Penn State women’s volleyball has never had a server quite like Micha Hancock. Now three seasons removed from leading the Nittany Lions to their seventh national championship, she’s playing professionally in Italy and representing the U.S. in international competition.
Hancock’s lethal jump serve helped her amass an astounding 126 service aces as a senior in 2014, ensuring she took home AVCA National Player of the Year honors. Since her graduation, Russ Rose has sought production at the service line from a range of youngsters and veterans alike.
So far, Penn State has allowed the second-fewest service aces in the Big Ten this season, trailing only Nebraska — the lone program to beat the Nittany Lions. It’s also taking a step forward in terms of generating significant offense off the serve like Northwestern.
“Everybody needs to have good service pressure because every team has hitters who can really cause you a lot of problems,” Rose said. “We need to serve tough because we’re not a great blocking team.”
Sophomore libero Kendall White has been Penn State’s most consistent performer at the line, but she said setters Abby Detering and Bryanna Weiskircher are the best overall servers on the roster. Senior defensive specialist Lainy Pierce’s ball is deceptively tricky to deal with as well, plus she’s yet to surrender an error.
“I think the most underrated server is actually Lainy, because it looks like a little bit of a lollipop, but it’ll get you — it just drops on you hard and not many people can pass it well,” White said.
Simone Lee’s incorporation of a heat-seeking topspin serve is one of the more exciting developments of the past few matches. Detering even called it “wicked.”
“My concern is we’re asking so much of Simone as a hitter, passer, and blocker,” Rose said. “There are times in the match when I might ask her to go for it and other times when she has a good serve standing on the ground.”
Senior middle blocker Heidi Thelen emphasized how important serving is to the bigger picture, in particular how it can prevent the opposing team from finding a rhythm offensively.
“When [our back row]is serving tough and getting aces, that helps us a lot because it allows the blockers to get in the right spot and they can’t run whenever they want,” Thelen said.
White has taken notice of Weiskircher’s increased leadership role in the locker room, saying the redshirt junior’s not afraid to offer up constructive criticism when necessary. The Rockford, IL, native played club volleyball with Lee and Ali Frantti, so her supreme comfort level with them on the court comes as no surprise.
“I love the way she runs things behind the scenes,” White said of Weiskircher. “She’s never one of those people who wants to show it for the crowd. She never wants to yell too loud in front of everybody. It’s always about the team and it’s not about the show.”