429 kitting and Washington had 10 kills on .421 hitting, while also logging four blocks.
"I love playing with Haleigh, especially," said Frantti. "She's passionate and I would be off without her."
Penn State took on Michigan State Saturday evening and came out with its 20th victory of the season with a sweep (26-24, 25-17, 25-21).
Senior Micha Hancock recorded 33 assists, five digs, four kills, and a match-high of four aces.
Redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney led the team with 12 kills on .364 hitting and Frantti got 11 kills on .409 hitting.
There are 10 more matches in the conference season, but there is still much to be done.
"As Coach Paterno used to say, 'You're not as good as you think you are when you win or as bad as you think you are when you lose,'" said coach Rose.
Penn State will have a quick turnaround with Ohio State coming to Rec Hall on Tuesday for an 8 p.m.
Nham, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team faced adversity two weeks ago as they fell to No. 15 Illinois in a 3-1 match, but the Lions roared back on the road last weekend to earn two-straight wins.
Now, Penn State is looking to carry that momentum into a pair of home matches.
Penn State headed to No. 14 Purdue last Friday evening and came out victorious in a tough five-set (26-24, 23-25, 22-25, 25-23, 15-9) battle. The Nittany Lions won the first set, but came up short in the next two sets. The team was able to regroup and collect themselves to regain momentum and win the following two sets and the match.
"We stayed confident in each other [when we were down a set] and trusted our ability in things we've done in practice and fighting hard for every point," said senior Dominique Gonzalez. "I think the belief that we have in each other and the confidence that we had that we could pull it out really helped us."
Penn State's momentum continued into the next night as the Nittany Lions swept Indiana (25-11, 25-19, 25-15) at University Gym.
"It was a huge team effort," said junior Aiyana Whitney. "The hunger proved ourselves that we can do great things and we can win matches, like those tight matches in hostile environments and that's something we really wanted, so we rallied as a team to better the team effort."
This weekend, the Nittany Lions hope to continue their drive from their two wins as they return to Rec Hall to take on Michigan at 7 p.m. on Friday evening and Michigan State at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday evening.
"I think [winning] builds a little team morale," said Gonzalez. "We kind of needed those wins. It was a battle at Purdue, so that helped out a lot, but going into this weekend, they're two different teams that fight very hard and they're coming to Rec Hall, but that doesn't mean anything if we don't play the way we should play. They're two really tough teams. Michigan beat Nebraska, which is a great win, so they're strong teams with great setters and great offense and defense and it's going to be a tough matchup, but we're preparing the best way we can."
In preparation for this weekend's matchups, focus has been high on the practice court this week.
"We have been working a lot on our blocking," said Whitney. "We've been putting a lot of time and effort into trying to make that more of a strength rather than a weakness, so I think that's something we want to emphasize on this weekend knowing that these are great attacking teams and that's something we definitely need to step up if we want to be successful this weekend."
With a good week of practice and more confidence, the team is ready for this weekend.
"We're feeling a little better about where we are. I think we're pretty focused in practice, so I would love for [our confidence and momentum] to carry into the matches this weekend," said Whitney.
Though there is still a long season ahead, the players want to focus on taking each match one at a time.
"We're trying to be focused on every match as best we can and focused on playing every team as hard as we can, said Gonzalez. "We have to take one match at a time. We can't look past any match or look onto the tournament until we get through conference."
Whitney echoes her teammate and believes that the team has a lot to build on for the future.
"I think this team has great potential. I know that everyone thinks we're super young and that's true, but I think we can do great things. We're working hard right now, so down the road, we're playing to our fullest potential," said Whitney.
By Anita Nham, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - All sports teams hope to be the very best that they can be throughout every season. Teams strive to string together victories en route to playing their best at the end of a season.
But inevitably, groups face adversity.
It's how a group responds to the adversity that often shapes a team's character. The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team returns to action this weekend looking to get back on track following a setback to No. 15 Illinois.
"Some weeks you may feel confident going in and you'd like to think you're going to win your matches at home, but we didn't take care of the ball in the match with Illinois and you move on," said head coach Russ Rose. "You don't look back. You can't worry. I'm a big believer in 'One lost can't beat you twice.' You identify to the people this is what we need to get better at...and you try and get better."
