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VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Simone Lee (9/30/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - caught up with sophomore Simone Lee as the Nittany Lions prepare for weekend matches against No. 4 Nebraska and Iowa. The top-ranked Nittany Lions will host the fourth-ranked Huskers on Friday at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Big Ten Network Gives Viewers an Inside Look into Women's Volleyball

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20150921_133528.jpgBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Normally, fans can only see their favorite teams or athletes on game-day, in short interviews or quick game-previews. However, supporters of the Penn State women's volleyball team are in luck for something a little different this week.

The Big Ten Network pointed cameras towards volleyball last week to film a behind-the-scenes look at the Penn State and Wisconsin women's volleyball teams as the two programs prepared for last Wednesday's Big Ten conference opener at Rec Hall.

The second edition of B1G Close Up from BTN Originals, the same group that produces The Journey, will air this Wednesday immediately following the conclusion of the Illinois-Wisconsin volleyball match on the Big Ten Network.

"We are thrilled to debut another episode of B1G Close Up," said Bill Friedman, Coordinating Producer for BTN Originals. "To be able to provide this type of access around two elite volleyball programs will be a treat for our viewers."

"[This will let others] to get to know us a little bit more," said senior Aiyana Whitney. "I think more than anything, it's about us as a team, what goes into game night, all the work we put into practice and all the stuff we do outside the gym. It's an inside look at our personality and who we are as people."

To give the fans the true experience of seeing things behind the scenes, the camera crew followed the team at all times and places possible. The production team arrived at Penn State on Sept. 19, and filmed scenic and the campus atmosphere before catching the Nittany Lions as soon as they got off the plane from their last match at the South Florida Invitational.

BTN also followed several players to classes, spent time with head coach Russ Rose and associate head coach Salima Rockwell and followed players to their extracurricular activities.

"It's about not just getting the volleyball story, but the personal stories of the players," said Stephen Palgon, director and executive producer of Star Crossed Pictures, who is partnering with BTN on this project. "Ideally, when you're watching the show, the match will have already happened, but our version of the show will be a more personalized version of seeing this match, so that when you see someone setting the ball, that's not just someone setting the ball, that's a character that you've learned about and know their story."

Even with the camera in the team's presence for a lengthy period of time, the players have enjoyed it.

"It's been really cool," said Aiyana Whitney. "It's definitely a different experience. The camera is kind of in your face at all times, but I think it's really cool and exciting, especially for the younger girls to get a feel for how big-time this program is and how big-time this conference is."

For the inaugural episode in April 2015, the camera crew followed the Penn State and Maryland's men's lacrosse teams as the two programs prepared to meet for the first time in the first season of Big Ten Men's lacrosse.

With the history of the Penn State and Wisconsin's volleyball program, it is no surprised that BTN decided to share their story for the second episode.

"Penn State is on top of the mountain in terms of volleyball," said Palgon. "Penn State and Wisconsin is just a great rivalry for us in terms of storytelling because Penn State has knocked Wisconsin out two years in a row, so it provides a good point for us in storytelling. Also, Wisconsin is the defending Big Ten champion and Penn State is the defending national champion, so it gives us good elements for story lines."

Having a chance to show the world what Penn State women's volleyball is all about means a lot to the team, but this episode will also mean a lot for Penn State.

"I think it's awesome for Penn State and I think it's awesome for volleyball fans out here because you see match night, but you don't really see what goes into that and what's kind of behind-the-scenes, so I think it's pretty awesome that [BTN] is able to break it down for the average person or fan or someone that doesn't really know what goes into a program like this," Whitney said.

Courtney Guides Penn State to Victory Over No. 21 Minnesota

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11357385.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Megan Courtney did every single thing that a captain is supposed to do during a match when the Nittany Lions faced off against Minnesota on Saturday.

In just the first set, Courtney ignited the team's confidence after she used her strong IQ to easily tap the ball over the net for a kill for the opening point.

Throughout the rest of the night, she continued to lead by example, sparking the team on offense and defense. Courtney also provided encouragement to her teammates during timeouts and in the game when Penn State was falling behind in the sets, while never losing focus on the final goal of winning.

Because of Courtney's leadership, the Nittany Lions were able to defeat No. 21 Minnesota in five sets (25-22, 25-16, 19-25, 20-25, 15-12) on Saturday evening in Rec Hall.

Courtney led the team with a season-best and match-high of 22 kills as well as 13 digs, which marked her fifth double-double of the season. This was her third career 20-plus kill match. Courtney also notched five total blocks for the night, including two solo stuffs.

"I thought it was well-played matched by the two seniors," said head coach Russ Rose. "I thought [Minnesota's] Santana and Megan were especially key for their teams with their confidence and their smart shots."

Alongside Courtney, three other Nittany Lions fueled Penn State's offense by recording double digits kills for the second consecutive match. Ali Frantti, Aiyana Whitney and Haleigh Washington all finished out the night with 13 kills each.

"It feels good to win," said junior Taylor Krause. "It's great to have good leadership on the court, like from [Courtney and Weiskircher.]"

Redshirt freshman Bryanna Weiskircher logged a career-high of 54 assists and 12 digs for her second double-double of the season. Weiskircher also led the team along with Washington with two aces.

"I thought Bryanna steadied out. I thought she was good early, got a little complacent in the middle games and provided good direction in the last game," said coach Rose.

It was a battle throughout the night between Penn State and Minnesota, but the Nittany Lions knew that there was going to be tough competition.

"I thought it was a great match," said coach Rose. "One that we had many times with other teams in the conference and we were fortunate to win it based on how we played in the middle of the third and fourth game...[Minnesota] beat tenth-ranked Ohio State a couple of nights ago. They're very strong and I would expect them to continue to do great things."

Penn State hopes to continue its winning streak as the women's volleyball team continues Big Ten conference matchups this weekend against Nebraska and Iowa, but Courtney realizes that there is still a long season ahead of them.

"The Big Ten is a great conference, and if you go undefeated in the Big Ten, that's an incredible accomplishment, but that doesn't mean much," said Courtney. "We lost two games in the Big Ten last year, and unfortunately, didn't win the conference, but we won the national championship, so my focus is winning in December rather than winning in September. It matters that we want to win at home, and we want to be able to win on the road, but a loss isn't going to make your season end, and we did a great job of that last year. Our goal is to win, but we learn from it, and we move forward."

Washington Leads Lions to First Big Ten Win

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11346235.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Haleigh Washington was the complete package against Wisconsin on Wednesday night. She dominated on both offense and defense. Her serving was efficient. And as always, she was fired up through all three sets.

Washington notched 11 kills at a .786 hitting percentage and is currently leading the nation in hitting. She had five blocks and two aces on the night as well.  Her serve was tough and strategic.

The slide approach has become Washington's strong suit. The "slide" is when a middle hitter, like Washington, runs a route around the setter to hit the ball from the right side. Against Wisconsin, Washington was virtually unstoppable on the slide.

"I've been working with my setter to work on that run, to see if there is a hole in the block or a hole down the line," Washington said.  "So [I'm] finally getting that rhythm with my setter. It has made it a lot easier to put balls away back there."

Washington and three additional Nittany Lions had kills in double digits in their victory against the Badgers, collectively attacking at a .376 clip. Ali Frantti led the offense with 14 kills and both Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney notched 10.  Courtney also controlled the court on defense with a team-high of 14 digs.

Head coach Russ Rose said having four players with kills in double digits shows the balance of talent on this team.

"The ability of the outside [hitters] to take good swings [also] gives us a different look for people," Rose said. "[Opponents] have to make some decisions on who they want to block and who they don't want to block."

Rose said it was a great opening match against a strong opponent, but he is surprised any time a team wins 3-0 in the Big Ten because the conference is so competitive.

"Every time you play against a Big Ten team, you're going to be forced to deal with different strengths by the other team," Rose said. "We had some ideas on trying to neutralize Lauren Carlini, who is the setter and does so many things for them. We executed the game plan really well."

This execution led to yet another 3-0 victory for the Nittany Lions. The team has swept 12 teams so far and has yet to drop a set. Frantti said the team is getting better and better with each match.

"I think our chemistry is growing everyday. I feel comfortable around these girls and I trust them. We can build upon this," Frantti said.

Penn State hopes to build and grow each week. Washington said she is looking forward to continuing to get better.

"These past [few] weeks have been great, and it's even better because we get to grind for more," Washington said. "We get to keep going hard and keep getting to represent the program in an even better way."

After the victory over the 16th-ranked Badgers, Washington felt immense pride.

"I was walking down the hallway, I was listening to the band playing, I was looking at Frantti and watching Coach walk down the hall," Washington said. "I was really proud to be a part of this program."

The Nittany Lions hope to continue their success in Big Ten play this Saturday against No. 21 Minnesota at 8 p.m. Catch the match in Rec Hall or the Big Ten Network.

Playing for Each Other

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11343842.jpegBy Sam DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Senior Megan Courtney has been called many things - Big Ten Freshman of the Year, NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player, but what is most important to her, is being called a teammate. It drives her to be the best every time she steps on the court.

[I play] for my teammates. It's not so much if I get accolades or if [anyone does]," Courtney said. "It's about our team winning. Not just winning on the court, winning off the court as well. Being great teammates, being great friends, being great people around each other and that's really what drives me."

Courtney has played with redshirt senior Aiyana Whitney since she stepped on campus in 2012. Whitney has seen Courtney improve her serve, her passing and everything in between. Now as co-captains, they are leading the 2015 team together. 

"She's always about what the team needs and what she can give to make us better as a unit. She's always seeing the big picture," Whitney said. "You can't ask for anything more from a teammate."

Making the team better is one of Courtney's specialties. On match days, she said it is her job to make sure the team is ready. Sophomore Haleigh Washington said she never has to worry about what Courtney's doing in the game because she knows she's got it taken care of.

"She takes care of herself and is always there to help you. She's a great leader and a great girl who knows the game," Washington said. "It's a blessing getting to play with her."

Being a great leader comes from years of being led. Courtney said she learned her leadership skills from those who came before her, especially her good friends and last season's seniors, Micha Hancock and Dom Gonzalez.

"Micha and Dom were two of my best friends and we were still able to have that fiery, teammate relationship as well. They taught me how to be a leader, but also how to be a good teammate, friend and person," Courtney said.

Courtney consistently attributes her success to her teammates. Washington, a younger player under Courtney's leadership, said one of her favorite sayings is, "good leaders lead from behind and they never take credit" and said Courtney is exactly that.

"I love that she gives it back to her teammates because Megan does amazing things. She makes amazing plays that we couldn't run without her," Washington said. "So the fact that she gives it back to the team is awesome, but give credit where credit is due. And Megan is a great player."

Head coach Russ Rose agrees that Courtney has what it takes to be a great leader and teammate.

"She's tough, she doesn't have fear. She's a kid that's aggressive and feels confident and comfortable in her skin and in the skills she has," Rose said. "That's reflected in her performance."

Playing well is important to Courtney, but being a part of a team means much more than her personal success on the court. She plays for her teammates and her teammates play for her. Whitney said that's what the Penn State women's volleyball family is all about.

"[The Penn State family] is about the girls who were wearing the jerseys 30 years ago and it's about the girls who are going to be wearing the jerseys when I'm long gone," Whitney said. "I'm playing for the girls that are on the bench, the girls that are around me on the court, I'm playing for the girls who played before me and will play after me. It's such a selfless program to be a part of."

The top-ranked Nittany Lions kick off their Big Ten slate on Wednesday against No. 16 Wisconsin at 7 p.m. Catch the match in Rec Hall or on the Big Ten Network. 

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Haleigh Washington (9/22/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - caught up with sophomore Haleigh Washington as the Nittany Lions prepare for the 2015 Big Ten opener against Wisconsin. The top-ranked Nittany Lions will face off with the 16th-ranked Badgers on Wednesday inside Rec Hall at 7 p.m.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

From the Court to the Stage: Lee Hoping to Impact More Than Just Teammates

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11328225.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Ever since a young age, sophomore outside hitter Simone Lee had been on the court all her life when she lived in Texas.

The basketball court, that is.

Lee never had plans to play volleyball. She was always the basketball star in the family, while her sister, Chelsea Lee, was the one that participated in volleyball.

But one day, after moving to Wisconsin, an opportunity came for Lee, and she never looked back.

"Chelsea never wanted me to play the same sport as her, but one day, my sister played for the Milwaukee Sting in Wisconsin, and their 14s team needed an extra player, so I was like, 'I'm tall, available and have nothing else going on!'" said Lee. "I was 12 at the time, so I signed up and that's kind of how it all happened. They asked me to play on that team. Then, I tried out the next year, made the women's team and everything just kind of went up from there."

A transition from basketball to volleyball can be difficult for some people, but Lee always had her experienced sister to help her along the way.

"My sister does play volleyball at Eastern Illinois University," said Lee. "She is a rock star. I definitely look up to her. She's always so poised and so composed every time she plays, and on and off the court. She's one of my biggest role models."

Chelsea Lee has not been the only one supporting her along the way because athletics actually runs in the Lee family. Simone's mother, Karen, was a student-athlete who ran track at Drake University.

"My mother has always been so supportive and helped me push myself to the pivotal point that I know that I could be at," said Lee. "She's just really supportive in everything me and my sister do...She said that she's always going to love me no matter what, and I just always want to do my best."

In high school, Lee was a four-year letterwinner, a two-year captain at Menomonee, a 2013-14 Under Armour All-American and much more. It's no wonder that she was recruited to play volleyball at Penn State, and she had no doubt in her mind that this was the school that she wanted to attend.

