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VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Preview - One-on-One with Micha Hancock

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with senior setter Micha Hancock leading up to Penn State's trip the NCAA semifinals. An Oklahoma native, Hancock is headed home to compete in a Penn State uniform for the final time.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

NCAA Volleyball Tournament Content Central: Lions Head to Regionals

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w_volleyball_blog.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The fifth-seeded and Big Ten champion Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (32-3) travels to Louisville, for a showdown with 12th-seeded UCLA (22-11) in the NCAA regional semifinals on Friday at 7 p.m. (Live coverage on ESPN3).

10618375.jpegThe winner of the Penn State-UCLA match will move on to face either No. 4 Wisconsin (30-2) or Ohio State (23-11) on Saturday in the regional final at 4 p.m. live on ESPNU.  The Nittany Lions have played against all three teams on the draw in the Louisville Regional this fall. Penn State owns a 4-0 record against UCLA, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Lions swept UCLA on Sept. 6 in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge.

"We've played UCLA and Ohio State and Wisconsin, as well," said head coach Russ Rose. "It's not one of those situations where you are looking to gather information on teams that you haven't seen play at all. We are familiar with all of the teams and recognize that all of the teams are very good. We hope that they feel the same way about us."

Penn State enters the weekend after sweeping Siena and Dayton inside Rec Hall in the opening two rounds of the tournament.  The Lions have won 16-straight matches heading into the weekend. That streak includes 15-consecutive 3-0 decisions. Penn State has not lost a set since Oct. 17 at Purdue.

Since the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament began its current 64-team setup, the Nittany Lions have advanced to the third round of the tournament all 16 years.  Penn State has played in the Regional Final match in 13 of the 15 seasons.

The NCAA field has been trimmed to 16 teams.  Penn State's quest for a return to the national semifinals goes through the KFC Yum! Center this weekend.  First up is a clash with UCLA on Friday.

"There's 16 teams left and that's just the way the weekend goes and at the end of the weekend, there will be four teams left, and your goal is to always try to be one of those four teams that's still standing," Rose said.

VIDEO: NCAA Regionals Preview Video

Regional Semifinals Statistical Rundown

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Feature Story Corner

Familiarity Surrounds Lions in Louisville Regional
By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will be seeing an all too familiar scene in Louisville this weekend as the three teams remaining in the regional alongside the Nittany Lions are teams that they have previously played before earlier this season. Those teams include 12th-seeded UCLA, fourth-seeded Wisconsin, and Ohio State.

10618379.jpeg"We didn't know until late on Saturday night who we were playing [in the regional semifinals], so we're fortunate that we've played UCLA and we've played both Ohio State and Wisconsin, as well," said head coach Russ Rose. "It's not one of those situations where you're looking and gathering information on teams that you haven't seen play at all, you know. We're familiar with all of the teams and recognize that all the teams are very good and I hope they feel the same way about us."

After straight set victories over Siena and Dayton this past weekend at Rec Hall, fifth-seeded Penn State will meet 12th-seeded UCLA in the NCAA regional semifinals on Friday at 7 p.m.

This will be the second time that these two teams meet this season, as the Nittany Lions faced off the Bruins earlier this year in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge on Sept. 6 in California. Penn State came out with a three-set win that day.

"[UCLA has] a lot of talented players," said coach Rose. "We saw them beat a very strong Illinois team and then they had a good season in the Pac-12 that sent 10 teams into the tournament. I think it's an indication that UCLA is very good. We'll have to play well and our players are aware of that. There's no real surprises to them."

By playing UCLA again, the women's volleyball team is using that to their advantage.

"It helps [to play a team we've played before] because we know what we're good at," said freshman Haleigh Washington.

Though the knowledge on UCLA is useful, Penn State will continue to focus on adjusting their strategies and techniques against their opponents.

"[UCLA] developed just like we've developed," said Washington. "Their hitters have gotten better, smarter shots. Their serving has probably gotten more aggressive. Defensively, I'm sure their block has gotten stronger, so you can't ever just say, 'Well, we beat them once and so we can easily beat them again.'  We got to keep that in mind that they've improved and be ready to watch film and see what other coaches and teams have done against them and just adapt."

Coach Rose echoed Washington in that every team makes adjustments throughout the season.

"UCLA is the one that has to learn two new teams, Ohio State and Wisconsin, where we get to at least have some sort of familiarity," said coach Rose. "We won't have to spend as much time [learning], but all teams have changed throughout the season."

Alongside Penn State and UCLA in Louisville are two Big Ten rivals - Wisconsin and Ohio State.

The Nittany Lions defeated Wisconsin in the Big Ten Opener on Sept. 24 to start off conference play with a 3-0 win in Madison.

The women's volleyball team also defeated Ohio State in three-straight sets on Oct. 28 and Oct. 31.

Even with a familiarity factor for all three teams, the leadership and preparation from the upperclassmen remains that same.

"[The preparation from the seniors is] about the same as every weekend," said Washington. "We have a really, I don't want to say consistent schedule or regiment, but we prepare for each game the same way, whether we're playing a team like Rutgers or a team like Siena or a team like UCLA or Wisconsin, or whoever; we prepare the same way. We go hard in practice, we make sure we're doing what we need to do defensively and offensively, and seniors are telling us the same thing - work hard, do what you know how to do, and give it your all."

It will be a reunion of sorts for the Nittany Lions this weekend, but that will not be affecting their play at all.

"It's a regional," said Rose. "There's 16 teams left and that's just the way the weekend goes and at the end of the weekend, there will be four teams left, and your goal is to always try to be one of those four teams that's still standing."


Excitement and Energy Fueling NCAA Regionals
By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- For some Penn State women's volleyball players, they are heading to their first NCAA Regional. But for others, they are heading to their last. The expectations differ between these two groups, but their mindset is the same - be excited, bring energy, work together and win.

10618377.jpegSenior Nia Grant is looking forward to her final appearance in the NCAA regional round. As a senior, she said she feels excited, but also feels the urgency to win it all. In preparation for the weekend, Grant received advice from former teammates who, not too long ago, were preparing for the NCAA regionals themselves.

"I talked to a couple seniors from last year and they were saying how there is no better way to go out than to win the whole thing. I can definitely agree with that," Grant said. "That would be an awesome way to leave Penn State."

Grant also noted that the entire team, from freshmen to seniors, is excited and ready for the next round of the tournament. Although it's the freshmen's first time in the NCAA Tournament, Grant said they are prepared for this level of play.

"We know we have a lot of good players. And our freshmen this year are very strong minded and I'm really excited to see what they do this weekend," Grant said. "I think we're ready as a team."

Grant and her three fellow seniors have helped guide the freshmen to prepare them for the tournament. Freshman Alli Frantti said she feels confident at this point in the season, but it's the seniors that have really helped her and the other freshmen feel ready to play in the NCAA regionals.

Competing at a neutral site means there is not much crowd involvement. Grant said in order to keep the energy up without having the crowd behind them, the seniors have to do their part in bringing the energy.

"The seniors need to have energy. Haleigh [Washington] always has energy, Alli [Frantti] has energy. It just has to come from us and us wanting to keep the energy up to win," Grant said. "We can't look to anybody else [for energy]. It has to come from us."

Energy is something that the freshmen have been able to consistently provide this season. Haleigh Washington's energy and spirit on the court cannot be ignored. The freshman middle hitter said she plans to continue playing with her high level of energy to help the team in the best way she can.

"[If we are lacking energy], I have to be goofier, I have to have bigger dance moves, I have to find a way. Because there's always a way for energy to leak," Washington said. "That's the thing about energy. It's incredibly contagious."

Washington said she is excited about her first trip to NCAA Regionals because she is looking forward to seeing how the team plays together.

"I'm excited to see what the team is going to do as a whole. Not just individual performances. I'm just really excited to see how we click and mesh and mold and really come together as one unit," Washington said.

Although it's her first time competing in the NCAA Tournament, she said it feels like any other tournament to her because the preparation is the same.

"I have been playing in big tournaments forever. The game's the same, it's the same outlook, it's the same mentality. You have to be confident, you have to go into it knowing what you know," Washington said. "The number of people watching is different and the stakes are higher, so the pressure is a little different, but it's still just volleyball. It's just playing the game you love."

Head coach Russ Rose is no stranger to the regional round of the NCAA Tournament. He said being in the NCAA draw is a culmination of this season's efforts.