Prior to last weekend, Penn State had lost only two matches. After both losses, the team came back stronger than ever with straight-set wins against their next opponent.
"When you lose, you go back to the film and look at what I could have done differently, so I think it does give you a little fire to come back and bounce back," said senior Micha Hancock. "But I think we need to be better at creating that fire ourselves, instead of having to get a lost and having to get ourselves, we can motivate each other."
The team hopes to relay back this weekend as they take on No. 14 Purdue (16-2, 6-0) on Friday evening and Indiana (12-6, 3-3) on Saturday evening.
"Our emphasis [this week] is to try and get two wins. I mean, we're scouting the teams, we're going to mix up some shots, we're going to see what we're looking at, and I think it's also just trying to make less errors," said Hancock. "We're a young team now and we're not trying to out block and out dig a team and still lose. It's just hard work in the gym, communicating what we can get better at."
Junior Megan Courtney also believes that they have a few things to work on for this weekend.
"[We need to work on] just being better teammates. I think Coach talked about it a lot that we're great players, but we haven't really been able to come together as a team very often, so focusing on the team aspect instead of trying to do it individually," said Courtney. "[It's also] just little things at practice. Trying to finish drills that don't necessary mean much in practice because it carries over to games. It was clear against Illinois that we didn't finish up the first game like we should of, which could have swung the momentum for the game, but we just need to be able to start fast and end fast and be able to close, so that's what we've been working on."
In addition, Courtney has been a leader in helping the underclassmen to bounce back.
"I just keep telling them that you're here to make mistakes, you're a freshman, I'll take the blame for anything, or I'll help you out as best as I can... you need to just worry about you and I'll try to do what I need to do to help you get better and help you be confident because that's what we need from them; we need confidence from them," said Courtney. "We need them to take big swings and if they keep doing that, then we're in pretty good shape."
Coach Rose understands the situation and still has high expectations for the team.
"It's been a tough situation when the expectations are as high as they are and the preseason, we're ranked No. 1 in the country based on winning last year's national championship," said Rose. "I think it's a real task for some people to not believe the press clippings, but what they do when the other teams are really good. That's the part of the equation. The Big Ten is an incredibly tough conference and everybody is beating everybody. Purdue is the only team hasn't suffered a loss yet this season."
The Nittany Lions will continue their season this weekend, but there is still a long way to go.
"We have seven more weeks of Big Ten play, so that's a lot of matches," said coach Rose.
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERISTY PARK, Pa.-- The stage was set for a great first start at home for freshman Haleigh Washington: a Big Ten matchup in Rec Hall, an energetic crowd and an excited band. But the Nittany Lions fell to the Illinois in four sets.
Despite the outcome, Washington's first start in Rec Hall was an exciting experience for the young middle blocker. Leading up to the match, she kept her composure while trying to shake her nerves. But as soon as it was game time, she knew it was time to go out there and "do her thing."
"I was trying to do the best that I could and bring whatever I could to this team," Washington said. "Everybody has a job and I was just trying to do mine."
In the first set, the Nittany Lions had a 19-8 lead over Illinois. After multiple scoring streaks, the Fighting Illini fought back to make the score 23-17. With five unanswered points and a four-point scoring streak at the end of the set, the Illini took the first frame, 26-24.
"We scored a lot of points [in the first game], we blocked better. We had some areas where I thought we were going to do some things and surprisingly enough, [Illinois] battled a little better than we did," head coach Russ Rose said. "In the beginning of the year, I had Illinois as the team to win the conference."
In the second set, the Nittany Lions beat the Illini 25-16. Illinois came back to take sets three and four, 25-23 and 25-22 respectively.
Penn State had momentum in end of the final frame that kept the Nittany Lions within two points at 24-22, but the Illini finished off the match with a block.
"We had fire at the end of the game. Then there's that little hope and it's just crushed and that's the worst feeling; when you're so close and you're thinking that it's good and it ends up being too little too late," Washington said. "It's disappointment and a chance to work harder at practice. We don't really linger. We're ready to come back and work harder."
Although the Nittany Lions fell to the 15th-ranked Illini, Rose noted that Washington played especially well for her first start in Rec Hall.
"Her energy is always good. She is a confident, young person. She hit really well [and] took some good swings," Rose said. "Considering it was a big match with a lot of people and a lot of importance, she really represented herself well."
Washington had a career-high 14 kills on a .538 hitting percentage. She had seven blocks, but said she needs to improve her blocking.
[My blocking has] got to be a better game. In a conference like the Big Ten, blocking is a really big, important aspect of your game. I'm trying to improve on that," Washington said.
Throughout the entire match, Washington's energy was very positive, even when the team was down.
"I had to go in and play my game. I was trying to take care of what I could take care of and control what I could control," Washington said.
Washington and the Nittany Lions travel to Indiana next to face Purdue on Friday at 8 p.m.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney went into this week's practice knowing that she needed to improve on blocking and transition balls. Whitney displayed that she achieved what she had strived for by leading Penn State's offense with 12 kills on .500 hitting as well as a match-high of seven blocks in Wednesday's sweep (25-20, 25-17, 25-17) against No. 24 Northwestern.
The Nittany Lions have now won their last 23 consecutive matchups against the Wildcats, which gives Penn State a 47-8 lead in the series.
"She was the leading scorer in the match and I appreciate her effort tonight," said head coach Russ Rose. "I thought she played well and it's nice when somebody gets a chance to get recognized."
Aiyana was particularly dominant in the third set, which provided Penn State with the momentum that it needed to finish off the match. She recorded three points for the Nittany Lions by making three kills in a row after the Wildcats received senior Micha Hancock's serves. Hancock tallied 30 assists, seven digs, three blocks, and a match-high of four aces.
Junior Megan Courtney also logged double-digit kills with 10 kills on .400 hitting. She also had eight digs and two blocks. Senior Nia Grant followed close behind with seven kills and senior Dominique Gonzalez held the team together with 10 digs.
Though Penn State came out with a win, Whitney believes that there is still much more to improve on.
"[Our energy coming out of the gate] wasn't our best, that's for sure. I think all-around it kind of lacked emotion and that's a huge part of the game," said Whitney. "I mean, energy-wise, if we don't pick that up, then the game could easily go the other way. Personally, my blocking was what I really wanted to focus on and I think it's something that I've been struggling with in the middle position. It's new to me and it's something I've been trying to work on."
Coach Rose also recognized that the team has a lot to work on before Saturday's match against No. 15 Illinois.
"I think our blocking is an area that needs to be better and just court awareness. There were some plays out there that players had no idea what was going on. Just because you win, doesn't mean you know what's going on," said Rose. "I didn't think anybody came ready to play. Practice has been like that for a few days. You watched our match last week on TV, that's what it looked like, so just no emotion, no real leadership out there - it was pretty disappointing. It would be fine if it was a recreational team and we were deciding where we were going to go afterwards for a snack, but that's not how I look at the last five decades that I've been coaching at Penn State."
Penn State will be welcoming No. 15 Illinois to Rec Hall at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Fighting Illini forced a fifth set at Ohio State Wednesday evening after falling into a 2-1 deficit, but fell short to the Buckeyes to drop to 11-5 in the season and 3-2 in the Big Ten.
"We saw Illinois at the beginning of the year and since then, they've played much better, so I mean, Illinois is strong in all positions," said coach Rose. "They've got veteran players at the pins and they're going to be pretty fired up after losing a five-game match [last] night at Ohio State. You know, life on the road in the Big Ten is very, very tough and we need to make it tougher than it was today. The girls need to work a lot harder. We'll go hard [today] at practice. I want to find out who wants to play."
Coach Rose wants to see the team continue to grow.
"The expectations are high here. The players who are recruited, the expectations are high and that's the way it should be," said Rose. "So if you look at results, I don't think that's the best way to look at things. I think performance makes the difference."
Whitney hopes to build on the success for this weekend's match.
"We got to be ready to play," said Whitney.