Evans City native part of top-seeded PSU women's volleyball
Lara Caraway can't help but look up to her older teammates on the Penn State women's volleyball team.
At only 5-foot-4, the freshman defensive specialist from Evans City ranks as the smallest player on the team, more than a foot shorter than some teammates.
“I've always been really short,” said Caraway, who was home-schooled but played for Mars, “so I get used to looking up.”
But the team's pedigree of success is another reason for admiration. The Nittany Lions won nine Big Ten titles in the past 10 seasons and four consecutive national championships from 2007-10. Penn State, along with Stanford, are the only teams to play in every NCAA Tournament since it began in 1981.
The Nittany Lions (31-2) will look to add to that legacy in the NCAA regional semifinals when they face 16th-seeded Kentucky (22-10) at 5 p.m. Friday in West Lafayette, Ind. The winner advances to the regional final to face the Purdue/Minnesota winner at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Last season, Penn State lost to UCLA in three sets in the NCAA regional semis. Caraway said her teammates rarely talk about what happened, instead looking forward.
“We always say that we're not the same team that we were last year, that we're a new team,” she said. “And it's a new beginning, and we're going to do it with this group this year.”
There's a sense of urgency for the team to ascend back to the top of college volleyball, but it comes from within, not from the ghosts of the past.
“Everyone really wants it bad,” Caraway said. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we want to do it.”
Penn State was No. 1 in the country at the end of the regular season and earned the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Nittany Lions were upset by Oregon State, a team that didn't make the NCAA tournament, on Sept. 8 at the Chicago Classic and lost Oct. 28 at Nebraska. Since then, it's been 10 wins in a row, while only losing two sets.
“I think that we've played really well so far. I feel like as long as we keep playing well, hopefully we'll reach our potential by the end,” Caraway said. “I think we're close, but I think there's always room for improvement.”
Mike Palm is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.