Women’s Volleyball in Unfamiliar Territory Saturday Night
Try to think of the last time the Penn State women’s volleyball team was a home underdog. My brain hurts trying to think that far back. After all, they did win ninety four consecutive home matches before the loss to Oregon to open the season, and even more astonishing, the last time they lost a Big Ten match at home was October 24, 2004, to Ohio State. George W. Bush was still serving his first term as president.
Let that sink in for a minute, because Saturday night, the tables will be turned. Undefeated Illinois visits Happy Valley for a matchup of Big Ten powers with the two squads having very different seasons so far. Illinois enters as the number one ranked team in the country. Penn State is ranked No. 8 overall but has dropped four matches on the season. On Wednesday night, they were taken to a fifth set before disposing of Northwestern.
There is pressure and upside for both teams here. While few players remain from the squad who made the long winning streaks as special as they were, it is still an accomplishment held in high regard, and it could be in serious jeopardy on Saturday night. Over the previous four years, Penn State has been viewed as the gold standard for NCAA women’s volleyball. Illinois seeks to prove this is no longer the case as both squads search for a signature win. I’ll be honest in saying I do not know a ton about Illini volleyball. One thing that is worth mentioning is that while undefeated, Illinois does appear vulnerable. They have gone to a fifth set three times, most recently against Minnesota who Penn State swept last weekend.
Three things that could help push Penn State to a victory on Saturday are:
- Winning the opening set: Penn State has been forced to play from behind in a lot of big matches this year. Taking the first set would be a huge confidence boost and set the tone that the Lions are here to play.
- Deja McClendon and Ariel Scott both at the top of their game: Both players have showed flashes of brilliance this year, but it has not always been at the same time. Both players are their best Saturday night will go a long way in upsetting the Illini.
- A capacity crowd at Rec Hall: This one does not need much elaboration.
The focus for much of the day on Saturday in Happy Valley, and understandably so, will be on a football showdown versus Iowa. With a 3:30 kickoff, fans should have time to make their way out of Beaver Stadium and down Curtin Road to Rec Hall for the 8:00 match.
Regular season volleyball matches do not get much bigger than this.