"Coach Rose is such a tradition, but just the tradition of this school [is why I came to Penn State]," said Lee. "Penn State is known for its excellence and ever since I've been here, it has lived up to that. I love the campus. I'm majoring in broadcast journalism, and I'm really enjoying the classes I'm taking. I enjoy the people I have met, athletes or non-athletes. My professors are amazing, and just everything about this school is everything that I could have wanted in a college experience."

Lee played in her debut collegiate match against TCU in August 2014 and recorded six kills. She built on that mark for the rest of the season and tallied 135 kills in her first season at Penn State. In the NCAA regional final versus Wisconsin, Lee notched a career-high of 12 kills to help lead the Nittany Lions to the national semifinals.

She has advanced her skills greatly since last season, but her biggest improvement has to do with more than herself.

"I've definitely been learning to keep being a team player, no matter what," said Lee. "It doesn't matter if I'm on or off the court, I always want to be supportive of my teammates. I always try to get better in the gym, always coming and doing extra reps, but definitely being supportive of the team and making sure I can do everything in my power to help my team be successful."

Lee's biggest asset is her constant energy on the court, and that is clearly helping the team to be the No. 1-ranked in the nation.

"You'll hear me at the end of the bench, screaming and shouting," said Lee. "I'm always the one jumping up-and-down and shoving my teammates. I always try to bring as much energy as possible because that's a big part of volleyball."

At the moment, Lee is motivating and pushing her fellow teammates, but in the future, she wants to build on her broadcast journalism degree in order to inspire and encourage others all over the world.

"I want to be a motivational speaker, that's my biggest goal," said Lee. "Broadcast journalism just seems like the best fit because whether it's on TV, at public forums, universities, wherever, I just want to public speak to people about certain topics and social issues."

Though she aspires to motivate more than her teammates in her future, Lee is making her main focus on the volleyball.

"We definitely want to come off strong, especially versus Wisconsin in our first match in the Big Ten," said Lee. "We want to continue playing strong throughout the Big Ten, and hopefully win that. We want to continue working hard and playing Penn State volleyball. We know that we're a very talented group of girls, and we know that we can do a lot of things if we believe in ourselves and put our minds to it."

Nonetheless, Lee loves everything about Penn State, and she would never change anything about it.

"My favorite part about Penn State, volleyball-wise, would be playing with all my girls; they're like my sisters. My teammates are awesome. I love them so much...Playing for this university is awesome, and I know that my mom, my father and my sister are really proud of me for earning scholarships and being able to play high-level volleyball," said Lee.

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Megan Courtney & Ali Frantti (9/16/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with senior Megan Courtney and sophomore Ali Frantti as the Nittany Lions prepare for weekend No. 4 of the 2015 season. No. 1 Penn State is 8-0 heading into its final non-conference weekend of the season. The Lions will play three matches in Tampa this weekend (Auburn, St. John's and USF) before opening Big Ten play against Wisconsin on Sept. 23.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Weiskircher Gaining Confidence with Each Match

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11308187.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Setter Bryanna Weiskircher had big shoes to fill at the start of this season. Coming in as the setter behind three-time All-America setter Micha Hancock was no easy task. But through training and with the help of her teammates, Weiskircher is on her way to starting a legacy of her own.

The foundation of her college career began many years ago in Rockford, Illinois. She comes from a volleyball family, as her parents and three siblings each had a volleyball career themselves.

"Although I started [playing volleyball] in fifth grade, I grew up around [volleyball]. I was in the gym all of the time," Weiskircher said. "I was always the kid underneath the ball carts during my sister's practices."

In her early years as a volleyball player, she was as a middle hitter. She then moved to the outside until she was on a 15 and under club team. After that, she played on both the right side and as a setter. But it wasn't until her senior year of high school that she became solely a setter.

Her nine years of volleyball led her to continuing her career at Penn State. Weiskircher committed to Penn State during her sophomore year of high school on her third visit. The volleyball program, the academics and the Penn State atmosphere helped make the decision easy.

"I just completely fell in love with the school. Everything about it," Weiskircher said. "Playing under the legend of Russ Rose and carrying on the tradition that is Penn State volleyball is just amazing."

She spent her first year as a redshirt freshman, running the "B-side" offense at practice and working to make the "A-side" better. She watched and learned from Hancock from the other side of the net.

