Previewing the 2013 Women's Volleyball Season
Aug 27, 2013
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Fresh off its first trip to the final four since capturing the 2010 national title, the No.2-ranked Penn State women's volleyball team has returned this season with nearly the same lineup that got them there in the first place. Following the departure of just two seniors, the Nittany Lions return their core group of talented starters featuring AVCA First-Team All-Americans Ariel Scott (Ridgewood, N.J.) and Micha Hancock (Edmond, Okla.), second team All-American Katie Slay (Raleigh, N.C.) and third-team, three-time honoree Deja McClendon (Louisville, K.Y.).
The Nittany Lions will open the 2013 slate hosting the Penn State Invitational, facing Polish professional team, Dabrowa in an exhibition match to kick off the campaign, followed by Syracuse and No. 19 Louisville. Dabrowa hits the court in Rec Hall after reaching several high points in club history. In 2010-11, Dabrowa reached the title match of the CEV Women's Volleyball Cup. The CEV is the governing body of 55 national federation teams from across Europe, and the highest level of competition for professional clubs. This year, Dabrowa captured the Polish Cup, qualifying the team for its fifth appearance in the CEV Women's Volleyball Cup since 2009.
Dabrowa's lineup consists of athletes from four different countries including Belgium, Czech Republic, Italy and Poland. Current player, Maja Tokarska also played on the 2012 Olympic team for Poland. The club will tour the United States for three weeks, taking on other collegiate teams such as Kent State, Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Purdue, Bowling Green, Notre Dame and Northwestern.
Standout seniors Scott, Slay and McClendon are certainly no stranger to elite competition though, having earned the prestigious national champion title three years ago. Will the seasoned trio be enough to carry the team from Dabrowa to Seattle in 2013?
If there's one thing that remains steadfast each year, it's the legendary coach's expectation of his team.
"I want the players to play hard, together, and I want them to challenge themselves both personally and collectively to be the best they can be. If that involves winning conference or national titles then so be it, but I don't set the bar there each year. Everyone wants to win a national championship. Some people are positioned better than others, but my goal is that I want them to work hard, I want them to respect the tradition that is in Penn State intercollegiate athletics."
Challenges are certainly awaiting the 2013 squad, as they open the season with a non-conference slate that is packed with rigorous opponents, including 2012 NCAA tournament participants, Florida, Marquette, Louisville and Central Arkansas, capped off with a match against defending national champion Texas.
Joining Rose in his 35th year at the helm of the Penn State program is fifth-year assistant coach Kaleena Davidson, second-year assistant coach Steve Aird and fourth-year director of operations Adam Hughes. In addition, Rose welcomes six new players to the court this year, including four new freshman and two more players who redshirted last year.
Every team is different though, and according to Rose, this team is full of experience, athleticism and success - but this year will all be determined by their ability to blend together.
Hancock is returning in her junior year to lead the Nittany Lions as the primary starting setter. The first team All-American was also tabbed Big Ten Setter of the Year, having won the weekly award six times during the season. Among a host of other honors and awards, Hancock also earned AVCA National Player of the Week honors in 2012. The nod was the first time a Penn State player has received the weekly honor since 2009. With five aces against Minnesota in the NCAA Regional Final game, Hancock broke the NCAA Tournament record for aces in tournament play.
"Micha has certainly established herself as one of the best servers in college volleyball. She's made great strides as both a setter and a leader in the first half of her collegiate career. I'm hoping that she'll continue to take that next step and be able to lead the team and also enhance her chances to play beyond college,"
"Courtney and Gonzalez both have good setting skills, but I don't think that Courtney is as excited about the position as I would have wanted her to be," Rose said.
LEGENDS IN THE MAKING
Joining the three returners is freshman Taylor Krause (Allentown, Pa.). At Parkland high school, Krause was a four-year letterwinner and the setter on the team that she helped guide to three district championships and one state championship. She was a Max Preps All-American, an Under Armour Second Team All-American and a Mizuno Third Team All-American as well.
"Taylor had great success in high school and played on a good club program and I think she will share time as a backup setter," Rose said.
Returning at middle hitter is two-time AVCA Second-Team All-American Katie Slay, redshirt junior Erica Denney (Aurora, Colo.), junior Nia Grant (Warren, Ohio) and redshirt sophomore Aiyana Whitney (Norwood, N.J.). While Slay is the most experienced of the group, Grant and Denney have both made solid contributions as well, with Whitney redshirting last season.
An AVCA Second Team All-American for the second consecutive year and AVCA Mideast All-Region honoree, Slay brings the most knowledge to Penn State's middle position. She led the Nittany Lions with 164 blocks in 2012, averaging 1.34 blocks per set and was also third on the team in kills with 279. Her .412 hitting percentage was a team-best.
"Katie is a multi-year All-America middle blocker and she's made huge contributions as both a blocker and an attacker. She's improved her offensive array here as well, serving in different roles on the team. Katie is also probably one of the best blockers we've ever had at Penn State," Rose said.
Denney has battled injuries while at Penn State.After redshirting her freshman year and seeing limited action in 2011 and 2012, she returns healthy this year and could help the Nittany Lions in an important area.
"Denney is an experienced player, who has a great disposition about playing" Rose said.
Grant made solid contributions in 2012, playing in 124 sets, finishing second on the team in blocks with 120 and fifth on the team in kills with 205 on .376 hitting.
"Nia continues to improve and I think she has the potential to be a dominant college volleyball player." Rose said. "She's quick off the ground, she's on the ball fast and as long as she continues to learn the position, she will continue to grow as a player."
Following a redshirt season, Whitney, an aggressive attacker, who is reentering the mix this year.
"Aiyana is our most powerful attacker, who hits the ball high and hard, which is something unique about her, that we will depend on," Rose said.
LEGENDS IN THE MAKING
New to the position is freshman Kelly Robertson (Allentown, Pa.), who also enjoyed a stellar high school campaign before signing with Penn State. Robertson was a four-year letterwinner at Parkland High in Allentown, Pa. and helped guide her team to three district championships and one state championship. The Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year was selected as an Under Armour First Team All-American, a Max Preps Second Team All-American and a Mizuno Third Team All-American.
"Kelly is a well decorated high school and club player who plays hard, and although she is undersized, she competes hard," Rose said.
Penn State has the most depth on the outside, especially with the return of two AVCA All-Americans in seniors Scott and McClendon. Also joining the dynamic duo is senior Maddie Martin (Tampa, Fla.) and redshirt freshman Paulina Prieto Cerame (San Juan, Puerto Rico), as well as Whitney and Courtney.
"Ariel Scott has improved an incredible amount since she arrived as a freshman. Last year she was Big Ten Player of the Year, a First-Team All-American and a finalist for the AVCA National Player of the Year award," Rose said.
Scott has the experience of being Penn State's go-to hitter and also has the size and strength to fill in at all of the front row positions. She will continue to see the ball at key times in matches for the Nittany Lions. The AVCA First Team All-America selection led the team in kills in 2012, averaging 3.75 kills per set, while also eclipsing the 1,000 career kills mark.
"McClendon continues to work hard year to year. She's developed into an exceptional blocker and her passing and defense has enabled the team to play at a high level." Rose said. "Everyone watches her when she's attacking and she's certainly an All-American attacker, but the parts of her game that she's really improved on are in areas that make the team better."
An all-around player, McClendon started all 36 matches at outside hitter. She concluded the season ranked second on the team in kills with 403 and finished second in digs with 339. McClendon is also a three-time AVCA All-American, earning third team laurels in 2012.
Rounding out the senior trio is Martin, who played a solid role in 2012. An Academic All-Big Ten honoree, Martin saw action in 62 sets and finished seventh on the team with 51 kills and sixth on the squad in digs with 71.
"Maddie is a player who has gained experience in many of our big matches and she's made great contributions since she's arrived as a freshman" Rose said. "There are times when I'll need her as an outside hitter and then there will be times when I'm going to need her to come off the bench, serve tough and shore up the back row."
Courtney enjoyed a standout campaign in her first year in the blue and white. She earned both AVCA Mideast Region and Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in her rookie season, starting 35-of-36 matches at outside hitter. She posted 240 kills and 237 digs in 2012, good for fourth on the team. Her 102 total blocks also ranked fourth on the squad, as she averaged 0.84 per set.
"Everyone in this group has had great success at different times in their career." Rose said. "Some of them are pure point scorers - some of them are six position players and a couple are strong blockers. Since we have such depth, I'm hoping that this year they push each other and not worry about who is on the floor."
Gonzalez is at the helm of a very deep group of back row players returning in 2013. The collection includes senior Maggie Harding (State College, Pa.), junior Lacey Fuller (San Diego, Calif.), sophomore Lara Caraway, (Evans City, Pa) and sophomore Kendall Pierce (Eden, N.Y.)
"Dom (Gonzalez) has certainly demonstrated that she is an exceptional passing libero and she's filled that starting role for us for the last few years," Rose said. "She also has a great feel for what the needs of the team are and where she can best fill them."
Gonzalez played in all 36 matches as the starting libero in 2012. She recorded 457 digs, while averaging 3.66 per set. Fuller split some time with Gonzalez, as the sophomore saw action in 119 sets, tallying 169 digs and 1.42 per set.
"Lacey (Fuller) has been a great addition to the team, as she plays hard and always routinely makes the tough plays," Rose said. Harding, Pierce and Caraway also saw action on the court last year, combining for 12 digs. With so many players at the position, they will all have to compete for time this year.
"Harding is one of our captains this year and one of the true characters on this team. She has a perfect 4.0 and she's in the mix with the back row players," Rose said."Caraway has a good serve and she plays hard and one of Pierce's strengths is that she is a great teammate. She also has a good serve and a good set of skills as well."
LEGENDS IN THE MAKING
"Laura (Broerman) is a quick and competitive back row player who will be called on to make plays and Muller is also well-skilled and competitive. She possesses a good volleyball IQ and she'll give us good opportunities in the back row as a server and a passer," Rose said.
Broerman was a team captain at St. Mary's High School and earned 10 varsity letters during her time there. Muller helped her high school, Mira Costa, to two Dave Mohs Tournament titles and two North High Tournament titles during her scholastic career. As a senior, she was honored as Bay League Libero of the Year.
"We have a good collection of players competing at the back row position," Rose said. "However, we need some people to emerge out of the collection of players. Whether it's Broerman, who is quick and explosive, or Muller. Caraway and Harding might also be individuals who are good servers and stationary passers as well."
The Penn State women's volleyball 2013 season is presented by Rockvale Outlets.