By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Anytime sophomore Megan Courtney takes the court in Rec Hall, fans notice her dominate play of blocks and kills, they can see the emotion in her face after a good play, and they notice a pink ribbon that the she wears in her hair for every single game.
For the past four years, Courtney has worn the ribbon each time she competes. However, it has a much deeper meaning than being just another ordinary pink ribbon. It has the words "Casey 14" written on it.
"Casey was a girl that I grew up admiring her and her sister," Courtney said. "Casey and her dad were in a plane to pick up her sister for spring break and when they took off one of the technicians told them that the plane isn't okay and to come back down. The plane exploded on impact and both Casey and her dad died."
To honor Casey and her family, Courtney wears the ribbon as a constant reminder of the influence that their family has had on her career and to keep in mind where she came from.
"I just wear the ribbon to symbolize what her and her family had done for me in terms of volleyball and knowing that where I came from is also a part of who I am. It helps me remember Casey and her family," Courtney said. "It just humbles me to say I didn't get to where I am without them."
Graduating high school, Courtney was ranked as the No. 4 high school player in the country and had to make a choice of where she wanted to make her college debut. Her decision to come to Penn State was a simple one when she saw the atmosphere and what it would be like to play as a Nittany Lion.
"The whole college process when you walk onto a campus is just supposed to click," Courtney said. "I thought to myself can you see yourself being at this school if volleyball isn't in the picture. That's what I based my decision off of because what if I got hurt. I weighed all my options and Penn State was just the perfect spot with volleyball and without volleyball. It was the absolute best school for me."
One component that made the decision easy for Courtney was the atmosphere in Rec Hall. This season the sophomore has stepped up in a big way against some of the top teams in the country, experiencing the Rec Hall emotion in response to her plays. She registered 11 kills against Michigan and each time the emotion in her face matched the intensity of the cheers from the fans.
"It's an incredible feeling knowing that everyone in here is cheering for you and for your team to succeed," Courtney said. "It's just something that we shouldn't take for granted and something that we should strive for every point, every game that we play. The crowd helps in so many ways because if we get a good point or we're not playing well they know how to cheer and how to get us going. Being able to hear that crowd and hear them roar as they do is absolutely phenomenal."
Building off the emotion of the crowd, Courtney has made a huge impact for the team throughout her career - especially as they began their Big Ten schedule. She finished the Michigan State match with 15 kills and 14 digs and came out the next night and played with even more intensity against Michigan making four blocks and a service ace.
As one of the youngest starters on the court for Penn State, Courtney handles the pressure of starting like some of the veterans on the team. She knows what head coach Russ Rose looks for when he picks the lineup and strives to be one of the hardest workers.
"It's always been who works the hardest, who gives a 110 percent effort, who's been the best teammate," Courtney said. "It can vary from week to week - it doesn't really matter who we're playing. It doesn't matter if it's home or away. It matters how much work you put in and if you're providing energy. If you're doing more positive than negative you're most likely going to get on the court."
With her freshman year behind her already, Courtney has proven to be a leader in all aspects of the sport. In addition to her physical talent of being a versatile player, the sophomore's knowledge of volleyball set her apart from other players immediately when she entered collegiate volleyball.
"I think Megan had a great impact even as a freshman," Rose said. "Her strengths are her volleyball IQ and the fact that she's capable of performing all of the skills. She's a good passer, defensive player, and our best blocker. There's times when she gets everything lined up well and she takes a good swing as an outside attacker."
Working her way into the starting lineup and wearing the pink ribbon as a symbol of where she came from, Courtney's hard work and determination has set her up for another successful year with the Nittany Lions.
Recently in Women's Volleyball Category
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For senior outside hitter Deja McClendon, the team and crowd's energy has a huge impact on the outcome of the match. After the fifth-ranked Nittany Lion women's volleyball team fell to then-No. 15 Michigan State last Friday, energy was vital for the match against then-10th-ranked Michigan.
McClendon hit over .400 against the Wolverines and passed 80 percent of all the serves received from Michigan this past Saturday.
"Our crowd brings a ton of energy and we're lucky to have that, but the team needs to show more [energy]. I think we accomplished that against Michigan," McClendon said.
Sophomore outside hitter Megan Courtney added that having the crowd cheer for them during the match against Michigan and in other home matches is something that the No. 5-ranked team should not take for granted. And it's something that the team should strive for during every point in a match.
"The crowd helps us in so many ways because they know how to cheer and they know how to get us going. Just being able to use that crowd and hear them roar like they do is absolutely phenomenal," Courtney said.
McClendon said she and the team tried to make it a mental note to stay focused and fight against Michigan. This meant having more of a "go-getter" attitude, shaking off nerves, and forgetting about all of the other things going on. McClendon said the team lacked this when playing Michigan State.
"We were ahead many, many times against Michigan State and we let it slip away," McClendon said. "People are always going to want to go out there and kick your butt and hold nothing back. Especially in the Big Ten, when you're playing tough teams, and they're all amazing, there is a chance you can lose and if you leave the door open, they can get you. I learned [this weekend] that we need to close the door and go out there just as mean as the other team is going to come out as."
Big Ten match weeks can be broken into two parts for Nittany Lion student-athletes. Off the court, McClendon focused on her schoolwork before beginning preparation for this week's matches against Indiana and Purdue.
"We are student athletes. I had to get all of my homework and projects done right away so I could focus on what I need to do to play this weekend," McClendon said.
On the floor, the senior is no stranger to the talent across the Big Ten Conference because she has played every team in the league multiple times during her career. She said the seniors are relaying the information about the players to their teammates, as well as watching film and talking about what the other team does.
The Nittany Lions (10-2) will face Indiana (8-5) on Thursday at 7 p.m. on the Hoosiers' home court.
In their last matchup, Penn State defeated Indiana in three sets. Indiana redshirt senior Jordan Haverly had 14 kills in that match against the Lions in 2012. Haverly had her 1,500th career kill last week against Wisconsin last weekend. The team is currently on a four-match losing streak.
Penn State will play No. 24 Purdue (9-4) on Saturday in West Lafayette, Ind., home of the Boilermakers, at 7 p.m. Last season, the Nittany Lions defeated Purdue in four sets on Purdue's home court.
Head coach Russ Rose and the Lion coaching staff have prepared a scouting report, like they do prior to every match, for this weekend's opponents, but Rose said that the matches come down to how the athletes perform on the floor.
"It's how the players play more than me knowing what's going on," Rose said. "It's them competing hard and playing well as a team on the road. Being on the road is tough. All of the teams are good. We're playing Indiana and they are undefeated at home. We were undefeated at home until Friday night, so we know how that goes."
Rose is hopeful that the setback to Michigan State, the Penn State's first loss at home since 2011, will help motivate the team this weekend and throughout the rest of the season.
"Nothing gets your attention [more] than losing, so I would think the players understand that if they have an opportunity to close out a game or a match, they'll have little better focus because they'll have the memory of not being able to do that," Rose said. "The conference is always very strong, I think playing on the road is always a challenge, and it tests the maturity of the players and how they handle stress."
Watch the Nittany Lions take on Indiana on Thursday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions opened their first weekend of Big Ten play falling short to No. 15 Michigan State on Friday night, but bounced back Saturday night with enough fight and emotion to defeat No. 10 Michigan in front of a packed Rec Hall.
On opening night of Big Ten play, the Nittany Lions played in front of 3,625 fans, but could not pull off the match against Michigan State as the Spartans won 3-2. Michigan State got off to an early lead winning the first two sets (25-23 and 26-24).
Although Penn State got off to a slow start, they weren't going to let Michigan State finish with a victory without fighting tough through the next set. The Nittany Lions rallied back winning both the third and fourth set 25-19. The match then came down to a fifth set to determine the final outcome where the Spartans won 15-9.
"I thought we had a lot of opportunities to win the first and second games," head coach Russ Rose said. "Michigan State fought a lot harder than we played smart. We then came out and controlled the third and fourth game and in the fifth game we made nine errors. If you make nine errors in the fifth game, you're going to struggle."
Although errors prevented the Nittany Lions from winning the tough battle in the last set, Penn State outplayed Michigan State in several statistical categories while several players set new career highs. Sophomore Megan Courtney had 15 kills and 14 digs while junior Micha Hancock made nine kills and 57 assists.
Ariel Scott, Katie Slay, and Deja McClendon continued to lead the team in number of kills. Scott reached a season-high mark of 18 kills while Slay made 11 kills and McClendon had seven kills along with 14 digs.
"I thought A. Scott hit the ball well and Katie had a nice game offensively," Rose said. "I think Micha's a very competitive kid. But I think it's more important you give credit to Michigan State. They didn't win the statistics war, but they won the match because they fought hard at critical times."
With the first match of Big Ten play behind the Nittany Lions and a quick turn around before they played against Michigan, Slay knew how critical it was to look ahead to the future and not dwell in past matches. Before playing Michigan she expressed how important it would be for the team to change their mindset for Saturday evening.
"In sports, you have to have a short term memory in a way," Slay said. You can't come out moping or anything like that. We have a good team coming in and we need to defend our house, defend the Penn State name, and all of the people who came before us and play hard to show people what we're made of."
The next night the Nittany Lions did just that - they came out ready to play and used the motivation of their loss against Michigan State to their advantage as they defeated Michigan 3-2. They came out eager to win and finished the first set 25-16.
The Wolverines fought back during the second set winning 24-20, but Penn State didn't let them take away the momentum. Penn State won the third set 25-19 and the fourth set 25-17 to secure their first Big Ten victory of the season.
"It was a much better situation than we were in yesterday," Rose said on Saturday night. "I thought we played with a lot more emotion and I thought we controlled the ball a lot better. We needed to (close out the match). Certainly yesterday's exercise showed us leading doesn't always lead to winning. I thought we were better at that tonight."
McClendon made huge plays for the Nittany Lions against Michigan where she finished the night with 13 digs and a hitting percentage of .433. The senior also made 15 kills helping build the momentum for the match.
"I thought Deja had an exceptional match, the best match she's played in a long time," Rose said. "I'm happy she was able to do that for herself. She came out and passed great - passed about 80 percent of the serves - and she had a great night offensively. I'm thrilled for her to have a match like that where she was the leading hitter and leading digger on the court."
In-between the matches this weekend, Rose talked to the team about competing tough and having passion for the competition in front of them, which helped keep the players focused on what they wanted to accomplish.
"I had a few conversation points that I thought were worthy to pass on about competition and everybody caring," Rose said. "Everybody cares, it's how much do you care? What are you going to do to give your team a chance to have success and what are you wiling to wager all the time? We played a lot better tonight and had a good team effort for us against a very good Michigan team. It was nice for us to bounce back from yesterday."
In a conference with as much depth as the Big Ten has, the rankings change from week to week. The American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll changes every Monday after the weekend competitions are over, but Rose knows that the team has a long season ahead of them and doesn't put too much focus on the rankings.
"It's early in the year where the rankings flip all the time. It's a really long season with two and a half months of Big Ten volleyball. There are 20 matches so we're about 10 percent in. You're just happy when you get a win," Rose said.
Taking what they learned from this weekend, the Nittany Lions will have a few days off from competition to prepare before traveling for more Big Ten play. The team will travel to Indiana to play on Thursday night and will then head to Purdue on Saturday with both matches starting at 7 p.m.
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Hit the ball three times. Bounce the ball another three times. Place fingers on the seam. Look at the ball out in front. Focus. And toss.
These six steps have proven to be key for a successful serve from junior setter Micha Hancock, who had her 200th career ace this past weekend.
"[Getting 200 aces] is cool, but that's not the main focus of my serving. I'm just trying to help the team and move forward with getting better at the actual art of serving," Hancock said.
Head coach Russ Rose said Hancock's serving is a big part of the team's offense and its offensive potential.
"We generate the most points in [the rotations where Hancock is serving], and her serving also has an impact on limiting the other team's offensive structure," Rose said.
Hancock said it's "nice to know" that her serving can take away some of the pressures from the game, be it playing in front of a crowd or having a good opponent on the other side.
"When I come in the huddle after [an ace] everyone is like, 'Cool, we got a free point. Now let's reset and focus on the next one.' It's nice to know that I have the ability to do that," Hancock said.
Hancock added that serving is mostly mental.
"As a team, we have to get more mentally prepared in pressure situations to be able to handle it and get the ball in play," she said.
Hancock and the Nittany Lions will begin conference play this weekend when they host Michigan State and Michigan inside Rec Hall. The defending Big Ten champions will be seeking their 16th conference title since joining the Big Ten in 1992 when they open on Friday.
"The biggest difference [between non-conference and conference play] is now there is an increased value in all of the matches and in every practice. You need to be ready to play and everybody is going to fight tooth and nail to get a victory. You have to be ready to fight," Rose said.
The Big Ten Conference currently has eight teams in ranked in the top 25 of the AVCA rankings. In addition to the Nittany Lions, the list includes No. 9 Minnesota, No. 10 Michigan, No. 12 Nebraska, No. 13 Ohio State, No. 15 Michigan State, No. 20 Purdue and No. 24 Illinois.
Rose noted this week that the landscape of college volleyball has evolved in recent seasons. The west coast conferences used to rule the collegiate volleyball world, but Rose said the Big Ten Conference has become more dominant in recent years with help from the universities themselves.
"What separates the Big Ten is that all of the teams have received great commitments from their universities, which has resulted in great coaches, challenging facilities and big crowds on the road. It's an elevated commitment starting with the universities on down," Rose said.
"The best thing about the Big Ten Conference is that if you don't come ready to play, someone's going to check you. No matter who it is. It comes down to who's ready to play that night," Hancock said.
The Nittany Lions kick things off on Friday against the 15th-ranked Spartans, who enter the match with an 11-1 overall record (7 p.m. in Rec Hall). Michigan State senior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski had her 2,000th kill last weekend against Eastern Michigan. She is the leader in kills in Division I volleyball, and Coach Rose said Wicinski also has a solid serve.
"Wicinski and Micha were two of the leading servers in the country last year, so we're not the only one who understands the value of a good server," Rose said.
On Saturday, Penn State will face No. 10 Michigan at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall.
Michigan (10-1) had four players with double figures in kills in their match against then-No. 24 Ohio last weekend. Senior Jennifer Cross had 18 kills and a .457 hitting percentage.
Hancock's serving will be important against Michigan because limiting Cross's attack attempts can be limited with strong play at the service line.
"Michigan made it to the Final Four. They went to five games with Texas in their semifinal match. They're playing great. They've got a great setter and All-American outside hitters," Rose said.
Hancock said the team has a few things to focus before the Nittany Lions make the transition from non-conference play to conference play this weekend.
"Personally, I have to do a better job of seeing the middle block on the other side so I can get one on one's for my hitters. As a team, getting in a groove serving is probably our biggest thing," she said.
Coach Rose said the team will have to come ready to play.
"Both teams are in the top 15 in the country. Both of them have a great roster coming back from last year. And both teams a very good home or away," said Rose.
"It will be nice to know where we stand, what we need to work on, and what we're good at. [This weekend] going be a challenge, but we need to be prepared. It's going to be nice to foresee what's ahead for us," Hancock said.
Watch the Nittany Lions take on Michigan State (BTN Student U Stream) and Michigan live on the Big Ten Network this weekend.
Story By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With non-conference play behind the women's volleyball team and a week to refine their skills, the No. 1 ranked team will open up Big Ten conference play at home against Michigan State on Friday at 7 p.m. and Michigan on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Coming off of the Penn State Classic, the team had a chance to learn from non-conference play before being matched up against a conference strong in depth. The players took the opportunity in more relaxed matches to stay focused on their habits.
"We're not just thinking about the weekend when we play non-conference matches," redshirt freshman Paulina Prieto Cerame said. "We're thinking about December and how we want to win a national championship. Since last spring, we've been thinking about our habits. Whatever habits we have everyday is what's going to affect us in the long run so creating good habits and staying focused is enough motivation."
With eight Big Ten teams ranked in the top 25, the value of each practice and match goes up requiring the players to be focused on the goals they set at the beginning of the season.
"There's increased value in all of the matches, in all of the practices," head coach Russ Rose said. "Once you get into the Big Ten, what separates the Big Ten teams is all of the teams have received great commitments from their university, which resulted in great coaches, challenging facilities, and big crowds on the road."
With the increased commitment to the sport of volleyball in the Big Ten, some of the players that Penn State will compete against throughout the rest of the season have taken a recruiting trip to State College and have seen Rec Hall from a different perspective.
"There's players on every team that we play that we have recruited," Rose said. "That's probably the big change. Everybody has players that if they have a good night - they could win. That's the challenge for every team. We pose the same threats to other teams. We have some strong players that if they have a good night that enhances our chance for winning."
Penn State will face some of the top players in the nation giving the team an advantage when it comes time to look at their ultimate goal of winning another national championship. The opportunity to compete against top 20 teams in two nights during a week sets the Big Ten conference a part from other conferences across the country.
"The greatest advantage that I've always felt about the Big Ten since we joined it is with the existing structure of the NCAA tournament, you play back to back nights against top 20 teams and it really prepares you for later on in the year," Rose said. "If you're hosting an invitational you can really relax, but if you travel it's a whole different atmosphere."
When it comes time to prepare for conference play, there's a shift in the mindset going into each match. With players who have been on national championship teams, Rose relies on these players to step up into leadership roles in crucial ways.
"Experienced players have working knowledge of competition in Big Ten and know how big all of the teams are both at home and on the road. We have to depend on the veteran players to not only do what they need to do but to be ready and assist the younger players to help make sure they're ready to come out of the gate strong."
Senior Deja McClendon has been on national championship teams and knows how to stay calm under high-pressure situations. Sharing her experiences, the outside hitter takes the approach of taking care of her own emotions and making sure they reflect positively for the younger players.
"A lot of helping (the underclassmen) is based on how you are and how you act," McClendon said. "If I stay smiling even though we're losing then the freshman think okay we're good, we don't need to worry as opposed to if we were to freak out. Whenever they have questions, we are the first people they ask because we've been through it before and we try to give them pointers that we've learned."
Taking guidance from McClendon is redshirt freshman Prieto Cerame. Since the upperclassmen have had up to three years competing against the same teams, they have a better idea of what to expect and how to approach the weekend.
"It helps a lot because the upperclassmen have already played against these teams and tell us how it's going to be," Prieto Cerame said. "They help in the sense that they don't see it any differently, they just know that no matter what we have to be at our best. It's just go time now."
This weekend as they open conference play against no. 15 Michigan State and no. 10 Michigan, the Nittany Lions will experience playing against highly athletic teams ready to compete.
"Both teams have a great roster coming back from last year," Rose said. "Michigan made it to the final four. They're playing great and they have a great setter and all-American outside hitters. They only replaced one player. Michigan State is an incredible physical team. Both are good home or away so we'll have to be ready to play."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's volleyball team finished non-conference play this past weekend at the Penn State Classic tournament defeating Albany, Eastern Kentucky, and Yale winning each match 3-0 in front of strong home crowds.
The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lions opened the tournament against Albany, only allowing the Great Danes a total of 16 points after all three sets. Seniors Ariel Scott, Katie Slay, and redshirt freshman Aiyana Whitney made a huge impact for the Nittany Lions offensively. Scott and Slay both led the team with eight kills while Whitney had a hitting percentage of .667 playing to a career high of seven kills, never giving Albany the chance to come back from a slow start.
"I think it was a match that Albany never had an opportunity to do what it was they wanted to do," head coach Russ Rose said. "They've had a tough stretch up until this point and there wasn't much we could do to assist them. Dom (Gonzalez) served 16 in a row and it was a relaxing environment in our case at home. We got everyone who had a uniform into action."