"You play all year long to get yourself into the tournament and then you have to navigate different challenges when you get in the tournament. I'm excited about seeing how they play," Rose said. "I respect the challenge and appreciate the opportunity to go there and do the best we can."

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Nittany Lions Fly Past Dayton into Regional Semifinals

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10609727.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State has a number of talented freshmen who have transitioned well to tournament play, but when it comes to the postseason, experience matters.

Such was the case Saturday night at Rec Hall, as junior outside hitter Megan Courtney tallied 11 kills and a .440 hitting percentage to lead fifth-seeded Penn State (32-3) to a second round sweep (25-20, 25-18, 25-16) of Dayton (30-6) to advance to the NCAA regional semifinals.

Courtney, who also had six digs against the Flyers, is from Dayton, making Saturday evening's performance that much more memorable.

"I think you just need to remember what you're playing for," said Courtney. "So I took this game to heart because obviously I'm from Dayton."

Micha Hancock and Aiyana Whitney are two other veteran Nittany Lions who impacted the victory. Hancock had four kills on a .571 hitting percentage, to go along with 36 assists, eight digs and three service aces, while Whitney was a force at the net, registering eight kills on a .538 hitting percentage.

"I thought we hit well," said head coach Russ Rose. "Whenever you get in the tournament you feel fortunate when you advance.... I thought Megan hit well tonight. I thought Aiyana took some pretty good swings."

In the first set, Penn State led 24-16 and was on the brink of taking a 1-0 match advantage until Dayton clawed back to make the score 24-20. However, Whitney sealed the 25-20 win on a powerful kill set up well by Hancock.

The Flyers carried momentum into the second set, taking Penn State to 9-9, but the Nittany Lions took care of business, finishing the game on a 16-9 run to take a 2-0 lead in the match. Courtney and Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Haleigh Washington, each had five kills in the second frame to pace the Blue and White.

"We hit really well, but there were a lot of things that contributed to that," said Courtney. "I think we passed really well. I think Micha set some great balls. We controlled Dayton pretty well offensively, and I think it was easy for us to transition off of them, so that was good, too."

The Nittany Lions were just too much for Dayton in the final frame, never relinquishing the lead en route to a straight set triumph. Senior middle hitter Nia Grant punished three kills on a 1.000 hitting percentage in the last set to help the defending national champions advance to the regional semifinals.

For Rose, whose Penn State program once played in the Atlantic-10 Conference, Dayton's competitiveness and performance could not go unnoticed.

"Well I'd first like to congratulate Dayton on a terrific season, and I come from that statement having been in the Atlantic-10 Conference for a number of years and knowing how it is to represent a conference and go play other teams," said Rose.

Up next for the Nittany Lions is 12th-ranked UCLA, who defeated LIU Brooklyn in straight sets in the first round and Long Beach State in straight sets in the second round to advance. The two historic programs will meet in Louisville, Kentucky, at the KFC Yum! Center on Friday at 7 p.m.

"We'll have a little window of practice," said Rose. "Usually they give you an envelope that tells you when and where you're going. We'll be going to the Louisville regional, and last I heard, there will be a couple of other Big Ten teams there. So Ohio State and Wisconsin is in the other half of the bracket."

In regards to UCLA, a team that the Nittany Lions have played a number of times over the year, Rose acknowledges the talent that the Bruins put out on the floor every match. Penn State defeated UCLA, 3-0, in September.

If Penn State manages to move past UCLA, the Nittany Lions would face the winner of Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Blue and White is 2-0 against Ohio State and 1-0 versus Wisconsin this season.

Nittany Lions Sweep Siena, Advance in NCAA Tournament

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By Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Big Ten Freshman of the Year Haleigh Washington hit .900 and recorded a match-high six blocks and All-Big Ten team selection Micha Hancock tallied seven serving aces and 38 assists to lead fifth-seeded Penn State (31-3) to a straight-set victory (25-17, 25-10, 25-5) over Siena (19-15) in the first round of the 2014 NCAA tournament Friday night at Rec Hall. 

Penn State carried its hot play into the tournament. Dating all the way back to Oct. 17, the Blue and White has won 15 straight matches and 44 consecutive sets. 

"We really had a nice day controlling the ball," said head coach Russ Rose. "I don't think it was a match where we had to play our best, but we kept the ball in play and picked up our offense certainly in the second and third game."

With seven serving aces, Hancock now holds the Big Ten single-season record with 116 aces on the year. Minnesota's Sharon Oesterling set the previous record with 109 back in 1989.

"It's cool," said Hancock. "I want to go back on the end line and try to serve as hard as I can for the team and see what kind of cushion we can get so people are more relaxed. It's cool to get the ace thing, but it's also cool to win."

The freshman trio of Washington, Ali Frantti and Simone Lee did not let the postseason scene affect their play. In fact, they combined for 20 of Penn State's 40 total kills.

With the victory over the Saints, the Nittany Lions return to Rec Hall tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. to compete against Dayton (30-5) in the second round of the tournament.

2014 NCAA Volleyball Tournament Preview Content Central

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w_volleyball_blog.jpgMatch Notes & Preview | Live Match Video | Tournament Bracket

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the 25th consecutive season, Penn State will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament. The defending NCAA champion Nittany Lions (30-3) open the tournament against MAAC champ Siena (19-14) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall.

10600052.jpegThe winner of the Penn State-Siena match will move on to face either American (26-6) or Dayton (29-5) on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. American and Dayton will meet in Rec Hall on Friday at 5 p.m.

For the Nittany Lions, they enter the tournament red-hot on a 14-match winning streak. Penn State has not lost a set since Oct. 17 at Purdue. The Lions have won 13-straight matches in 3-0 fashion.

Led by a quartet of seniors and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Haleigh Washington, the Nittany Lions head into the postseason with confidence.

"We always talk about it, it's go time," said senior Dominique Gonzalez. "We have six matches potentially left in the season. Everyone is excited for it. It's a dogfight in every match no matter who you are playing, and I think we are excited for that. It's tournament time for us, and that means the most. We are really looking forward to getting out there and playing in front of our home crowd."

Individually, senior Micha Hancock, senior Nia Grant and Washington were named first-team All-Big Ten earlier this week. Redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney and freshman Ali Frantti were named All-Big Ten honorable mention.

The Nittany Lions are one of six Big Ten teams in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin is the No. 4 seed, Illinois is the No. 9 seed and Nebraska is the No. 14 seed. Michigan State and Ohio State round out the Big Ten teams in the field. Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State are all in the Louisville Regional quarter of the bracket.

"We've had some great matches these past few weeks, but I think our main focus is to stay focused," Gonzalez said. "It will be competitive, and great teams are always capable of forcing you to do some things wrong and expose you. But you just need to stay composed and remain focused."

Now, it is win or go home for all 64 teams on the bracket. The 2014 NCAA Tournament begins on Friday inside Rec Hall.

VIDEO: NCAA Tournament Russ Rose Preview

VIDEO: NCAA Tournament Player Preview Interviews

First Round Statistical Rundown

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Feature Story Corner

Lions Looking Ahead to First Round of 2014 NCAA Tournament
By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since it was founded in 1976, the Penn State women's volleyball program has been a benchmark for success. In addition to 16 Big Ten Championships, the Nittany Lions have climbed the mountain of the sport six times with NCAA national championships in 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013.

10439026.jpegPenn State is one of the only two programs in the country to have been selected to participate in all 34 NCAA postseason tournaments since it began in 1981. During that span, the Nittany Lions have an 83-26 record in the tournament and they will be making their 34th consecutive appearance in the contest this weekend as they take on the MAAC conference champion Siena (19-14) Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall.

"It's a really exciting time of the year for the players and the fans and the people that are caring about college volleyball," said head coach Russ Rose. "Anytime you get yourself into the NCAA tournament, you feel good about your body of work throughout the year and you hope to do something with it. I look at it as three weekends where you can make your point if you're going to be relevant and we look forward to starting the action this weekend."

The Lions finished off the season with a three-set win against then-No.10 Nebraska (25-21, 25-15, 25-16) on senior night last Saturday evening at Rec Hall. Penn State is heading into the postseason on a 14-match win streak and have won their last 41 sets.

"It's great to end the conference on a win and a big win at home," said senior Dominique Gonzalez. "[Nebraska] is a great team that plays really well and very hard, so to have such a good win against that team is a good confidence booster that lets us know that we're playing well at that point in time, but we have to continue to play well. Going into the tournament, it's a dogfight. It's six matches that you have to win to get where you want to get and win what you want to win, but we have to take it one match at a time, so our main focus is Siena for Friday's match"

Coach Rose agrees that it is important to focus on one match at a time.

