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Frantti Leads Nittany Lions to 20th Win of the Season

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By Jack Milewski, Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ali Frantti played arguably her best match of the season to help the Nittany Lions to their 20th win of the season, as Penn State topped Purdue in three sets to complete the season sweep of the Boilermakers.

Frantti led all players with 14 kills on 24 error-free swings, doing so in emphatic fashion, with one of the more efficient performances of the season, finishing with a .583 hitting percentage. Frantti was joined by Nittany Lion Simone Lee, who also finished with 14 kills to tie the match-high mark.

The Nittany Lions put down 50 team kills in the victory, marking the most in a three set match so far this season. Penn State also accumulated a .386 team hitting percentage, thanks largely in part to the errorless play of Frantti.

"I thought we passed really well, so we were able to run a three option pass," Frantti said. "Our middles were able to hold the block very well tonight so that gave me some room to take a few good swings."                            

Frantti was errorless on the attack for the first time since the first match of Big Ten play against Rutgers. For the fifth time this season, Frantti led the team in kills, but maybe more importantly, it came in the later portion of the season as Penn State is just two games away from the end of the regular season. Not only was the win convincing, but more importantly for the Nittany Lions, it answered a disappointing showing at Nebraska just a few nights earlier.

"It was huge for us," Frantti said. "It was a great answer and momentum changer heading in to the last part of our regular season and then the postseason." 

Though Frantti led the charge, she was not the only Nittany Lion to help Penn State to its 40th 20-win season in program history.

As mentioned, Lee was also an offensive force for Penn State, but Tori Gorrell had a perfect night too, posting 11 kills with no errors on a match-high .733 hitting efficiency. In terms of a team victory, Penn State put together one of its most balanced performances to date in Big Ten play, a sign that good things could be on the horizon for the Nittany Lions come NCAA Tournament time. 

The Nittany Lions are set to close out their season with two more Midwestern opponents, as they welcome Northwestern and Illinois for a Friday, Saturday series this weekend. The Nittany Lions swept past the Wildcats on the road near the end of September, but will host the Illini in the only meeting of the season on Senior Night Saturday at Rec Hall. 

Thelen Adjusting to New Role

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By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer    

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Junior Heidi Thelen has been a middle blocker throughout her entire volleyball career, which began in seventh grade.

However, since the beginning of this season, that's no longer the case.

Thelen changed positions and is now a right-side hitter for the Nittany Lions.

"It's a good move for her," head coach Russ Rose said. "There are times where I think we'd be better if we had Heidi in the middle because of her ability to block, but having to put the team together with the roster that we had, I thought that that was the move what could still incorporate her hitting off one foot and two feet, and I think she's done well. Some of the matches that we've played really well are the matches she's played well in."

This season, Thelen has already recorded 148 kills, averaging 1.74 kills per set, with a hitting percentage of .281. She's also notched 66 total blocks for the season, which is third-best for the team. One of her most notable matches this season came when then-No.14 Penn State defeated then-No.1 Minnesota in five sets at home in Rec Hall. During that match, she tied for second-best with 14 kills on .367 hitting.

Most recently, in the five-set thriller against No.1 Nebraska last Friday evening at Rec Hall, Thelen recorded five kills and four blocks. The following match against Iowa, Thelen brought out four strong kills, hitting at a .333 clip, while also recording two blocks.

"I thought she would be a better combination over on the right," coach Rose said. "She's a good block, so I think she's transitioned from a position to another position that's slightly similar very well...she's done a nice job."

Middle blockers are constantly on their toes. They always have to be ready to hit, or build a block and stop the opposing middle hitter. On the other hand, the right side hitter is usually a jack-of-all trades, as they are play in both the front and back row. The skillsets between the two are a bit different, but Thelen has been adjusting well to it.

"[The hardest thing] is probably timing with hitting because for middle blockers, you have to be up in the air quick, so sometimes, I'm leaving too early or before Abby sets the ball, so timing has been the biggest part," Thelen said. "We needed someone on the right side and having two quick hitters, me and Tori, at the same time, we can run slides and run cross-plays. I think I'm a decent blocker, so having the right-side block against the left side hitters, who gets set the most, that's an advantage."

But Thelen isn't going through the transition alone, her teammates are helping her along the way.

"My teammates talk to me a lot," Thelen said. "Abby and I go into the gym early a lot just to work on timing. Kendall [White] is really good about telling me what I should be doing on my block, so I like hearing the players, like if I'm giving too much line or other things."

Thoughout the changes, Thelen has continued to make a big impact for the Nittany Lions. In the matchup with then-No.3 Minnesota, Thelen logged six kills, hitting .333, while recording two blocks and two digs. Against then-No.4 Wisconsin, she had five kills on .267 hitting percentage and three blocks.

"I like [the right side]," Thelen said. "[The transition] has been tough. I've been a middle my entire life and now, timing is different, blocking is different, so I've had to work on it a lot, but I like it," Thelen said.

With only six more matches this season, including a three-game road swing beginning with trips to Maryland and Ohio State this weekend, there is still ample amount of time to continue to learn more skills.

"Heidi has a great attitude, works hard and wants to be good," coach Ross said. "She always says, 'say it to me,' which is what I like, that she always identifies that I should be direct with her, tell her the good and the bad equally and not feel like I have to beat around the bush with her. I think that's good. She keeps learning. We play against these really good teams, she sees areas where she needs improvement, and that's part of the process of development for players as well as teams."

Blocking Puts Penn State Back on Track

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By Jack Milewski, Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The latest string of adversity this season for the Nittany Lion women's volleyball team had come in the form of four matchups against opponents ranked in the top 20.

Three of those matches were against teams who at one point this season had, or still occupied the number one spot in the national rankings. Despite a setback against the No. 1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday, Penn State snapped its four-game losing streak with a dominant performance against Iowa Saturday afternoon at Rec Hall.

The Nittany Lions seemed determined to quell their losing streak, as they dominated Iowa from start to finish with only minor blemishes along the way. If the first set was any indication, a 25-11 win, the Nittany Lions didn't want Iowa to hang around at all. The tone was set within the first five points, as Penn State charged out to an early 5-0 lead, led by four blocks in the scoring streak. 

"We did a much better job of blocking early," head coach Russ Rose said. "We did a much better job blocking throughout the match." 

The Nittany Lions did block early and often, totaling 14.0 team blocks in the match and seven in the first set alone. Iowa seemingly had no answer for the Penn State defense. Individually, Haleigh Washington was on top of her game as she contributed 10 of the team's 14 blocks, for just her second double-digit blocking performance of her career. Bryanna Weiskircher totaled six blocks to match a career high mark.

"I think that the middles did a good job closing to us and we listened to the scouting report," Heidi Thelen said. "I thought the pin hitters did a good job too and we just blocked well all game." 

The blocking was certainly the focal point of the match Saturday and despite the loss, it was a standout component Friday as well, with Penn State totaling 12.0 team blocks against the top-ranked Cornhuskers. 

Along with the defensive presence at the net, Kendall White had arguably one of her finest weekends at the libero position. The freshman standout totaled 45 digs over the span of the two matches, punctuated by a 32-dig performance against Nebraska. White's 32 digs are the second-most in a five set match in program history during the 25-point rally scoring era and the first time a Nittany Lion has logged a 30-plus dig performance since Alyssa D'Errico did so at Minnesota Nov. 27, 2010. 

White has been a solid presence all season long in the back row, but this weekend she seemed to be more in control and more effective than usual. 

"She always plays hard," Rose said. "I think she has done a very good job for us and she is getting better."

The win against the Hawkeyes will certainly have the potential to serve as a catalyst for Penn State in their final six games of Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions currently sit at 18-7 on the season with a 10-4 record in Big Ten outings. Slotted at fifth in the conference standings, Penn State is a spot behind both Minnesota and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions hope to use the win Saturday to gain momentum heading into the last chunk of the regular season.

"We had a four-match losing streak and Iowa had probably a five match winning streak in the conference," Rose said. "It's good to have a victory and hopefully the players will rest and get their minds right because we have another tough weekend coming up."

Penn State is back in action once again next weekend, as they travel to Maryland and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions and the Terrapins meet at 8 p.m., while first serve from Columbus, Ohio will be at 7 p.m. 

Broerman Finding Success Back on the Court

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By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Redshirt junior Laura Broerman missed the 2015 season due to an injury. Nevertheless, head coach Russ Ross provided her an alternate way to participate with the team, moving her from the volleyball court to press row to do the team's radio color commentary for every match, home and away, on

"It's weird because going into the commentary, I was not excited about it at all," Broerman said. "I was kind of moping a little bit from being hurt and not being on the court, but as the season went on, it got a lot more fun."

Now in her senior season, Broerman is finally back where she feels best - on the volleyball court.