The match allowed freshman Kelly Robertson to make her debut in front of a lively Rec Hall. She opened her first college match with three kills and two block assists closing out a victory for the Nittany Lions.
"It was an honor and I was extremely excited to get in and play," Robertson said. "My teammates were good at helping me keep my head on straight. We got done what we needed to do and it was a lot of fun."
Saturday morning, the team came out with more dominant play against Eastern Kentucky winning the sets 25-10, 25-8, and 25-19. Junior Micha Hancock tallied 39 assists and passed the 200 career ace mark.
Joining Slay and Scott with the most kills for the match was Deja McClendon. All three players made it into the double digits. In order to be able to perform at this level during competition, Slay stressed how their preparation helps them take on their opponents, especially with Big Ten play coming up next on their schedule.
"It starts with the mindset," Slay said. "You have to come into practice everyday and work hard. During practice, we focus on the teams that we are going to play and then transfer that over to the weekend. The coaches do a good job watching a lot of film and then they come up with a really good game plan."
Later on Saturday, the Nittany Lions took on Yale in their final match of the Penn State Classic tournament, capturing the title after winning three straight sets. The players closed out the weekend continuing to dominate the court with Scott reaching a team-high of 13 kills. Gonzalez made a strong defensive showing after making 16 digs over the three sets and 44 digs after all three matches.
Yale proved to be the most competitive team for Penn State during the tournament, finishing the first set 25-16 and the second set 25-17. However, in the third set, the Nittany Lions held Yale to only six points. Gonzalez, Slay, and McClendon earned All-Tournament team after the match ended.
"I thought we played a really good third game," Rose said. "I thought we played pretty well at times in the first and second games, but we also had some stretches where we gave up four to five points in a row. Yale's not an overpowering physical team. They know how to play and they're not going to worry about the fact people jump over top of them."
With all of the non-conference matches behind them, the players know they have to focus on closing out the games and stopping the other teams from narrowing their lead.
"I thought we did a pretty good job our first two games to keep it short and put it away," McClendon said. "I feel like that's what we're supposed to do. One of the games we had 24 points and we didn't put it away, When we start playing more competitive teams, we need to just put it away."
Looking ahead to the rest of the season and what's to come, Rose notes how strong the depth of Big Ten volleyball has become and the difference in this tournament compared to playing teams in their conference.
"The next 10 weeks we are going to play two matches a week in a conference where we're playing against people our size so it's a whole different situation," Rose said. "It's nice to have played better in the last game tonight."
With eight Big Ten teams ranked in the top 25 and one team that fell out of the rankings last week, the Nittany Lions are in for a highly competitive season. Through teamwork and the experience of the upperclassmen, Rose knows it's up to the players to keep each other accountable.
"That's a pretty full schedule - that's 18 of our 20 matches," Rose said. "What concerns me is how we're going to handle that. We have some players that have a lot experience - some have won Big Ten championships and some have won national championships so we'll see if they do the things they have to do to become a better team. There's a fire that exists that makes the team better than the individuals that are playing. That's the component they have to work on themselves."
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's volleyball team held its first open practice on Wednesday to allow the student body to see first hand what goes into creating one of the top programs in the country.
The practice was open to all students to watch with the chance to meet and interact with the players afterwards through an autograph session. The students had the opportunity to meet head coach Russ Rose and assistant coach Steve Aird, who took the time to explain some of the drills that the team was doing during the practice. Announcer Steve Jones also made an appearance, thanking the students for their support and coming out to watch the players.
This season marks the first time the student section has been named. Playing off of the name Rec Hall where the Nittany Lions compete at home, the student section chose the name "The wRECking Crew" after a suggestion from a Twitter follower.
"I thought that was clever," Ariel Scott said. "A lot of other Big Ten schools have creative names for their student section, but this is the first time that we have chosen a name. I think it's awesome."
President of the official student section, Sam Webb helped organize the event and encourages more people to get involved with the organization to get to know the players on a more personalized level.
"We went to assistant coach Steve Aird and outlined our goals for what we wanted to do and he said the first thing he wanted to do was make this an official organization," Webb said. "I'm hoping we get even more people, but I'm also expecting that the people who come out are going to see how amazing the girls after they meet them face-to-face. Hopefully we'll get even more students who want to join for the same reason."
