UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the 27th consecutive season, Penn State women's volleyball is set to welcome a trio of teams to the court in Rec Hall for the opening two rounds of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
The No. 16 Nittany Lions (22-9) will square off against Northeastern conference champion LIU Brooklyn (16-14) at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall, with Atlantic 10 conference champion Dayton (30-1) and Pittsburgh (24-8) meeting in the earlier round one matchup at 5 p.m.
The winner of the Penn State-LIU Brooklyn outing will advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament to play the winner of the Dayton-Pitt match, Saturday, Dec. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
One of just two teams in the nation to make an appearance in all 36 consecutive NCAA Tournament events, Penn State enters the matchup with a 30-5 all-time record in opening matches of the tournament. The Nittany Lions have not surrendered a single set to a first-round opponent since 1989, with straight set wins to advance to the second round of play in their last 26 consecutive round one victories.
Earlier this week, four Nittany Lions earned Big Ten postseason honors as juniors Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington were both named unanimous selections to the All-Big Ten team. Redshirt freshman Tori Gorrell and Kendall White also earned All-Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors.
Lee and Washington are atop the team standings in kills per set and blocks per set, respectively with each of the two juniors among a group of Nittany Lions who already have experience as members of Penn State's 2013-14 back-to-back NCAA championship teams.
Tournament time has finally arrived in Happy Valley, kicking off Friday at Rec Hall. Take a closer look at the Nittany Lions and this year's tournament as they head into postseason play.
VIDEO: NCAA Tournament Press
INSIDE THE NUMBERS: No. 16 Penn State vs. LIU Brooklyn
A CLOSER LOOK: Features & Highlights
Penn State Looking Ahead to First
Round of 2016 NCAA Tournament
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since its inception in 1976, the Penn State women's volleyball program has been the standard for hard work and success in collegiate volleyball. In addition to 16 Big Ten Championships, the Nittany Lions have proved themselves to be the top team in the country seven times with NCAA national championships in 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014.
The Nittany Lions capped off the 2016 regular season with a 22-9 overall record, 13-6 in Big Ten conference play. After closing out the regular season on a three-match winning streak, Penn State earned the No. 16 seed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Penn State is one of the only two programs in the country to have been selected to participate in all 36 NCAA postseason tournaments since it began in 1981. During that time, the Nittany Lions have racked up a 92-28 all-time record, including 12 appearances in the NCAA national finals.
A Look Into the Tournament
The Big Ten and Pac-12 conferences led all leagues with eight teams selected from their conferences to compete in the championship tournament.
In the 64-team field, where the top-16 teams are seeded, three of the top four teams belong to the Big Ten. For this year's tournament, No. 16 Penn State is joined by seven other Big Ten squads: No. 1 Nebraska, No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Wisconsin, No. 9 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue.
"The Big Ten season was incredibly challenging this year with three teams that were taking turns in being ranked the top team in the country," head coach Russ Rose said. "It was a grind for all the teams and even the teams toward the top. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of the Big Ten teams have success because I think the conference was really strong this year."
Outside of the Big Ten teams, there are three schools that Penn State played during the regular season - No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 North Carolina and Howard. The Nittany Lions fell to Stanford in three-straight sets early in the season in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. In the third match of the season, North Carolina gave Penn State its first loss by defeating the Nittany Lions in a five-set thriller. Moving forward, Penn State got back into the swing of things and defeated Howard in straight sets to win the Penn State Invitational.
"It's a grind," junior Simone Lee said, looking toward tournament time. "It's hard. It's tough. There Aare going to be upsets, knockouts and teams that you're not expecting to make it further than you thought. It's all about keeping a positive attitude and maintaining a mental focus no matter who you have to play or who is across the net. You're focused on your team and what you can do to make the team better at all times."
The quest for an eighth national championship title begins on Friday against Northeastern conference champion LIU Brooklyn (16-14) at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall. Penn State holds a 7-0 all-time record against LIU Brooklyn, meeting for the first time since the 2013 NCAA Tournament where the Nittany Lions claimed a 3-0 win.
"LIU Brooklyn has a good collection of young players with a couple of international players, and I know that we will have to address the excitement and the nerves of the opponent," coach Rose said.
If the Nittany Lions were to advance to the second round, then the two possible opponents are Dayton and Pittsburgh.
Penn State and Dayton (30-1) could meet for the third straight season in the tournament, with Penn State leading the series, 3-1. Dayton recently captured its league-record 11th Atlantic 10 Championship title after winning 97 percent of their matches this year, the highest in the country.
Pittsburgh (24-8) is making its first appearance in the tournament since 2004 after the Panthers won 10 of their last 11 matches. The Nittany Lions have a 30-17 advantage in the series against Pittsburgh.
"We're familiar with some of the opponents," coach Rose said. "We scrimmaged with Pittsburgh the last few springs so we're familiar with them and know that they beat two of the teams we lost to this year. We played Dayton the last two years in the NCAA tournament and we played LIU in the past. We're looking forward to the weekend, and we're hoping that we can play at the highest level."
In The Bracket
Coach Rose always stresses the importance of focusing on one match at a time, and that advice is essential for this postseason. It takes six perfect matches to win a national championship, and each match gets tougher with every round.
In the bracket, the No. 16 Penn State women's volleyball team is joined by No. 1 Nebraska, No. 8 Washington and No. 9 Michigan State in the top left quarter. This year is a little different because the regionals are no longer at predetermined sites. The top surviving seed in each quarter of the brackets gets to host the regionals on Dec. 9-10.
No. 1 Nebraska
The Huskers are the defending national champions as well as this year's Big Ten champions after finishing off the regular season with a 27-2 record. Their only two losses this season were to Ohio State and Minnesota, who snapped the Nebraska's 14-match winning streak last week.
Head coach John Cook was named the conference's coach of the year by the coaches and media, his first time earning the honor since the team joined in the Big Ten. Libero Justine Wong-Orantes earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second consecutive season.
Penn State dropped both matches against Nebraska this season. Back in November, top-ranked Nebraska visited Rec Hall and the Nittany Lions were able to take the Huskers to five-sets but fell short at home. A mere 12 days later, Penn State headed to Lincoln, Nebraska for a rematch but the Nittany Lions lost in three sets.
Nebraska leads the all-time series, 17-10, and the two programs have combined for eight of the past 10 NCAA titles.
No. 8 Washington
If Penn State makes it to the quarterfinals, a potential opponent is eight-seeded Washington.
The Pac-12 Champion Huskies finished the regular season at 26-4 and went 16-4 in Pac-12 play to win the conference title for the third time in the past four years. Junior outside hitter Courtney Schwan was named Pac-12 Player of the Year.
No. 9 Michigan State
The Spartans went 3-1 in their last three matches, but had an overall record of 24-8 and 13-7 in Big Ten play. When Michigan State visited Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions swept the team in three sets.
SENIOR FEATURE: Krause Reflects on Penn State
By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It has always been in senior Taylor Krause's blood to attend Penn State. Her mom's entire side of the family were Nittany Lions, and she could never imagine herself going to any other school.
"It was just part of the family process," Krause said. "Pretty much everyone goes here and it's something that is part of the family. We have supported every sport our whole life, so to actually be here and to be on the team has been an unbelievable experience."
Krause started playing volleyball at a young age, but she was a little skeptical and nervous about the sport at first. After attending more practices and playing in more matches, she started to fall in love with the sport.
The Allentown, Pennsylvania native was a four-year letterwinner and team captain at Parkland High School. She helped guide Parkland to three conference titles, three district titles and one state championship throughout her scholastic career.
Now a senior caption on the squad, all of this led her to not only be a Nittany Lion, but to also be a member of the Penn State women's volleyball team.
"The program and the dynasty that goes along with the program is why I came to Penn State," Krause said. "Everything that makes up this program and everything that the alums have worked for to make Penn State such a proud university is everything that I want to be a part of, and I am so grateful to be part of it."
As a freshman, Krause made her collegiate debut for Penn State in the season-opener against Syracuse. In her sophomore year, Krause made an appearance in 20 matches, including nine Big Ten matches as well as the NCAA title match against BYU.
"My favorite memory would be winning two national championships with my best friends," Krause said. "It just shows how hard we worked and that working hard does pay off and it comes full circle."
Krause made the biggest impact in her junior year, playing in 53 sets in 25 matches throughout the season. She posted a career-high 10 digs against Minnesota and helped the team in the NCAA tournament against Howard and Dayton.
"Taylor has really grown as a person and she's become so much more mature and responsible," senior Carley Muller said. "It's nice to be able to know that I can rely on her, whether that be on the court or off the court. On the court, if I touch the ball, I know that Taylor is going to run for the ball and do everything she can to pop it back up, and off the court, I just know that if something goes wrong or if I'm not doing well, then Taylor is going to be there no matter what, and that's always nice to know."
With all her accomplishments, Krause was named one of the captains for the 2016 season. Not only has she been helping the other defensive specialists in the back row, but she's also been getting the freshmen adjusted, like her sister, Kristen Krause.
"There's no words to describe [playing with Taylor]," freshman Kristen Krause said. "It's an incredible experience to be able to share time, not only on campus and go through college with her, but to also play the sport that we love together."
Taylor has been a great mentor for her sister throughout the season.
"She always gives me little things when I'm not doing something right," Kristen Krause said. "She always right there to help me out, and outside the court, we spend time together every single day. We make sure I am on top of my schoolwork and she's making sure that I have a great college experience."
She has also been helping the other freshmen understand Penn State volleyball.
"She's been doing a really nice job in instilling what Penn State volleyball means and all of our mottos and lessons that we go on [to the freshmen]," Muller said. "She's grown up as a Penn Stater and I think it's helpful to have somebody in the program, at the top, that knows what's going on and can be able to help the freshmen know what we do here."
Though Taylor has been having an excellent volleyball career, having Kristen by her side has only made it better.
"It's been an awesome semester," Taylor Krause said. "It's always nice to have a little piece of home with you wherever you go, and hopefully, playing with her, she realizes how lucky she is to be here and what an honor it is to play for Penn state. I couldn't be more grateful to have her here in my last season."
Majoring in elementary education and minoring in special education, Krause will be graduating in December.
"I know she's going to be a teacher, and I think she's going to be the best teacher and her future kids are going to be lucky to have her," Muller said.
Throughout her four years at Penn State, her teammates have helped Krause to be the player that she is today. Alongside them, head coach Russ Rose has gotten Krause to grow not only her volleyball IQ but also as a person off the court. There are infinite lessons she has learned but the most valuable thing she is going to take away from her career is to value the time at Penn State.
"Don't take anything for granted," Krause said. "It goes by so much faster than you think and everyone says that so you don't really realize it until your senior year. So every time you come in the gym or every time you go work out at camp, give it all your got. Make sure you're giving your hardest effort day in and day out."