UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The halfway point of the Big Ten season has arrived for the Penn State women's volleyball team. There are 10 matches remaining; five at home and five on the road. The long, collegiate volleyball season proves which teams have the necessary stamina and which do not.
The Nittany Lions head into the second half of the conference season with confidence and looking to finish on a successful note.
The long season has given setter Bryanna Weiskircher the opportunity to practice with all of the hitters and feel more comfortable and confident setting the ball to any of them, trusting that they will put the ball down for a kill.
"Our hitters are so good that it doesn't really matter who I set, when I set, because I know that they're going to put the ball down," Weiskircher said. "Even if they don't, we have a great defense behind us to keep going at it. Our offense and our side-out game is definitely one of our strongest weapons."
Four Nittany Lions are averaging over 2.5 kills per set. The team is hitting at a .286 hitting percentage (seventh in the nation). Sophomore Simone Lee, who in the last five matches has averaged 3.11 kills per set, said this speaks volumes about the players on this squad.
"We have incredible talent on our team. We have great depth when it comes to hitting, great personality and overall we have a really good sense of knowing who we can put where," Lee said.
Throughout the season, the offense has become better balanced, with multiple players tallying kills consistently. In Saturday's match against Michigan State, five Nittany Lions tallied at least five kills. Many players are coming off the bench or changing their usual positions, and are still successful and are notching kills.
Players like Heidi Thelen and Nia Reed have been moved all over the court in recent matches. Needing players to hit from middle, right side and outside in one season can be difficult, but it hasn't stopped the Nittany Lion offense. Weiskircher said being able to put hitters in different positions is what makes this team unique.
"It definitely gives us some different options and shows how versatile our team is," Weiskircher said. "Whenever we're going to play a team and they have our 'scouting report', it's not really a scouting report because they're never really sure what's going to happen."
Weiskircher said having versatile hitters, who are able to change positions, has allowed the team to remain a top contender in the NCAA.
"The fact that we can put Heidi [Thelan], Nia [Reed], Aiyana [Whitney] or Simone [Lee] on the right side, the middle or the outside really shows a lot about them and how hard they work every single day to pull something off like that and be able to complete at the highest level," Weiskircher said.
Standout hitter Megan Courtney has missed the past four matches due to an injury. This has called for many players from the bench to step up and show what they are capable of. Weiskircher said with the talent on this team, from the starting six to the bench, adjusting to new hitters has been easy.
"Our team is always so good at coming in off the bench and we always have a great 'seventh man' coming off [the bench]. It makes it pretty simple because they're working just as hard every single day in practice to get their shot on the floor," Weiskircher said. "And when they do, they work their butts off for us and for the team and it's really nice to see."
Lee said with Courtney out, many players have been moved around on the court and the team has had to come together, stay focused and make sure everyone is on their "A-game".
"Nia and Heidi have done a great job coming in, either Heidi playing middle and Nia playing right side," Lee said. "All of us have a collective fight, collective effort and make sure that no matter who is playing, we all have the same goal in mind; to beat the teams that we're going to play."
With 10 matches left, the postseason is in sight. Head coach Russ Rose said the weight of each match increases as the season continues.
"Each week the value of the matches have more implications because it impacts people's rankings, both nationally as well as in the conference, and impacts potential participation in the NCAA and matches [in the NCAA tournament]," Rose said.
The third-ranked Nittany Lions hope to continue their offensive success on Wednesday in Columbus against No. 11 Ohio State. Catch the game on ESPNU at 5 p.m. The Lions return home on Friday against the Buckeyes at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall.