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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

Women's Volleyball Opens Strong in Penn State Invitational

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off of a trip to the final four last season and losing only two seniors, No. 2 women's volleyball team brought everything they had to Rec Hall as they opened the 2013 season during the Penn State Invitational in a three-match series.

9183855.jpegThe Nittany Lions started the weekend with an exhibition match against Dabrowa, a polish professional team, winning 3-0 on Friday night. With the stands packed for opening night, the fans were eager to cheer on the players and help them win their first set 28-26, after trailing early. The second set was won 25-21 and the third set finished 25-20.

Penn State returned to Rec Hall on Saturday morning to officially open the season with a non-conference match against Syracuse.

This contest marked the seventh matchup between the Nittany Lions and the Orange. Penn State continued their undefeated record between the two teams winning 3-0. Despite playing back-to-back matches, the players didn't let fatigue stop their energy.

"It was a match that had all the trappings that we might not come out ready to play, but I thought we played well," head coach Russ Rose said. "We controlled the ball in most situations. I thought Aiyana (Whitney) played well and I thought Katie (Slay) was exceptional yesterday and she played as I would expect her to play again this morning,"

Whitney stepped up and made six kills to help the Nittany Lions as she played for the first time coming off of a redshirt season in 2012. Joining Whitney in making their first appearances in a collegiate match, Rose gave freshmen Laura Broerman, Taylor Krause, and Carley Muller the opportunity to play.

"I'm sure it's really exciting for them. I'm sensitive to the fact that they come to every practice and they're behind really good players," Rose said. "Their hope is to become a really good player. We gave them a taste so they feel a little bit better about it. Both Taylor and Laura came in and made digs on balls that were hit to them. It's not charity - it's college athletics."

With the help from Slay and Maggie Harding, who both have three years of experience behind them, the freshmen are making the transition into playing college volleyball and learning how to handle the pressure of competing in front of a large crowd.

"Katie really goes out of her way to work in that area. Her and Maggie take a lot of pride in certain things. They're not asked to do those things, but they do it because they know it's the right thing to do," Rose said.

At the same time Slay and Harding are seeing their preseason practices and opening games for the last time as seniors, the freshmen are experiencing the grueling practices and the true Rec Hall atmosphere for the first time. Both Slay and Harding have been in the shoes of the freshmen and know what it takes to help ease the adjustment.

"It's important to make them feel welcomed and that they know they have a good security blanket in their teammates," Slay said. "Practice is tough during preseason, but we let them know that they have us to lean on and a good support system to help."

After defeating Syracuse, the Nittany Lions immediately shifted focus towards a matchup against No. 19 Louisville on Saturday evening. With sisters Deja and Maya McClendon facing off against each other, Penn State continued its strong showing in the final match of the Penn State Invitational, winning three-straight sets (25-15, 25-16, and 25-13).

"That was a good match against a very competitive opponent," Rose said. "It's a good win against a competitive team that's at the top of their conference and ranked in the top 20. They'll be able to beat people because of how hard they play," Rose said.

Looking back over the weekend, Rose was pleased with the competitiveness the Lions displayed against each team. They made adjustments to how they played the game based on how the opposing team was serving.

"We really had to compete against the Polish team," Rose said. "(Against Louisville) we had to play a different way to be successful. With the Polish team, we could compete with them at the net. With Louisville, this was a match where we needed to do really well in the back row. To out dig Louisville by 15 balls is a good performance for us."

Up next, the Lions will play in the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic where the Nittany Lions will take on No. 1 Texas followed by No. 9 Florida in Austin, Texas.

"Next week we go play Texas at Texas," Rose said. "They don't lose often at home, but we look forward to getting out there and doing the best we can." 

Nittany Lions Set to Open 2013 Season

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By Sam DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The offseason is over, and the Penn State women's volleyball team is ready to take on the 2013 season.

8474803.jpegThe No. 2-ranked Nittany Lions will kick off the 2013 season against Dabrowa, a Polish professional team, in an exhibition match on Friday.

After traveling to Italy in May, senior Deja McClendon and the Nittany Lions got a taste of international professional play this summer and said that it was a challenging experience.

"I thought it was a lot of fun playing new competition where we had to play smarter, but for me I think it's more about the season and playing as well as I can instead of worrying about whatever else is out there," McClendon said.

The regular season kicks off with two home matches on Saturday against Syracuse at 11 a.m. and No. 19 Louisville at 7 p.m.

"We'll be moving pieces around- even though it might be some of the same players, they will be playing different positions," head coach Russ Rose said regarding this season's lineup at Fall Sports Media Day earlier this week.

McClendon told the media that the Nittany Lions worked throughout preseason on the importance of staying focused for the duration of matches.

"We have been playing with each other a little bit longer and we're more familiar with each other, but we need to work on pushing each other a little harder and push each other to do well the whole game," said McClendon.

It will be a big weekend for the McClendon family, with sisters Deja and Maya playing against each other on Saturday. Maya is a freshman outside hitter for the Louisville Cardinals.

"It will be her first collegiate match and I'm kind of nervous for her, but I think my grandparents are going to have the toughest time not knowing who to cheer for or cry for," McClendon said.

As the Nittany Lions prep for the opener, Coach Rose said that he is going to be looking for good energy, focus and the best combination of players on the floor.

"The goal of this season is to a have a good team that progresses and is playing its best as you head into November and into the postseason," Rose said. "Our goal is to get better and not to have our best game just being the opening night."

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Season Preview Interviews

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 2-ranked Nittany Lion women's volleyball squad opens the 2013 season on Saturday with a pair of regular season matches inside Rec Hall.

Penn State meets Dabrowa (Poland) in an exhibition match on Friday (7 p.m.) before hosting Syracuse (11 a.m.) and No. 19 Louisville (7 p.m.) on Saturday.  With virtually the entire lineup back from the 2012 Big Ten champion squad, the Lions enter 2013 with high expectations.

Check out a series of preview interviews to get ready for the 2013 season.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Preseason Practice Update - Aug. 23

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 2-ranked Nittany Lion women's volleyball team will open its 2013 season with an exhibition match against a Polish squad on Aug. 30 before officially kicking off the regular season against Syracuse and Louisville on Aug. 31 inside Rec Hall.

Preseason practice is now two weeks old for the Lions, who practiced inside the newly air conditioned main gym of Rec Hall for the first time on Friday morning. caught up with senior Katie Slay and sophomore Megan Courtney for a look into how preseason is going.

Stay tuned next week for a complete set of video preview interviews to get ready for the 2013 season.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Meet the Women's Volleyball Freshmen - Laura Broerman

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team will intensify its preparations for the 2013 season when practice begins in early August.

Four newcomers joined the roster since the Lions last played a match. kicks off a series of interviews with the freshmen getting set to kick off their first season in Penn State blue and white.

Today, we focus on 5-4 defensive specialist Laura Broerman.  The Colorado Springs, Colo., native comes to Penn State after four years of scholastic play at St. Mary's High School.  A team captain, Broerman earned 10 varsity letters during her time at St. Mary's.  Broerman plans to study biology at Penn State.  Meet Laura Broerman.

VIDEO: Meet Kelly Robertson

VIDEO: Meet Carley Muller

VIDEO: Meet Taylor Krause

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Meet the Women's Volleyball Freshmen - Taylor Krause

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team will intensify its preparations for the 2013 season when practice begins in early August.

Four newcomers joined the roster since the Lions last played a match. kicks off a series of interviews with the freshmen getting set to kick off their first season in Penn State blue and white.

Today, we focus on 5-6 defensive specialist Taylor Krause.  The Allentown, Pa., native was a four-year letterwinner and team captain at Parkland High School in Allentown.  Krause, who plans to major in elementary education, helped guide Parkland to three conference titles, three district titles and one state championship during her scholastic career.  A Max Preps All-American, an Under Armour Second Team All-American and a Mizuno Third Team All-American, Krause also lettered in basketball and track in high school.  Her second cousin Kelly Robertson is also a member of the Penn State freshman class.  Meet Taylor Krause.

VIDEO: Meet Kelly Robertson

VIDEO: Meet Carley Muller

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Meet the Women's Volleyball Freshmen - Carley Muller

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team will intensify its preparations for the 2013 season when practice begins in early August.

Four newcomers joined the roster since the Lions last played a match. kicks off a series of interviews with the freshmen getting set to kick off their first season in Penn State blue and white.

Today, we focus on 5-7 defensive specialist Carley Muller.  The Manhattan Beach, Calif., native was a two-year letterwinner and team captain at Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach.  Muller, who plans to major in communications, helped guide Mira Costa to two Dave Mohs Tournament titles and two North High Tournament titles during her scholastic career.  As a senior, Muller was honored as Bay League Libero of the Year.  Meet Carley Muller.

VIDEO: Meet Kelly Robertson

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony