Volleyball Mid-season Review
At the beginning of the season, coach Russ Rose told the media that this year’s women’s volleyball team was not the same as last year’s team. He said that they did not deserve the number one ranking and that, for this team, there was no streak. But I am not so sure that anybody actually believed him.
The Nittany Lions head into the second half of their Big Ten season with a 16-4 overall record and a 6-3 record in the conference. The numbers certainly are not terrible, and Penn State is still in the hunt for an eighth straight Big Ten title. However, most current students had never seen the Nittany Lions lose. When reviewing the team’s season, I had to try not to compare them with the dominant team of the past three years, which is why I will not talk about the setting issues this year. Kristin Carpenter has played admirably in that position, and it not fair to compare her to world-class setter Alisha Glass.
The Record: At 16-4, Penn State is about two or three losses worse than even reasonable predictors would have thought. Losing to Stanford on a neutral court and losing at Illinois are not bad results. But the road defeats to Indiana and Purdue really should not have happened. The Nittany Lions do have several quality wins this year, including victories at Florida and at home against Michigan and Minnesota.
The Freshmen: Deja McClendon, Katie Slay, Maddie Martin and Ali Longo are all freshmen who have played at least a third of Penn State’s sets this year. McClendon leads the group, having played in 66 of the 67 total sets. Mikinzie Moydell, Ariel Scott and Krosby Pabst have all seen time as well. That is a total of seven freshmen who have gotten to play this year, and many of them are playing well. This a promising sign for the future.
The Serve: The team has 94 aces this year to go along with 144 service errors. What is more important than this discrepancy is how the Nittany Lions are getting these numbers. Alyssa D’Errico has a great jump serve that literally makes the crowd ooh and aah every time she hits it. So it is understandable that she would be making more errors to go along with her aces. What is worrisome is that the other Penn State players are not taking the same risks with their serves, but are still hitting errors. D’Errico has 37 percent of the team’s aces, but she only has 23 percent of the team’s errors.
Prognosis: I believe that the Nittany Lions will finish the season strong. Players are talking about their recent road victory over Ohio State as a turning point. Penn State’s three toughest tests for the rest of the season are at Michigan, at Minnesota and home to Illinois. If Penn State can take two out of those three, they should finish the season around 26-5. That record would probably get them two home games to start the NCAA Tournament. With Penn State hosting a regional this year as well, that would mean four straight home games for a semifinal berth. This point is important, as the one streak that is still intact is the Penn State home winning streak.
To conclude, this season may have surprised many. We have certainly grown accustomed to undefeated volleyball teams here at Penn State. If the team continues to grow, if the freshmen continue to play well and the serving gets more consistent, it is probable that the Penn State women’s volleyball team could be making an NCAA Tournament semifinal appearance come December.