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Oct. 31, 2013
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- This week marks the middle of the Big Ten season for the Penn State women's volleyball team, meaning the Nittany Lions have faced each conference team once this season, with the exception of Nebraska.
Sophomore outside hitter Megan Courtney noted "things are going to change" at this point in the season because every team has played each other, so the teams will know what to expect beyond film and the scouting report. Penn State has seen the tendencies of each Big Ten team and has seen what worked and what did not work for their opponents.
"When you are on the back end of the Big Ten, the best teams that win are the ones that are most prepared and the ones that have the most fight. Whoever wants it more is really going to win it," Courtney said.
Head coach Russ Rose said at the midpoint in the season, some teams get better and healthier, and others get "dinged up". The Nittany Lions have three or four players that are not playing at 100 percent because of injuries, which changes how the team prepares and plays.
"I tell people, `It's not a sprint. The Big Ten season is a marathon.' because you've got players that are hurt, you have kids that are bummed out that they're not playing, you have issues with their parents, you have so many factors that come in to play," Rose said. "We need some people to get healthy to be at our best."
Senior outside hitter Deja McClendon said the team has improved a lot since the beginning of the Big Ten season. She noted that the Lions have improved in five-game matches, in defense, and in blocking.
Blocking will be especially important this weekend. The Nittany Lions will take on No. 17 Michigan on Friday in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are 18-2 and 4-6 in the Big Ten. Although they have a losing record in the conference, the team was at the same record that they were last year, and made it to the Final Four. Head coach Russ Rose said the team caught fire and played well in the second half of the Big Ten season last year.
Michigan fell to No. 21 Purdue last weekend, but senior outside hitter Molly Toon led the squad with 17 kills. Senior middle blocker Jennifer Cross is one block assist away from breaking Michigan's all-time block assist record. Senior outside hitter Deja McClendon noted that Michigan has a lot of dominate slide hitters and blocking them is a main focus for the Lions.
"[Michgan] has girls who are really fiery and playing at their place is tough, so were going to have to be able to play in a small gym with lots of fans screaming against us," McClendon said.
On Saturday, Penn State will head to Michigan State to take on the Spartans for the second time this season. The Spartans have been on Penn State's mind since the setback earlier this season.
"We've been thinking about it every game we've played. They clearly think that they can beat us because they've done it before," McClendon said. "If we want to be a dominant team, if we want to be relevant and if we want to win the Big Ten, which is always one of our goals, we need to perform in that game."
Michigan State is 14-7 and 6-3 in the Big Ten. While the team is currently on a four-game losing streak, the Spartan squad continues to perform well statistically. Senior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski had 16 kills, eight digs, two blocks, and two aces against Indiana. Senior middle blocker Alexis Mathews had 11 kills and six blocks.
Again, blocking will be vital for the Penn State team. Tough serving will be important for this match as well, as the Spartans average less than one service reception error per set.
"Everybody [in the Big Ten] has the potential to stress the other teams out with good play and quality support by their fans," Rose said. "I'm happy that after losing the first match of the first round (to Michigan State), that we were able to have success the rest of the way. But that doesn't transfer to meaning you'll have success the second round."
Rose said it has been an incredible and competitive year in the Big Ten. He added that the conference is very unforgiving. If a team doesn't play well, there's a high probability of failure. If a team does play well, there's still a possibility of failure. Every team is capable of beating any team.