"[Micha] showed me how tough she was," Weiskircher said. "She showed me that [setting] is about making the hitters be the best that they can be and making an impact in any way you can. Whether it's from the service line, setting, blocking, or defense. "

In her five matches in the lineup this season, she has averaged 9.6 assists per set and has had five aces, eight kills and eight blocks. She led the Nittany Lions to victory against then No. 2-ranked Stanford last weekend and has helped the team achieve a 5-0 record on the season.

Head coach Russ Rose said Weiskircher has been gaining more confidence with the players that she is playing with and has adjusted well to playing at the collegiate level.

"She's progressing. She has a really good serve, she's a good blocker and her hands are good," Rose said. "One of the great intangibles of a good setter is the ability to make others better and the ability to take a bad pass and make a good set. That is why we practice everyday."

Another important aspect of being a setter is strong communication. It is crucial that a setter communicates with the hitters. Setters must understand where the hitters want the set, how they want the set and if they are ready for the set. Outside hitter Aiyana Whitney said Weiskircher has done a great job of communicating and gains more confidence everyday.

"Naturally, when any young player comes into a program like this, it takes a minute to find your feet. Through the communication from the hitters, I know sometimes it can be super overwhelming for a setter at any program, much less this one," Whitney said. "She's done a really good job working with us, trying to be as communicative as possible with us, as well as listening to what we need from her."

Weiskircher hopes to continue progressing with each practice and to continue winning as a team. But above all, her goal is to get the offense going during every match.

"Being able to spread out the offense is always great. Having four hitters with over ten kills is amazing and having that makes it so much easier for me."

Weiskircher and the first-ranked Nittany Lions hope to remain undefeated through this weekend as they travel to Sound Bend for the Golden Dome Invitational. They will first face Eastern Kentucky on Friday at 6 p.m. On Saturday, Penn State will take on Mississippi State at 10 a.m. and Notre Dame at 7 p.m.  

Kendall Pierce Impacts Team and Community On and Off the Court

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11308066.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - From the moment that senior Kendall Pierce played in her debut collegiate volleyball game as a defensive specialist against Morehead State in her freshman year at Penn State, Pierce has made a dynamic impact on the team.

Pierce played in 18 matches her freshman year, and 35 matches her sophomore year, including the NCAA title win against No.12 Wisconsin. Last season, she took action in 37 matches, where she helped lead the Nittany Lions to their seventh national title, and she was honored as a 2014-15 Big Ten Distinguished scholar.

This season, Pierce has already taken a step forward from last year in the first five matches. She was recently nominated as a candidate for the 2015 Senior CLASS Award.

But Pierce recognizes that there is more to life than athletics, and she is actively displaying that by being involved within the community while excelling in volleyball.

"I think the community has helped me a lot in this position with this program," said Pierce. "I see how important it is, and I think it is a big thing of what Penn State is all about. I love the community and I love the people that are involved. I think there is so much more outside of athletics that if we can connect, it's really important to us."

Pierce will be the co-president for Athletes Take Action, a program where Penn State student-athletes visit local middle schools to talk to sixth graders about the dangers of bullying and how to prevent, report and take action against it. The student-athletes go to the students' homeroom classes, and they interact with the sixth graders by working on lesson plans and teaching them how to stand up for each other and to stop bullying.

"[This year], I will be writing out the lesson plans and getting all our student athletes involved in that," said Pierce. "I usually help with a lot of the special events, like how we as athletes can interact with the community and anything we can do with our team."

In addition, Pierce is involved in SAA, as known as the Student Athletic Advisory board. The board contains a number of student-athletes that work hard at exceeding on their competition fields, in the classroom as well as in the community.

"I was the treasurer for SAA last year, so I did a lot of outreach community events," said Pierce. "I will be graduating in December, so I'm no longer on the board officially, but I will be helping with them...I'll be doing a lot of prepping for this year, in terms of transition notes from the positions that I was in for others."

Pierce also volunteers with State College's Special Olympics.

This offseason, while Pierce was working on her defense, passes and serves, she also had a summer internship at The Village Atrium of Penn State with the assisted living.

"I fell in love [with my internship]," said Pierce. "I worked in the recreation department, and I fell in love with working with the residents and the elderly, and I could see my future in that...We did a lot of therapy to work with the residents on memories, on movement and their day-to-day living. We visited them a lot and we did little activities and crafts with them. It was a really nice working position where I got to connect with other human beings, which was really special."

Pierce will graduate in December. And in less than four years, she has accomplished so much, but none of it would have been possible if it wasn't for her time at Penn State.

"If I didn't choose [Penn State], I would always think 'What if?' in life, so this is my 'What if, go get it, see how it turns out,' and it's been the best. I wouldn't do it any other way," said Pierce. 


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