"We have a 9-3 record against teams that are in the tournament, so I'm sure people have better records and I'm sure there are some people that don't have as good of records," said coach Rose. "It's also possible that there'll be upsets and you don't collect anything. We experienced all those things throughout the years and I'm looking at all three of the opponents for this weekend. I'm not looking at any of them opponents for next weekend."

The Nittany Lions are concentrating on consistency in a few key areas as the tournament looms.

"Right now, we focus on a lot of things we can control, like our ball control, the offense that we're running, things like that...Serving, passing, and defense on our aspect of things, just controlling what we can control," said Gonzalez.

Aside from the physical aspects of the game, it's important to have confidence and energy entering the matches.

"I think it's the freshmen's job to go out there, to play hard, to have fun, and embrace the atmosphere and it's kind of the older girls' job to maintain the steady mindset on the court and keep the focus," said Gonazlez. "We need players like that; we need freshmen that are fiery.

Though the team is continually looking to be the best that they can be, the players are eager for the NCAA tournament.

"I am super pumped," said senior Lacey Fuller. "[Monday's] practice went really well and you can tell that everyone is excited for the tournament. Everyone is really focused with every drill and I think we got a little more serious...Playing in Rec Hall in general is really exciting. I was sad during senior night because we've just been here for four years and to think that we'll never play in here again. Every opportunity is so big and it's really nice to have one or two more opportunities to play here this weekend."

Gonzalez echoed her teammate.

"It's unreal [to play at Rec Hall for the last time]," said Gonzalez. "I can still remember when I was 14 coming into camp and stuff like that, so it doesn't feel like it's that far off and I still can't believe that it will be our final weekend at Rec Hall."

The name of the game during tournament time is finding a way to advance, and the Lions are excited about the opportunity in front of them.

"Every year is different. Obviously you get different routes, different team you get to play, but the ultimate goal is the same...I think the goal is still to get as far as we can, win a national championship, but we realize that it's going to be tough. It's a hard road. Every team wants the same thing and they're going to go hard, just like we are. It's going to be a dogfight, but we're excited for it," said Gonzalez.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Happy Thanksgiving from Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 'Tis the season for giving thanks, and the Penn State Athletics would like to take an opportunity to say thank you to the loyal fans on Thanksgiving.

As you sit down with family and friends to eat your traditional meal while the Lions and Cowboys host their annual Thanksgiving day home games, Penn State Athletics would like to thank you, the fans, for the unrivaled support you give every team on campus.  Penn State's teams would not be the same without the greatest fans in college sports.

As a token of their appreciation, several student-athletes from teams on campus would like to say thank you and Happy Thanksgiving for the support you give them throughout the athletic season.

VIDEO: One-on-One with Micha Hancock - Nov. 21

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - catches up with senior setter Micha Hancock. The Nittany Lions will take an 11-match winning streak into Saturday's contest at Maryland.

Keys to a Strong Offense

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10549605.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.-- There's much to be said about a team ranked first in the Big Ten in hitting percentage. How does a young squad like Penn State attack at a .355 percentage? There are many key components that drive the Nittany Lions' offensive success.

Before the first ball is served in a match, the Nittany Lions will study their opponents to see what their blocking schemes are like. That way, the team can run an effective offense for that particular opponent. Depending on who they're playing, the Nittany Lions will make adjustments to the offense before the match so they can be as successful as possible.

The team also pays close attention to matchups. Outside hitter Aiyana Whitney said determining the offense for each match comes from who each player is matched up with at the net.

"If we have a favorable match-up and there is someone who is taller on our team, who can hit over one of their smaller blocks, then we capitalize [on that]," Whitney said.

Although it's on the defensive side of the ball, passing greatly affects the offense.

"When you pass well it gives you a better handle on your first-swing offense. We've been a good first-swing offense to date," head coach Russ Rose said.

Senior middle hitter Nia Grant agreed. She said passing is a very important part of the offense.

"[Getting a good pass] is huge. If we can get a good pass, you can do anything," Grant said.

Connecting and Communicating

Once the ball is passed, it's in the hands of setter Micha Hancock. Rose said the team's hitting percentage is an indicator that Hancock is making good decisions getting the ball to different people at different times.

Grant said the key to the team's offensive success right now is the connection that the hitters have with Hancock.

Whitney said communication with Hancock while on the court is a key factor in the Penn State offense. During the match, hitters can tell Hancock where to put the ball so that they can hit the most effective shot.

Both Whitney and Grant said the team's quick offense has proven to be very successful for the Nittany Lions.

"Because we have players that can hit different shots and different speeds, we can run a quicker offense. And that catches people off guard," Whitney said.

Grant said there are many players who can hit "quick balls", or balls that take little time to go from Hancock's hands to the hitter's. This has given the Nittany Lions the opportunity to run a faster offense.

"[The quick offense and having different hitting options] is what trips teams up because they don't know what to expect or where it's going," Grant said.

The top three individual hitting percentages in the Big Ten come from Penn State's roster. Haleigh Washington leads the conference with a .491 hitting percentage. Following shortly behind is Grant, hitting at a .476 percentage and Whitney, with a .395 hitting percentage.

Grant said it helps the offense to have three hitters in the front row together who are able to hit in any given play. This gives Hancock the option to set the ball to any number of players with confidence that it will be a strong hit.

"It's nice because Aiyana, since she's an outside, she can be with me and Haleigh in the front row," Grant said.

Having the top three hitters in the Big Ten is a testament to Penn State's strong offense. But Grant said they aren't paying attention to who comes first on that list. 

"We're not really worried about who is doing [the scoring] this year, we just want to get it done," Grant said.

The No. 4-ranked Lions hope to continue their offensive success at Michigan on Wednesday.

Rec Hall Atmosphere Helps Fuel Sweep Over Minnesota

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10543067.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A season-high crowd of 5,569 fans packed Rec Hall to watch No. 6 Penn State women's volleyball sweep past Minnesota in straight sets (25-20, 25-12, 25-23) on a chilly Saturday evening.

In some areas, spectators were standing two-to-three rows deep in order to watch the defending NCAA champions continue their 10-match winning streak.

"I thought the crowd was fantastic," said head coach Russ Rose. "It was a great day in Penn State Athletics with the football team becoming bowl-eligible, the field hockey team winning a NCAA game versus Boston College, and the effort we had tonight. Minnesota is very good and I thought we played really well...Great win against a good opponent."

The Nittany Lions trailed early in the first set, 6-4, but due to two attack errors from the Gophers, Penn State was able to tie the set. The Gophers quickly retaliated and went on a four-point run that caused Penn State to call the first time out of the match.

After the timeout, Penn State went on a 4-1 surge to trim the deficit to within one, 12-11, but the Gophers pushed ahead from errors from the Nittany Lions. A service ace from senior Lacey Fuller and an attack error from the Gophers allowed Penn State to get their first lead of the match, 15-14.

Penn State built on their momentum and created a four-point lead, 21-17, that required Minnesota to take their final timeout of the set. Holding a 23-19 the Nittany Lions clinched the opening set (25-20) thanks to consecutive kills from junior Aiyana Whitney.

Whitney recorded a team-high of 17 kills on .682 hitting.

"I'm kind of in the mindset of 'I just want to take pressure off of the hitters,'" said Whitney. "I know if I'm playing well than our younger players can feel less pressure and can kind of play relaxed and I think that's my ultimate goal - to take the pressure off of everyone else and just play well."

The Nittany Lions built on their momentum from the first set to create a five-point cushion, 9-4, early in the second. Minnesota cut the streak by one, but Penn State rallied back with a 5-1 drive to create an eight-point advantage en route to a 25-12 victory in the set..

Hancock, who recorded 31 assists and four aces in the match to tally 91 aces this season, played a critical role in the 2-0 lead. She tied the all-time single season record, which she previously set in 2011.

"When Micha serves well, I just want the rest of the people to serve the ball on the court," said coach Rose. "When Micha is struggling with her serves, then their serves are a little more important."

Nonetheless, Minnesota wasn't going to give the match up easily as they had an early six-point lead, 7-1, in the third set.

"I'm still worrisome [from the third set]," said Hancock. "I know we're better when we control the ball. It's hard to have that confidence when you've come off a second game like that. It's all mental readiness."

Coach Rose agreed.

"Just because you win one game easy, doesn't mean [we aren't going to lost] when down 8-2 in the third game. I'm not thinking about how easy the second game is; I'm thinking about what I didn't do at intermission to get them ready to play," said coach Rose.

The Nittany Lions went on a 13-6 push to tie the set at 13-13. It was a back-and-forth set until a block from freshman Haleigh Washington allowed Penn State to take a two-point edge, 21-19. The Gophers reclaimed the lead on a four-point drive, 23-21.

However, in the midst of a deafening home crowd, Minnesota recorded two attack errors to give Penn State a 24-23 lead. Senior Dominique Gonzalez recorded an ace for match point to complete the sweep.

"Everybody's playing for something. Some people are playing to get into the tournament, some are playing for a top-seed, and in the second half of the Big Ten season, everybody's good," said coach Rose.

Frantti Looking to Finish Freshman Campaign Strong

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10525827.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Freshman athletes face many challenges in their first year at college. From schoolwork, to practice and games, to keeping up with the level of play of veteran players, adjusting to college can be very difficult. But Penn State women's volleyball freshman Ali Frantti makes it look easy.

One year ago, Frantti was wrapping up her final high school volleyball season. Now, there are still five conference matches left before postseason even begins. The length of the college season is very different than high school. But Frantti is adjusting just fine.

"She's [adjusting to the length of the season] well and she's playing fantastic. To expect a lot out of a freshman is tough and she's producing," associate head coach Salima Rockwell said. "We're excited about what she's doing because she's awesome."

Another challenge for freshman athletes is being able to maintain consistency throughout the season. Rockwell said Frantti has remained consistent and her numbers are proving that.

"She's doing a pretty good job of keeping focus and trying to still have fun, while learning. There are some frustrating parts of the game, so we try to help her through those, but she's doing a great job," Rockwell said.

At the beginning of the season, Frantti was new to the Big Ten. Teams were unable to scout her, which gave her the opportunity to capitalize on their lack of knowledge. But at this point in the season, teams are starting to scout her more and more. Frantti said because of this, she has been trying to switch up her shots.

In only a few months, Frantti has become a very important aspect of the Penn State women's volleyball team. Head coach Russ Rose said the team can't win without Frantti and fellow freshman Haleigh Washington playing well. Rose said the team is dependent on Frantti performing at a high level.

"Ali's had a great deal to do with our success," Rose said. "She's a terrific offensive player, she's a really good passer and her blocking shows flashes of making great strides. She plays hard and I'm glad she's here."

Her skills on offense have not gone unnoticed. She has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week three times this season and is sporting a .321 hitting percentage. Rockwell said Frantti's strengths are in her attacking, passing and serving.

"She loves to hit, hit, hit. It's great because she can score and it's hard for people to stop her," Rockwell said. "She's becoming way more comfortable as a passer and her serving game is really good right now. She's got a tough, jump float serve that is hard to handle."

During matches, Frantti tries to hit every ball that comes to her way, whether it's a perfect set from Micha Hancock, or a bump set from the back row, proving her unwavering desire to attack the ball.

In addition to her hitting, Frantti said her energy is one of her biggest strengths.

"I bring energy in games and I get the girls fired up," Frantti said.

Rockwell agreed, saying her energy plays a very important role.

"She and Haleigh bring the youth and the fun to the game for the older ones that have this sense of urgency to be great and win and [be] clean all of the time. They can bring everybody back down," Rockwell said. "Ali does a pretty good job of that just by being herself and [being] silly and a little bit goofy at times. We just want her to go hard and have fun. And it's contagious."

After playing for almost three months at the collegiate level, Frantti said she is seeing the game differently.

"At the beginning of the year, I felt like it was such a fast pace and I was always on my toes," Frantti said. "I'm more in a rhythm now and I'm adjusting well to the speed of the game."

Earlier this week, Frantti said she is working on improving her blocking. Against Iowa on Wednesday, the outside hitter recorded two blocks, one of which a solo block. Her nine kills also helped Penn State sweep the Hawkeyes.

Frantti and the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions look to continue their nine-match win streak against Minnesota on Saturday in Rec Hall at 7 p.m.