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Season Preview: Women’s Volleyball Ready For Redemption

Russ Rose’s Nittany Lions were bounced from last year’s Sweet 16 at the hands of Hawaii, but if we’ve learned anything about this program, common setbacks don’t deter the National Championship mentality each fall.

What Penn State women’s volleyball may lack in depth is more than made up for by the winning culture its leaders set for the talented youngsters in summer practice. The junior class of Haleigh Washington, Ali Frantti, and Simone Lee will be crucial to the team’s success this season, but there are a handful of rising stars that should electrify Rec Hall in their own right. Let’s take a look at this year’s roster and how the Nittany Lions may fare in the always-loaded Big Ten.

Departures

No. 17 Megan Courtney | Dayton, Ohio | Outside hitter

No. 14 Aiyana Whitney | Norwood, N.J. | Outside hitter

No. 3 Kendall Pierce | Eden, N.Y. | Libero/defensive specialist

No. 2 Lara Caraway | Evans City, Pa. | Defensive specialist

Starting Experience

No. 15 Haleigh Washington | Colorado Springs, Colo. | Jr. — Middle blocker

No. 5 Ali Frantti | Spring Grove, Ill. | Jr. — Outside hitter

No. 22 Simone Lee | Menomonee Falls, Wis. | Jr. — Outside hitter

No. 21 Bryanna Weiskircher | Rockford, Ill. | RS-So. — Setter

No. 12 Keeton Holcomb | Belville, Tex. | So. — Libero/defensive specialist

No. 19 Heid Thelen | Edgewood, Ky. | Jr. — Middle blocker

Returners

No. 4 Wilma Rivera | Carolina, Puerto Rico | So. — Setter

No. 6 Nia Reed | Fort Lee, N.J. | RS-So. — Outside hitter

No. 8 Lainy Pierce | Eden, N.Y. | Jr. — Defensive specialist

No. 10 Carley Muller | Manhattan Beach, Calif. | Sr. — Defensive specialist

No. 11 Tori Gorell | Oakville, Ontario, Canada | RS-Fr. — Middle blocker

No. 13 Taylor Krause | Allentown, Pa. | Sr. — Defensive specialist

No. 16 Jelena Novaković | Belgrade, Serbia | RS-Fr. — Opposite

No. 24 Laura Broerman | Colorado Springs, Colo. | RS-So. — Defensive specialist

Transfers

No. 7 Abby Detering (Florida) | Mentor, Ohio | Jr. — Setter

No. 14 Caroline Graham (UCLA) | Port Au Prince, Haiti | RS-Fr. — Setter

No. 23 Clare Powers (Saint Mary’s) | Aptos, Calif. | RS-So. — Outside hitter

Freshmen

No. 2 Emily Sciorra | Chantilly, Va. | Defensive specialist

No. 3 Kendall White | Indianapolis, Ind. | Libero/defensive specialist

No. 9 Emily DeMure | Granite Bay, Calif. | Outside hitter

No. 17 Kristin Krause | Allentown, Pa. | Defensive specialist

No. 18 Allison Farrell | Lombard, Ill. | Defensive specialist

Media Day Highlights

Coach Rose and three of his juniors in Haleigh Washington, Ali Frantti, and Simone Lee took the podium for Fall Sports Media Day at the Bryce Jordan Center Tuesday morning, where they shared some of their motivations for the upcoming season, which starts Friday at 7:00 p.m. in Rec Hall against West Virginia.

Despite being ranked the No. 9 team in the land by the AVCA Coaches preseason poll, Penn State’s veteran leadership doesn’t care about anything other than getting the job done one match at a time in arguably the deepest conference in women’s college volleyball. “It does give us a little chip on our shoulder,” Lee said. “We know that we’re gonna be a great team, we know that we can play great Penn State volleyball, and we can do really, really good things this season. And we wanna show everyone, now that we are ranked ninth, that you guys ranked us wrong.”

Washington picked up where Lee left off. “Last year we were ranked No. 1 the entire season and we obviously didn’t finish there,” Washington said. “It’s just a number, it doesn’t determine our destiny, it doesn’t determine what we’re gonna do through the season.”

“It gives us a little motivation; it gets me fired up,” Frantti said. “It was a really great learning point for us. I’m excited that we get a new opportunity to win a National Championship. It’s definitely cool to experience the highs and lows. You grow from that situation and I think that this team is ready for a great year.”

Though James Franklin named Trace McSorley his starting quarterback Wednesday, Rose has yet to tip his hand on who will start the first match at setter. The competition comes down to the incumbent starter in Bryanna Weiskircher, a big-time transfer, and a lightning-quick sophomore.

“I think each of the three individuals — Wilma [Rivera], Bryanna [Weiskircher], and Abby [Detering] — all have different strengths that they bring to the table,” Rose said. “I’m not sure who the setter will be; it changes every day. If it changes every day, I guess that’s not so good. Somebody will be setting, and if they do a nice job, they’ll stay out there.”

Washington offered her take on the competition with a few adjectives to describe their respective playing styles. “I think Abby’s got great fire, I think Bryanna’s got great hands, I think Wilma’s got great speed,” she said.

Washington took a yoga course through the university’s kinesiology program this summer, and attributed some improved range of motion and agility on the court to the practice. “I was trying to get some strength back this summer,” Washington said, “so it was a really good class because it helped me physically become stronger, and it also just helped me relax.”

Taking some time to decompress will only help to keep Washington fresh when she’s rising up for a thunderous kill. Her intensity and passion for the game is infectious and should prove to be the team’s source of energy in high-pressure sets against the nation’s best. “We’re always swinging hard,” Washington said. “We’re always going for it, whether the score is 15-15, whether the score is 24-9, whatever it is. It’s always swinging hard, it’s always being aggressive.”

Lee mentioned the freshman class will play a key role in providing a spark for the Nittany Lions in whichever role they find themselves in this fall. “A lot of times, when we were freshmen, the senior class, the junior class, and even the sophomore class said, ‘If you can’t bring anything, you have to bring energy,'” Lee said.

Season-Defining Matches

Sept. 4 — vs. No. 11 Stanford at Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge in Boulder, Colo. at 5:00 p.m. ET

Oct. 5 — vs. No. 3 Minnesota in Rec Hall at 7:00 p.m.

Oct. 28 — @ No. 4 Wisconsin in Madison at 9:00 p.m.

Nov. 4 — vs. No. 1 Nebraska in Rec Hall at 8:00 p.m.

You can check out the whole schedule right here.

Breakout Candidate — Kendall White

The true freshman libero/defensive specialist led Cathedral High School in Indianapolis to a perfect 36-0 and the AAAA State Championship. Sophomore Keeton Holcomb held down the libero for Penn State for the better part of the season before senior Kendall Pierce took over a few games before the NCAA Tournament. White could very well become a starter sooner rather than later given her natural composure and winning mentality.

***

The journey toward an unprecedented eighth National Championship begins Friday night as Russ Rose’s Nittany Lions dive head first into the season with redemption on their minds.

About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected]

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