BLOG: Women's Volleyball Opens Strong in Penn State Invitational
Sep 2, 2013
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
The 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."