Five Lessons from Women’s VB Opening Weekend
The Penn State women’s volleyball team opened its season with two tough match-ups against Oregon and USC. After a surprising opening loss on Friday to Oregon, the Nittany Lions rebounded with an exhilarating come-from-behind victory over No. 2 USC.
The Rockvale Outlets/AVCA Showcase featured four great teams (Minnesota was the fourth team involved), tremendous atmospheres, and an excitement for women’s volleyball that is usually reserved for NCAA Tournament games. With that said, here are five lessons we learned after the opening weekend of the season.
1. Deja McClendon will be Penn State’s next great hitter.
After registering 15 kills on .375 hitting against Oregon, McClendon got 25 kills on .321 hitting against USC. She was the most consistent of the Nittany Lion hitters and was the go-to target for much of the match on Saturday. There is still room for improvement with her blocking and passing, but McClendon is primed to have a great season.
Honorable mentions should go to Katie Slay and Nia Grant, both of whom played well against USC. However, McClendon was a level above the other Penn State hitters in both matches over the weekend.
2. The Penn State defense is a work in progress.
Coach Russ Rose wasn’t kidding when he said that Slay was the only guaranteed starter heading into the season. This was most evident in the defensive positions.
Three players (Ali Longo, Dominique Gonzalez and Kristin Carpenter) played libero, while five players got time at the defensive specialist position. Penn State’s passing was sloppy for much of the weekend, leading to tough sets and predictable hits. Rose switched Carpenter from setter to libero for the USC match, which seemed to work pretty well. That change could be permanent, especially due to the play of freshman setter Micha Hancock.
3. Speaking of Hancock, her left arm is a thing of beauty.
Hancock was a revelation this weekend, taking over from Carpenter at the setter position. A left-handed setter is rare in volleyball, and Hancock puts that uniqueness to good use. Against USC, she had 45 assists and six service aces. She was also an attacking option at net, using her left-handed attack to score some easy points. She registered seven kills on .875 hitting, leading the Nittany Lions to victory on Saturday.
4. The final ties to past success have been severed.
Unlike the previous four Penn State teams, this year the team is missing world-class seniors. Players like Nicole Fawcett, Alisha Glass, Megan Hodge and Blair Brown led the Nittany Lions with great play and leadership. Last season, many of Penn State’s records, such as the NCAA record 109 wins in a row, were broken. Against Oregon Friday, the last streak was snapped. The Nittany Lions had won 94 consecutive home games before the disappointing loss to the Ducks. This season, Penn State will need new players to step up in order to compete for another national title.
5. Penn Staters are crazy about their women’s volleyball.
The atmosphere was amazing at Rec Hall for every game. After 3,710 people showed up to watch the Penn State-Oregon match on Friday, 6,165 people packed the arena for the USC match on Saturday. The band was loud, the student section was rowdy, and Russ Rose called Saturday’s match the best crowd that he has seen in 33 years of coaching.
This season will not be easy for Penn State, but if this team starts playing consistently, and certain players step up into leadership positions, we could see a fifth-straight national title come to State College.