Take a look at what took place during the open practice in Rec Hall with The wRECking crew and the women's volleyball team.
By Samantha DelRosso,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After sweeping every set this past weekend, the No. 1-ranked Nittany Lion women's volleyball team returns home for three matches at the Penn State Classic beginning Friday.
The Lions (5-1) will have the opportunity to play on their home court for the first time this month against the Albany, Eastern Kentucky, and Yale.
Sophomore outside hitter Megan Courtney had 28 kills last weekend and said that she is looking forward to playing at home after being away for the past few weekends.
"Now we get to experience our own crowd. It's not a crowd that's cheering against us anymore; it's a crowd cheering with us. It's always a good feeling to come back and play at home," Courtney said.
The team will kick off the weekend against the Albany (0-9) at 7 p.m. on Friday in Rec Hall. Albany freshman middle blocker Amanda Dolan was awarded All-Tournament Team at the Carolina Classic this past weekend. The Nittany Lions head into this weekend's matches with an emphasis on strong defensive play at the net.
"Being able to block and score points with it is something that, as a team, makes you that much better than everyone else. We are a very good blocking team because we are disciplined in our blocking," Courtney said. "[Blocking] gives us a lot of opportunities to control the game."
On Saturday, the Nittany Lions will have a doubleheader against Eastern Kentucky (4-6) at 10 a.m. and Yale (4-2) at 8 p.m.
With a home football game slated for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in Beaver Stadium, the Lions are eager to see the fan support in Rec Hall.
"It's a really great experience to have football play then us play or vice versa because you just really see how much Penn State fans care about Penn State," Courtney said. "A lot of our games get pushed back because we want the people from the football games to come over to the volleyball games. It shows how much dedication and support that the Penn State community has for everyone in every sport."
Eastern Kentucky is currently on a six-match losing streak. Yale made the NCAA Tournament last season, and Courtney said that the match against the Bulldogs will be challenging.
Courtney added that the team will be working to get better as a group this weekend.
"I think collectively we played well this past weekend in Florida, but the weekend before that, I wouldn't say it was our best team effort in Texas. We need to play as a team and try to be more consistent," she said.
This is the second weekend in a row that the Penn State will play three matches in one weekend.
"Playing three games in a weekend is a lot on your body but we prepare for it enough that it's just like second nature to us," Courtney said.
Catch the Nittany Lions on Big Ten Network this Friday at 7 p.m. for their match against Albany.
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When outside hitter Paulina Prieto Cerame first came to Penn State to play volleyball, she expected to make an immediate impact for the Nittany Lions and gain competitive experience. However, that didn't turn out to be the case when the freshman learned she would be redshirting her first year.
"Last year was supposed to be my first year and I unexpectedly, a week before the season, (had a lower leg injury)," Prieto Cerame said. "That was supposed to take four to six weeks but took 10 months so that was really tough to get through. I had a lot of support from my teammates, staff members, and the school to help."
Although Prieto Cerame experienced disappointment having to sit out all of last year, she also saw it as a positive time where she could adjust to college volleyball at a different pace than other freshman. This extra time took away from the overwhelming feeling first year student-athletes often have to overcome.
"It was a learning experience for sure and it made me stronger and I think it gave me a lot of experience and down time to see what the season is like," Prieto Cerame said. "It gave me the chance to experience a lot of things that freshman experience very crazy and fast, but for me I had a lot of time to process it all."
Taking 10 months off in any sport is tough to get through and even more difficult to come out sharp and ready to play, but Prieto Cerame relied on her faith and teammates to get her through.
"My teammates have accepted me," Prieto Cerame said. "It's been so easy to come in and I feel like I have been doing this for a while. The energy in the gym and the welcome was amazing so it's been a really easy flow."
Now that the injury is behind her, the Puerto Rican native took away positives from the setback to help her move forward with the rest of her career at Penn State.