"Coming off an injury like that, especially your third one, when the doctor tells you, 'Hey, if this happens again, you're done. Your athletic career is over,' it shocks you and makes you really appreciate every single hour of practice you put in every week. I try not to make many off-plays because you never know when it could be over. It could be over next week if something bad were to happen, so I'm not taking anything for granted."

Though Broerman didn't physically play last season, her volleyball IQ and mental skills improved throughout all the matches. The radio broadcast provided a fresh experience for her to see the game in a new perspective. 

"I was able to see things that I would have never saw [on the court] before," Broerman said. "It's so nice to be on the bench now and when I see those things, I can communicate to people on the court during a timeout, or when I'm on the court, I can communicate to our left front or our center and just kind of see the game from a completely different angle."

The 5-foot-2 defensive specialist has been using this season to make up for what she wasn't able to perform on the court while she was injured. Already, she has been helping the team make key plays this season, especially in recent matches.

Last week against Ohio State and Michigan, Broerman recorded five digs in both outings.

"She really appreciates her role on the team and once you get it taken away from being able to play, you really get to find how much you love the sport and I can see that this year," senior Carley Muller said. "Laura is striving to be the best person she can be for our team and by doing radio last year, she picked up a lot more information about the game and even this year, I can see that she reads much better than she ever has before."

Broerman is one of the nine defensive specialists on the team, but she has a specific focus in strong serving. She has recorded five service aces this season, with a season-high three against Rutgers. 

"She's always confident in her serves," Muller said. "When she comes in, she's not afraid to make a play and she's not afraid to run into people or do something crazy, and that's definitely what we need coming off the bench."

Being a defensive specialist is a difficult position because you always have to be on your toes and ready for the ball. It's even harder when there are numerous talented players competing for limited spots, but Broerman doesn't let that mess with her focus.

"It means a lot [to get called in]," Broerman said. "Whenever you go in, it's a little confidence boost because you know coach Rose has the faith in you to go in there and do well because coach doesn't put people in just to put people in - he puts people in to make a difference, to go out there and make a play that maybe someone wouldn't have made before, so he's not handing out charity. When he puts you in, he wants you to do well."

For all four years, playing alongside Broerman is Muller, a senior defensive specialist, as well as Broerman's best friend. They created a strong connection after being freshmen-year roommates. 

"She's grown on and off the court [since last season]," Muller said. "She's one of the most focused and funniest people I know. She's one of my best friends and it's really nice to be around her and be able to see her find herself through college." 

It may seem strange to be best friends with someone you have to compete against, but it's motivational for both Broerman and Muller. 

"You would think that because there are so many of us competing for these very limited sports, we'd all hate each other, but all my best friends are in the same position as me, and I love them to death," Broerman said. "It's a two-way street and we're honestly out there for the team. We're the backrow kids and I just love being together."

Despite surgeries and injuries, playing Penn State volleyball was a dream she always wanted.

"I was a late recruit in, so it was a really hard decision because I could have gone somewhere and made an impact right away, or I could go to Penn State and be the absolute best that I could be, and that's what I wanted," Broerman said. "I didn't necessarily care if I was going to be on the court or going to be in the libero jersey - I wanted to take my skills to the absolute next level. I wanted to show my parents that all the money in club volleyball, high school volleyball and everything else was worth something. I wanted to prove it to myself and to everyone that had doubted me."

Broerman has shown that it's possible to bounce back from an injury, even during senior year. As the Nittany Lions continue their season, she hopes to continue to serve a tough ball, improve every match and be completely confident in everything she does. But Penn State volleyball is something she will remember for the rest of her life, the highs and the lows. 

"It means a lot to be on the team," Broerman said. "Never in a million years would I have thought I would be wearing a jersey with Penn State on the back. It still gives me the chills. I look around Rec Hall during the National Anthem, and I get the chills and a little sad, but it's awesome."

Haleigh Washington - Excellence in Efficiency

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By Jack Milewski, Student Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Across the more than two seasons Haleigh Washington has been on the Penn State women's volleyball team, she has been one of the most efficient middles in the country. At a position that demands efficiency, Washington excels at making the most of the opportunities given. Her stats, a career .453 hitting percentage and multiple national accolades speak for themselves, but Washington's play is so much more than just the numbers.

Washington's freshman year was filled with success. She was a unanimous first team All-Big Ten selection. She garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Year recognition and along with that, she was a vital part of Penn State's national championship season. As a sophomore, Washington finished third in the nation in hitting percentage, was a unanimous All-Big Ten selection and also an AVCA First Team All-American. This season, the third of Washington's incredible career, she is once again in line for numerous accolades and paces the Nittany Lions with a .463 hitting percentage, which is third best in the nation. Her stats speak for themselves, but Washington's play is still so much more than just the numbers.

Washington is regarded as a fan favorite on the team. She often receives the loudest cheers during home matches and can be found giving high fives to the entirety of the Rec Hall pep band after matches. For the amount of attention and praise Washington receives, her ability to stay humble and her passion to continuously improve are possibly the most impressive attributes about her. If you ask Washington, she has been good, but she can be so much better. 

"I think I got a little bit lucky my freshman season," Washington said. "I just went out there and played volleyball and didn't really 'think the game.' My last season and this one also, I feel like I've been able to "think the game" much better and know when to hit what shots. But even with that there are some things that I still want to improve on.

Washington credits her ability to "think the game" to much of the success she has had on the court. In both hitting percentage and blocking, Washington is among the nation's elite. However, if you ask the Penn State middle blocker, she doesn't necessarily consider herself one of the most physically dominant players.

"I think there a good amount of middles who are more athletic and who hit harder than me," Washington said. "I've really learned to take what the block is giving me and use that to my advantage. I don't hit the ball nearly as hard as someone like Simone [Lee] so I have to get kills a different way.

Though Washington may not see herself as a top middle in the nation, nearly everyone else, including Penn State associate head coach Salima Rockwell, see Washington as one of the best at her position.

"I think what makes Haleigh so good is not just how smart she is but also her energy," Rockwell said. "You see it on the court when she takes a big swing and you see it in the huddle and even when she comes in for something like film, she always has a great energy about her."

Washington's energy has translated to great success on the court as she is one of the most efficient players in the nation. She also has transformed herself into one of the premier defenders at the net. Coming into college, Washington said her blocking was a big part of her game she wanted to improve on.

"She admittedly was not great at blocking coming in to college," Rockwell said. "But she has improved so much. She moves better laterally. I think she reads the game much better now as well and she gets up and over the net quicker too. That's definitely something she has really improved on." 

The transition to college and into one of the nations best middle blockers has been challenging for Washington. However, this season she is facing what she says might be one of the biggest challenges yet, becoming one of the vocal leaders on court leaders. 

"With this year's team, it's not just me playing volleyball," Washington said. "It's me having responsibilities and being a leader and making sure that I'm always doing my job to help the team."

Rockwell also acknowledged the transition for Washington and says that she has done a tremendous job stepping in to the newer role.

"She's trying to figure out how to manage the team and what to say when," Rockwell said. "She's great at saying the right thing and she's getting even better at that when she has to speak off the cuff. She has been a tremendous leader for us this season."

Detering, Gorrell Shine on 'Dig Pink' Night

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By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 9 Penn State defeated No. 19 Ohio State in straight sets (25-21, 25-20, 25-17) Wednesday evening in an atmosphere that isn't typically seen in Rec Hall.

Pink shakers and pink t-shirts covered the stands. The wRECking crew and Pep Band sported pink hard hats. The Nittany Lions warmed-up in light pink jerseys and wore black and pink socks as well as pink bows in their hair throughout the match. Head coach Russ Rose pinned a pink ribbon to his polo shirt. Ohio State even wore pink-colored jerseys. 

In total, Penn State's annual 'Dig Pink' match raised more than $4,000 for the Side-Out Foundation for breast cancer awareness. 

"It was a really good match," redshirt freshman middle Tori Gorrell said. "Many us came out really excited to show just how excited we were for this game. The Dig Pink match is a huge thing and it's really important that we show that we care. It was nice to get a good win on an important night."

At the start of the first set, it was a back-and-forth matchup between the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes, but with the help of the crowd's energy, junior setter Abby Detering crushed a kill over the net that pushed Penn State to a 6-3 run.

Detering finished the night with a team-high 34 assists and tied for first on the team with eight digs. She also recorded three kills on .429 hitting.

"I thought we did a real nice job from the end line," Rose said. "I thought our serve-pass game was very good and it enabled Abby [Detering] to set the ball well. Haleigh [Washington] and Tori [Gorrell] had great nights offensively, but it starts with the serve-pass game."

It was the duo of Detering and Gorrell who steered the offense in the second set when Penn State and Ohio State were tied, 10-10, as Detering set Gorrell, who hammered a kill to give the Nittany Lions the edge. Gorrell connected with Detering on the next point, too, before putting away another kill to give the Nittany Lions a three-point cushion.

