Penn State volleyball team eyes NCAA semis
By Mike Palm
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 11:06 p.m.
It's been more than three months since the Penn State women's volleyball team opened the season with a tournament in Kentucky.
Now, the Nittany Lions are back in Louisville — this time with much higher stakes.
Top-seeded Penn State (33-2) faces Oregon (29-4) at 9 p.m. Thursday in the NCAA semifinals. The other semifinal pits Texas (27-4) against Michigan (27-11) at 7 p.m. Thursday. The winners meet for the national championship at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Penn State won four consecutive national titles from 2007-10, so last year's early departure in the regional semifinals was an eye-opener.
“We were very, very young last year,” said assistant coach Kaleena Davidson, a 2002 Mt. Lebanon graduate. “We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the court.”
The squad returned mostly intact, however, and the individual honors that continue to roll in indicate last season's bitter experience could pay off.
Penn State features four American Volleyball Coaches Association All-Americans, including two on the first team — junior Ariel Scott and sophomore Micha Hancock — along with junior Katie Slay (second team) and junior Deja McClendon (third team).
• Scott, the Big Ten Player of the Year, led the team in kills (451). “She's a very, very physical player,” Davidson said.
• Hancock, the Big Ten Setter of the Year, set the NCAA Tournament record with 22 aces so far. “Because she's a lefty, she has a little bit of an unusual spin on the ball when she serves,” Davidson said. “She's caused a lot of teams some problems passing, for sure.”
• Slay, last year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is seventh in the nation in hitting percentage (.421).
• McClendon is second on the team with 389 kills and surpassed 1,000 for her career this season.
Megan Courtney, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and sophomore Nia Grant also made significant contributions. There are also the players who might not get as much recognition, like libero Dominique Gonzalez or backrow substitute Lacey Fuller.
In other words, Penn State's young squad has matured.
“I think we're all really excited to be back, especially after last year. Our freshman year, we were just sort of along for the ride,” Slay said. “... This year, it's a lot more responsibility. We're excited to have a leadership role and be back and help lead this team.”
To get back on top, the Nittany Lions will have to knock off up-and-coming Oregon, which showed composure last week with a four-set win in Omaha, Neb., over the Cornhuskers. Oregon runs a quick-moving offense that's near impossible to replicate in practice.
“They're a good team, but we don't have to do anything different. We know how to play, just doing what we can do,” Courtney said. “I think they'll give us a good match because they're a very good team. It'll be a good match to watch, but I think the best team who goes hard will win.”
And as far as appearing in so many NCAA Tournaments getting old? It hasn't happened.
“If you're in coaching, you want your kids to play at the highest level,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “... I want them to understand they have a small window of time to try and do great things, and I'm just in charge of reminding them when they're off task.”
Mike Palm is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-5674.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- UPMC doctor killed trying to help at 50-vehicle pileup
- Expert: KO doesn’t mean ‘worst’ concussion for Pens’ Orpik
- Penguins’ Neal suspended five games for Marchand hit
- Woman accused of assault over rap music to attend anger management classes
- Kovacevic: Enough of these Steelers already
- Pittsburgh diocese extends peace offering to Catholics, non-Catholics
- Stove topples, injures Somerset County toddler
- Steelers WR Brown says ‘I thought I had it clean’ after wild, near-miss finish
- Penguins players are not out looking for fights
- Pa. transportation bill may breathe life into Mon-Fayette Expressway project
- CMU names Kovacevic department head at engineering school