"It really was a blessing in disguise but at the same time it would have been nice to help out the team last year," Prieto Cerame said. "Last year is done and I'm just focusing on this year."
With five college matches behind her, Prieto Cerame already made a huge impact for the Nittany Lions and has proven her mindset of putting all of her obstacles behind her. In her latest volleyball match, she made 18 kills against Texas helping to keep the team in the match.
"In Texas, when she hit that first ball in the girls face I was like 'This girl's on fire. We just need to get her the ball,'" senior Deja McClendon said. "When we play, one girl is going to be in the zone and we have to feed them the ball. I saw that in Paulina during that match."
Knowing the adjustments the redshirt freshmen have to make and the level of confidence needed to represent a top 10 Penn State volleyball team, McClendon gave motivating advice before their competitions.
"My advice to everyone differs but for Paulina, I've told her that I want you to have fire all the time to just go out there and kill it."
Prieto Cerame came to Penn State as a member of the USA Youth National Team in 2011, placing ninth in the World Championships. Her previous experience at the national level allowed her to develop into an aggressive player the Nittany Lions need.
"I thought for a young player she took some big swings against Texas," head coach Russ Rose said. "She's a really good attacker, she's an aggressive attacker, a physical kid, and I think that's the part of the game she enjoys the most. She's competitive and I think she's a good teammate. I think she's going to have an exceptional career here."
Now that one of the toughest challenges of her career is over the redshirt freshman can focus on what's to come for the rest of her time as a Nittany Lion and taking in the atmosphere that Penn State fans show in Rec Hall.
"I've just been grateful, been thanking God and thanking my teammates, our fans and our school. We have a great support system that's helped me stay focused. I'm just looking forward to competing and seeing what's next," Prieto Cerame said.
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 3 Penn State women's volleyball team (2-1) defeated No. 5 Florida over the weekend, but fell to No. 2 Texas in five sets at the Nike Big Four Classic. Now, Penn State travels to Florida Gulf Coast for a trio of matches beginning on Friday.
Off to a 2-1 start, the Nittany Lions will look to build on their trip to Austin where they swept a strong Florida squad and went toe-to-toe with the host Longhorns before falling in five sets.
Senior outside hitter Deja McClendon and the Nittany Lions had opportunities in Texas but fell just short in the decisive fifth set. McClendon wants to improve this week as the Nittany Lions prepare for the Florida Gulf Coast Classic.
"I need to be able to put the ball away in a long match in a tough position, so I'm going to work on that. And the smartest kill isn't always the hardest hit ball, so right now I'm going to work on hitting trickier shots," McClendon said.
The Lions will face Marquette, Central Arkansas, and Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, Fla.
After a long weekend of travel and quick turnaround, head coach Russ Rose said that the team will not have a lot of time to address the challenges that were pointed out to them last weekend.
Penn State will play Marquette on Friday at 2 p.m.
The Marquette Golden Eagles are 2-2 and are coming off of a win against Texas Christian University this past weekend.
Marquette's Autumn Bailey and Lindsey Gosh had a combined 35 kills this weekend against TCU and could pose that same threat against Penn State this weekend.
The Nittany Lions will compete in a doubleheader on Saturday and will square off against Central Arkansas at 10 a.m. and Florida Gulf Coast at 7 p.m.
Central Arkansas is 6-1 and sophomore outside hitter Heather Schnars was named the Southland Conference's Offensive Player of the Week after leading the team with 45 kills this past week.
"Marquette was a top 25 team last year and Central Arkansas won their conference so I would expect those teams to be good at what they do," Coach Rose said. "I think the players are aware that as regular season get close to heading to the conference season, we're the top team on a lot of people's schedules and they're going to bring a little extra incentive and motivation to play their best and we have to do the same thing."
In its most recent match, Florida Gulf Coast fell to Florida State University in four sets, setting its record at 1-6.
Jessica Barnes leads the team in kills per game after reaching 16 kills against Florida A&M earlier this month, so the Nittany Lions may want to keep an eye on her this weekend.
"I think the [the team] needs to play tough teams and this weekend will be a really good challenge for them," Coach Rose said.