"I thought we were good on some tight sets to the net that we made," Rose said. "We made some nice plays. Tori had a couple of blocks and blocked well tonight. She had the setter a couple of times and that was really important for us since the setter is a very important player." 

Gorrell notched a team-high six blocks, including three solo stuffs, in addition to five kills on .500 hitting. Freshman libero Kendall White also tied for first on the team with eight digs.

Offensively, junior Simone Lee led the team with 12 kills, while junior Haleigh Washington ended the night second on the team with 10 kills on season-high-tying .769 hitting percentage.

The Nittany Lions are on a 15-match winning streak and are undefeated in Big Ten play, and they're hoping to remain that way as they approach a trip to No. 22 Michigan Saturday.

"We need to keep on working on our connection and the serve-pass game is so huge," Detering said. "We did really well with that tonight, so we have to keep that up, especially for Michigan - just going in there and being aggressive."

Penn State will have a quick turnaround as they travel to Ann Arbor Saturday for a 7 p.m. matchup.

More than a Match, Penn State Preps for Dig Pink

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By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After notching two conference victories on the road at Purdue and Indiana, the Nittany Lions return home to Rec Hall to welcome No. 19 Ohio State on Wednesday evening.

But this matchup isn't a typical match as the Nittany Lions won't be seeing fans in blue and white. Instead, the evening will represent something bigger with pink being featured throughout the stands. 

Penn State and the Side-Out Foundation will host its annual "Dig Pink" match for the seventh consecutive year in support of breast cancer research. 

"It's just great that people want to participate and contribute to the cause," head coach Russ Rose said. "I think it's great for everybody affiliated with Penn State. I know they have a big program here with basketball, and this is something different that has been in play for a couple of years. We've been involved in it since the first year it started and I hope it continues long after I'm gone."

'Side-out' in volleyball means a team is regaining control of the ball, and that's what the Side-Out Foundation is all about. It's 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. Millions of dollars have been raised, which goes towards high-quality support services for cancer patients, their families and scholarships for young students to motivate them to continue achieving their dreams, all while developing treatments so a cure is discovered in the near future.

Having hosted an annual event in Rec Hall in each of the last seven years, Penn State's 2015 campaign once again generated nearly $4,000 for the Side-Out Foundation, to match a record number, which was originally set in 2014. 

"Breast cancer reaches and touches lots of people, and anything we can do to raise awareness and funding to help with the various programs and trials that are in play to help the people in the future, we should all be honored to be part of that," coach Rose said.

The match will also hit home for some of the student-athletes, like freshman libero Kendall White.

"I think it's a huge deal," White said. "My grandma is a survivor of breast cancer so it means a lot to me having all the girls support it, having all the fans come in and auction off our warmup jerseys. It's amazing to be raising money. It's a really great cause and I love it so much that I get to be part of it."

At the match, the Nittany Lions will host a silent auction to bid for the pregame Dig Pink warmup jerseys where proceeds will go directly toward Penn State's "Dig Pink" profile. There will also be free pink shakers, with the first 200 students in attendance receiving free pizza, Dig Pink shirts and pink wRECking crew hard hats. 

"Pink is my favorite color, so I think it will be amazing going out there with the team [and seeing all the pink]," White said. "We're just going to come out fighting hard. It's a big game, so I hope it's like every game where the fans come in and cheer us on."

Penn State's Dig Pink event comes at just the right time for the Nittany Lions, who recently returned home from the road, with visits to Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota all looming the future after the mid-week against the Buckeyes at Rec Hall.

"It's a huge deal to have this break in the road trips," White said. "Playing at home is one of our favorite things to do because all of our fans are here. Everyone is supporting us and we are surrounded by people who love volleyball almost as much as we do. Going out and playing here before we go on the road next weekend against bigger teams we have to play is a huge momentum push as we go in." 

Penn State enters Wednesday's matchup against the Buckeyes on a 14-match winning streak. After opening the season at 2-3, the Nittany Lions have regrouped to remain undefeated in Big Ten conference play at 8-0. 

"What's been clicking with the team is just our chemistry," White said. "More than anything, not even volleyball-related, it's just us. As a team, we've been clicking a lot better. We've been communicating better on and off the court and just fighting. It's our heart and our fight playing into our game."

The Lions hope to match the tenancy and determination of the Side-Out Foundation. When asked what they're goal was for Wednesday evening, White responded with one word. 

"Win. That's what we plan on doing."

Homecoming Crowd Fuels Sweep Over Rutgers

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By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frantti Embracing Growth to Find Success

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By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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By Jack Milewski, Student Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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