Defense of Four-Peat Begins Tonight
It begins tonight. In a matter of hours, the 2011 iteration of the Penn State Women’s Volleyball team attempts to continue the dynasty, and add to four consecutive national championships. Unlike past years, this team enters the tournament flying a bit under the radar. There is no undefeated regular season, no insane winning streak, not even a conference championship to speak of.
Seeded eighth overall in the sixty-four team field, the Nittany Lions may lack a bit of their usual hype but will still have a bullseye on their back as other squads look to end their unprecedented run. Big South Champion Liberty will get the first crack at Penn State tonight at 7:30 p.m. inside Rec Hall. A quick scouting report on Liberty:
- 20-12 record on the season
- Big South Conference champions
- Sixth tournament appearance
- Winless in first five tries
- Led by junior Loren Thomas alongside sophomores Lillie Happel and Jade Craycraft
If Penn State wins, which they should, tomorrow night, they will face the winner of the American vs. Delaware match. A quick look at those two teams starting with American:
- 23-10 record on the season
- Patriot League champions
- Currently on ten game winning streak
- Led by freshman Sara Rishell, sophomore Juliana Crum, and senior Rebecca Heath
Onto their opponent Delaware:
- 20-12 record on the season
- Colonial Athletic Association conference champions
- Led by sophomore Katie Hank, junior Alissa Alker, and seniors Renee Tomko and Kim Stewart
A few things to keep an eye on for Penn State will be:
- The lineup itself: Russ Rose has made constant changes in his lineup throughout the season, so it will be interesting to see who he starts with and how often substitutions are made.
- The freshmen: Micha Hancock and Nia Grant have been big time contributors all season. Tonight they get their first test of collegiate tournament play. It will be important to see how they respond.
- Deja McClendon: It was around this time last year that the then-freshman really started to take her game to new heights. While the Nittany Lions can probably get by this weekend without her at the top of her game, they will certainly need her to be on her game to make another run deep into the tournament.
- How They Start: Sluggish starts have often slowed the Nittany Lions down this season. They will want to avoid a rough start playing against teams that do not have much to lose.
On paper, Penn State should cruise to two wins and keep their dream of a Fivepeat alive, but nothing can be taken for granted come tournament time. I have a feeling the Nittany Lions sweep both matches regardless of who the second opponent is, but I would not be surprised if a rough start leads to a lost set at some point.
Hopefully, we’ll see you after Saturday and we’ll either be talking about a third round matchup in Lexington, Kentucky against either UCLA, University of Maryland- Eastern Short, Long Beach State, or San Diego, rather than eulogizing the dynasty.