Aug. 28, 2014
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Entering his 36th year at the helm of the program, head coach Russ Rose and the rest of the top-ranked Penn State women's volleyball team will kick off the 2014 campaign this weekend in the Penn State Classic. The Nittany Lions open the season against TCU Friday, Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. before squaring off against Iona and William & Mary Saturday, Aug. 30 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.
Following a year that brought some of the highest highs, Penn State women's volleyball hits the court in 2014 once again as defending NCAA national champions. Having rallied past then-No. 12 Wisconsin in four sets in the first-ever all Big Ten NCAA national final, the Nittany Lions are fresh off their sixth national championship crown in history.
With four returning starters, 11 letterwinners and eight newcomers, pieces of the puzzle are exactly what the Nittany Lions have on their side he¬ading into the season as the group of experienced veterans and top-ranked rookies prepare to take the court this weekend.
The Nittany Lions host Back to School weekend in Rec Hall for the Penn State Classic. All fans will receive Penn State women's volleyball folders, notebooks and pencils while supplies last at all three PSU matches this weekend.
PENN STATE IN SEASON OPENERS
The Nittany Lions are 29-6 all-time in season openers, having swept Syracuse in the first match of the 2013 season. The win against the Orange marked PSU's second consecutive season-opening victory.
LIONS EARN TOP RANKING IN AVCA PRESEASON POLL
Penn State women's volleyball earned the No. 1 overall ranking in the 2014 AVCA Preseason Coaches' Poll. This year's poll features more Big Ten teams than any other conference in the country, with the Nittany Lions among seven other conference squads to be ranked within the top 25 and one of four to be within the top 10. Since 2004, Penn State has been ranked within the top five in every AVCA preseason poll, having earned a top-ranking five times (2008-11 & 2014). Earning 32 of a possible 60 first-place votes, PSU claimed the top spot ahead of No. 2 Texas, No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 Washington and No. 5 USC. The Big Ten is also well represented in the bottom half of the top 10 rankings with Wisconsin, Nebraska and Purdue in spots six through eight, consecutively. BYU and Florida rounded out the last two spots at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE AVCA PRESEASON POLL
Penn State will square off against a total of 11 teams featured in the 2014 AVCA preseason poll, including nine teams ranked within the top 25 and two receiving votes. First up, the Nittany Lions meet third-ranked Stanford in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge Friday, Sept. 5, before taking on UCLA the next evening. The Bruins received 23 votes. PSU also meets No.22 Kansas and No. 24 American in non-conference action at the Villanova Classic, Sept. 12-13 at Villanova.
PENN STATE TABBED BIG TEN PRESEASON FAVORITE
Penn State earned the No. 1 ranking in the 2014 Big Ten Preseason Coaches' Poll, which is decided by the league's 14 head coaches. The top-ranking marks the ninth time in the last 10 years that the 16-time defending Big Ten champion Nittany Lions have been voted No. 1 the preseason standings.
PRESEASON ALL-BIG TEN NITTANY LIONS
PSU is also well represented on the All-Big Ten Preseason Team, with more honorees than any other conference team in the league for the second consecutive year. Senior setter Micha Hancock highlights a trio of 2014 honorees as a unanimous selection. She's joined by senior middle Nia Grant and junior outside Megan Courtney. The nod is the second consecutive for both Hancock and Courtney and the first career for Grant.
ROSE APPROACHING A HISTORIC MARK
In 2013, head coach Russ Rose earned his 1,107th victory with a straight-set win at Northwestern, moving him into sole possession of second place on the NCAA DI career wins list. With the triumph, he passed former UCLA head coach Andy Banachowski, who previously owned the record.
With 1,125 wins, Rose is presently three wins shy of tying current Hawaii head coach Dave Shoji for first on the all-time list with 1,128 victories. Rose currently owns the all-time record for NCAA DI career winning percentage, having posted a career clip of .864 in the past 35 seasons. Both Rose and Shoji are the only two NCAA DI head coaches to have more than 1,000 career wins. The two are also one of just three active NCAA head coaches in all three divisions to have more than 1,100 career wins.
Two-time First Team AVCA All-American Micha Hancock leads a solid group of four starters from last year's NCAA national championship squad. Hancock directed the Nittany Lion offense to a .305 hitting clip in 2013, which concluded the season ranked fifth nationally. AVCA Honorable Mention All-America Nia Grant and starting outside Megan Courtney are two of Hancock's top hitters who return to the court. Having ranked within the top of the Big Ten and national standings throughout the season, Grant's .350 hitting clip closed out the year ranked second best on the team and fifth in the final conference standings. Courtney, who picked up 2014 Preseason All-Big Ten honors, finished the year with 297 kills, averaging 2.47 per set on .272 hitting. Her 2.51 digs per frame and 0.73 blocks per set ranked third on the squad.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions also return two-year starting libero Dominique Gonzalez, who has proved to be a steady leader in the back row. Averaging 3.28 digs per set in 2014, she amassed 416 digs on the year, posting double-digit digs in 23-of-36 matches in 2013.
SPOTS TO FILL
Penn State enters the 2014 season without a trio of standout student-athletes who were instrumental in the Nittany Lions' fifth national crown in the last seven years. Graduating seniors Deja McClendon, Katie Slay and Ariel Scott combined for 10 AVCA All-America honors during their four-year careers on the court, guiding the 2010 and 2013 teams to a pair of NCAA national titles.
McClendon highlighted the 2013 All-America class as the only player to be honored as a four-time All-American. A true multi-faceted student-athlete, The Nittany Lions will have to replace McClendon's ability to pass, block, defend and attack. PSU will also need to replace Scott, a three-time AVCA All-American opposite who consistently served as the Nittany Lions' go-to hitter in 2013. Defensively, Slay departs Penn State as one of the most prolific blockers in program history, having earned three consecutive All-America honors to go along with her 627 career blocks, which ranks sixth all-time.
HANCOCK ATOP THE SERVING ALL-TIME LIST
Averaging 0.65 aces per set, junior Micha Hancock finished the 2013 season ranked second nationally in aces per set. Her mark also ranks first in the Big Ten. Her impressive serving also set a new program record. With four aces against Eastern Kentucky, Hancock notched her 200th career service ace. Building on the mark throughout the season she moved into sole possession of first place on the Penn State all-time list with 254 aces on the year to surpass Ellen Hensler, who set the record in 1986. In the NCAA standings, her 82 aces this season across 127 (.646) sets ranks 11th all-time.
EXPERIENCED SENIOR CORE
Comprised of four, this year's senior class features Lacey Fuller, Dominique Gonzalez, Nia Grant and Micha Hancock. Together, the four have a combined record of 92-13 (.876), and a 54-6 mark in Big Ten matches. Along with back-to-back Big Ten titles in 2012 and 2013, the veteran class holds a 12-2 (.857) mark in the post season with two consecutive NCAA national semifinal appearances in 2012-13 as well as the 2013 NCAA national title.
Regarded by PrepVolleyball.com as "a class that rivals the best ever," Penn State's incoming freshman class features eight newcomers who will all be competing for spots on the court in 2014. Along with four state Gatorade Player of the Year honorees, five Nittany Lion newcomers were ranked within PrepVolleyball's top 15 in the nation, while three ranked among the top three.
HANCOCK NOMINATED FOR 2014 ESPY AWARD
Penn State's Micha Hancock was one of two PSU student-athletes to be nominated for a 2014 ESPY Award, presented by ESPN. Hancock was nominated for Best Female Collegiate Athlete. Hancock's nomination marks the third time a PSU women's volleyball student-athlete has been up for an ESPY. Megan Hodge earned a nomination in 2010, following the '09 season, while Blair Brown was selected in 2011 following the '10 season.
Next up, Penn State hits the road, traveling to the west coast to compete in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. The Nittany Lions open the weekend with an NCAA regional final rematch against third-ranked Stanford Friday, Sept. 5 at 9 p.m. ET in Palo Alto, Calif., before taking on RV UCLA Saturday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. ET. Friday night's matchup against the Cardinal will broadcast live on the Pac-12 Network.