Nov. 22, 2013
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When the six seniors first came to Penn State and went through preseason their freshman year, they never thought they would make it through four years. However, with senior night here - the four years went by fast as it's a bittersweet time for the players who started playing the sport at such a young age.
With only four regular season matches left in their collegiate careers, these seniors want to end their senior year the way that they started their freshman year - with a national championship.
"It's a full progression and evolution for them," head coach Russ Rose said. "All of those guys have had a major impact on the program. Despite the fact I'm hard on them all the time - soon they'll be done. We're graduating three people who have started for four years. We haven't had that many kids who have started for four years in the 35 years I've been here."
Take a closer look at each of the senior's journey through their collegiate career as a Nittany Lion and their thoughts as their time comes to a close.
8 Erica Denney
Coming out of high school as a member of an undefeated team (31-0) and traveling to the 2009 World Championships as a member of the youth national team, Erica Denny faced an injury and took a redshirt her freshman year. In her second year with the Nittany Lions, she made her collegiate debut against Rutgers where she registered a kill. During both her sophomore and junior years, she earned Academic All-Big Ten and continued her junior year appearing in six matches and nine sets. The Colorado native recorded her first start against DePaul in 2012.
15 Maggie Harding
Maggie Harding came to Penn State from just a few miles away. As an active member of the Student Athlete Advisory Board and captain for the season, Harding has proven to be one of the strongest leaders on the team. At the NCAA Semi-finals Championship last year, she earned the Elite 89 Award after having the top GPA of all of the student-athletes at the tournament.
"It's exciting because it's a big time of the year and we have a lot coming up, but it's bittersweet. I've been watching Penn State volleyball since I was five, so knowing it's coming to an end is pretty tough. But knowing I was a part of it and contributing what I can to the program is pretty cool."
6 Maddie Martin
Earning Academic All-Big Ten honors during her sophomore and junior year, Maddie Martin has proven to be another strong leader in the senior class for the underclassmen to follow. Making an immediate impact her freshman year, she played in 20 matches and 29 sets. The outside hitter reached a career high hitting percentage at Indiana in 2010 at .600. Her first two kills were against Villanova and she took that momentum into a strong sophomore season where she played in 33 matches - starting in 24 of them. During her junior season, she registered 51 kills, 14 aces, 71 digs and eight blocks. With only a few matches left, the Tampa, Fla., native cannot believe how fast the four years have gone by.
"It's weird - you think during your freshman year while you're going through preseason that it's never going to end. Looking back on it now - it went so fast. (Playing under Russ Rose) is cool; he's such an amazing person and such an amazing coach. Knowing we've played for a legend is just a great feeling."
18 Deja McClendon
The outside hitter from Louisville, Ky., did not waste any time getting adjusted to the college volleyball scene as she was named the 2010 AVCA Division I National Freshman of the Year and started in all 37 matches. She was also the only freshman to earn a spot on the 2010 AVCA All-American team. McClendon continued to develop into the player she is today through her sophomore year adding 2011 AVCA First Team All-America to the list of honors and was the Unanimous Preseason All-Big Ten. During her junior year, she kept her competitive edge going as she set a career high hitting percentage of .800 against Binghamton. She also hit a career high of 29 digs at Michigan proving to be a versatile player. The outside hitter has made 247 kills and 239 digs this season giving her an impressive total of 1,500 kills and a career total of 1,052 digs with four matches left before championship season.
"It doesn't feel real - it's a sad moment but at the same time it's a good time to look back on everything we've accomplished and where we want to end the season. There were points where we were really low and points where we were really high and to see us where we are now it's just crazy that we did finish this together. That's probably one of the most important parts for me - that we've been through thick and thin together."
1 Ariel Scott
Known as A. Scott to the team, the outside hitter has developed into one of the key players for the Nittany Lions. During her freshman year, she played in 20 matches gaining experience early in her collegiate career. She went into her sophomore year and was named AVCA Third Team All-America and Unanimous First Team All-Big Ten. The New Jersey native was second on the team with 418 kills for the 2011 season. Scott added even more honors to the list making AVCA First Team All-American and Big Ten Player of the Year with her strong performances during her junior year. She set a career high of 85 attacks against Stanford during that season. Registering 244 kills so far this season, Scott totals 1,274 kills for her collegiate career.
"It's really crazy seeing how far we've come. It's bittersweet because we made it, but it's kind of sad too since it's our last home game. Freshman year going from preseason not knowing if we're going to make it, being the hardest thing we've ever done and then winning that year. For me I went from not playing to being on the court so it was definitely a big development year for me."
16 Katie Slay
Throughout Slay's four years as a Nittany Lion, she has proven to be one of the most consistent and dependable players for the team. Her freshman year, she started in 11 matches and played in 23 where she totaled 54 kills and a hitting percentage of .404. Her sophomore year, she did not hold anything back as she was named AVCA Second Team All-America and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. She also hit career highs with 16 kills against Wisconsin in 2011. During her junior year, the Raleigh, N.C. native continued to put up impressive defensive performances. She made a career high of 12 blocks against Michigan. This season, she has added 19 solo blocks and 132 block assists to her career totals giving her 74 solo blocks and 497 block assists and a total of 571 blocks throughout her career.
"It's exciting - senior year I've just been trying to soak it all in. Freshman year we just did whatever the upperclassmen did. I remember playing in the national championship match and it didn't feel like a huge deal - I didn't feel stressed out because the upperclassmen were dancing in the locker room and doing whatever we usually did before any other match. As we've gotten older, we had to set the bar for the team. We're the one's who have to put out a persona."