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Hancock, Nittany Lions Eager to Open Big Ten Play

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By Samantha DelRosso, 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.

9267385.jpegThese 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. 

VIDEO: Nittany Lions Set to Shift into Conference Matches

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Story By Chelsea Howard, 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. 

9267394.jpegComing 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." 

Penn State Classic Ends Non-Conference Matches

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
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.

8386434 (1).jpegThe 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."

Women's Volleyball Open Practice with The wRECking Crew

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By Chelsea Howard, 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.

Penn State Classic Ahead for Nittany Lion Women's Volleyball Team

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By Samantha DelRosso, 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.

8386438 (1).jpegThe 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. 

Redshirt Freshman Prieto Cerame Back on the Court

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
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.

9221051.jpeg"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.

Nittany Lions Look Ahead to Another Challenging Weekend

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By Samantha DelRosso, 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.

9217645.jpegOff 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.

Nittany Lions Prepping for Nike Big Four Classic

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By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After a successful weekend, the No. 1 Penn State Women's Volleyball team is ready for a challenging trip to the Nike Big Four Classic.

9192334.jpegThe Nittany Lions (2-0) will take on the No. 6 Texas Longhorns on Saturday at 2 p.m. and the No. 8 Florida Gators on Sunday at 11 a.m. in Austin, Texas.

The Longhorns are 2-1 this season, while the Gators are 2-0.

Head Coach Russ Rose said the reason he wanted to start this tournament and the reason the other three schools agreed to participate was because they all value the opportunity to play good teams.

He said the tournament is important for everyone because each team has a chance to play two great teams at early part in their season.

"It's a great opportunity for the kids to see where they stack up right now," Rose said.

Penn State is 11-7 against Texas all-time.  The Lions are looking forward to meeting the defending national champions on their home floor.

The Longhorns graduated one key player from the 2012 squad, Sha'Dare McNeal, but Rose said the team has replaced her in the lineup and fields a deeply squad.  

In preparation for this weekend, the Nittany Lions are not going to focus on stopping one specific player because the Longhorns have so many weapons and a great coaching staff.

"We have to do what we can do and hopefully they have to spend some time preparing for what we can do," Rose said.

Senior middle hitter Katie Slay said the team would be focusing on being a "tight team" this week in practice.

"[We will be working on] being a cohesive unit that way when we go on the road this weekend were really confident in what we can do," said Slay.

She said the team watched the film from this weekend and saw the areas where they need improvement, so they will be focusing on those things in practice this week.

While there are goals set for the whole team this weekend, Slay has a personal goal of her own.

"I want to make sure this weekend that I play my role and play it really well," she said.

The Nittany Lions used three days of practice this week as they worked to address the things that they need to get better at, and not worry about what Texas does. Rose said that both teams have their own set of challenges set up for them.

"Texas does some things that nobody else in the country can do. They've got some fabulous athletes that hit the ball high and hard and if they have the ability to do that for the whole match, then that's why the won the national championship," said Rose.

Coach Rose said one of the goals for this weekend is to see how the team handles playing on the road and how they handle things they cannot control. Rose mentioned playing against the big crowd against Texas on Saturday is part of the learning process for the team.

"Every year is a new team and every year is another opportunity for players to improve in areas where they need to get better," Rose said.

Slay said it's important that before the team goes in to Big Ten play, that they really test themselves, and this weekend definitely qualifies as that.

In the past three matchups against No. 9 Florida, the Nittany Lions are 1-2.

Penn State will keep an eye on Florida's freshman unsung hero, right-side hitter Alex Holston. Holston set a new team record earlier in the season with hitting .436 (20-3-39) in one match.

"I think part of being a team is when you know what you can expect from each person and then everyone can just mesh on the court. I think I just want to take care of what I need to take care of and make sure I'm a great teammate on the floor," said Slay. 

Rec Hall Provides Memorable Matchup for McClendon Sisters

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With dozens of relatives in the stands wearing special t-shirts that read "Team McClendon" in red and blue lettering, the names and numbers of the two sisters on the back, and the two team logos on the sleeves, the final match of the Penn State Invitational against Louisville wasn't any ordinary matchup for Deja McClendon as she competed against her sister Maya for the first and possibly final time.

9192253.jpegWhen Maya first heard the news from Louisville head coach Anne Kordes that she would play against Penn State, her initial reaction was excitement. However, she didn't realize the match would be only her second appearance as a collegiate player.

"I got an email the first time I found out I was going to be playing (Deja) and I thought this was perfect," Maya said. "But I didn't know it would be so soon. I thought to myself 'preseason is going to be fun". I mentioned it to my sister one time and we didn't talk about it for the rest of the year. We always put it off."

Although the sisters hardly talked about the match itself, Deja knew how hard handling the pressure that comes with starting at the college level. She shared what she had learned from her experiences over the past three years about handling the challenges that come with preseason and how to adjust to life as a student-athlete.

"The night before we played each other, we went out to dinner, but we didn't talk about volleyball at all," Deja said. "I did talk to her before preseason started because I knew she was really nervous. I knew that was the toughest part of starting as a freshman and getting into the volleyball world. Preseason is the first step and that was tough for her."

The three-time All-American, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2010 NCAA Championship, and the senior who shattered the 1,000 career kills mark last season, has taught her younger sister through her hard work ethic and determination how to be a successful starting freshman for the Cardinals.

"During my whole recruiting process and through the first few weeks of college, Deja's been nothing but a mentor for me," Maya said. "She told me all the things to look out for, how to be a leader, how to step up in what areas. How to really be a good teammate and how to be an actual player - the player I can be. She doesn't even have to tell me. Just by viewing her, I can tell how hard she works and I really aspire to be the kind of player she is."

Although inexperience on a college court could be noticeable on any starting freshman, Maya made sure that the fans in Rec Hall wouldn't be able to tell through her performance. She took the advice Deja gave her and came into the match with the confidence needed to finish the night with eight kills. 

"I told her to just go and compete," Deja said. "As a freshman, you can't make any mistakes really that they haven't seen. You can only be a plus. If you do something well, that's a bonus. I think that gave her a little confidence and helped her not worry as much about things. She just went out there and played."

Not only was the match a unique opportunity for the sisters, but the timing added even more to the event. The weekend marked Deja's last opening weekend as a senior in Rec Hall while Maya made her first collegiate debut, allowing several family members who have never seen the girls play watch a highly competitive match between two teams in the top 20.

"It was definitely weird to see her across the net, but it wasn't just like oh, that's my sister," Deja said. "It was more of the fact that she's playing college ball. She's my kid sister, so it was a really weird adjustment to see her so grown up. I was really proud because I thought she played extremely well. She didn't play like a freshman. But, at the same time I was still in competition mode and was thinking let's win."

After the competition was over, the sisters kissed at the net and took advantage of having a small family reunion by going out to dinner afterwards. When it was all said and done, both of the athletes were happy to have had the chance to play against each other.

"It was exactly what I wanted," Maya said. "[Penn State] is like a second home for me and I love the atmosphere of the whole town. It was an honor for me because not only is Deja a great player, she's a role model to so many other people in the nation. She's so motivating to go up against, but not many people can say, 'Yeah, I blocked my sister. I blocked this All-American. I'm a freshman.' It's pretty awesome."

From the sidelines, head coach Russ Rose thought both girls showed a lot of composure during the match and that the event turned out great for the girls to have so many relatives there. However, when it came time to tell which McClendon sister played better, he was at a loss for an answer.

"For this match only, who was the better McClendon? There's no better McClendon - they're both great. If you ask her mom or grandma or grandpa, they would say what I would say. You put those two kids together and see their smile, you forget what the question even was," Rose said jokingly. 

VIDEO: Nike Big Four Preview with Asst. Coach Steve Aird

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 1-ranked Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (2-0) travels to Texas this weekend for a pair of matches at the Nike Big Four Classic.

The Nittany Lions are slated to meet sixth-ranked and defending national champion Texas on its home floor Saturday at 2 p.m. (ET).  Penn State then meets No. 8 Florida at 11 a.m. (ET) on Sunday. previewed the weekend with assistant coach Steve Aird.  Take a look.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony