December 02, 2010
Posted by Joe Chuba
This weekend marks the begninnig of another NCAA women’s volleyball tournament. Are the Nittany Lions poised for a 4th straight title?
Penn State enters the tournament as the 4th seed (in women’s volleyball that is essentially like the last 1 seed in the men’s basketball tournament). The road couldn’t have been paved any easier. The Nittany Lions will have 4 straight home contests should they continue to advance. The last time they lost at Rec Hall was 2005 vs. Tennessee in the first round of the east regional. Not a player on the Penn State roster has been a part of a home loss. In fact, only one player on the team has experienced an early exit in the tournament, Blair Brown was red-shirting when the Nittany Lions lost to Washington in the west regional at Washington.
This season has been harder on the Nittany Loins. There have been stumbles this season (first ever loss to Indiana), but the young players that started that season as inexperienced freshmen have grown up facing top teams like Florida, Stanford, and Illinois. Penn State has beat the top seed Gators in Gainesville earlier this season (the only loss for Florida on the season). The Nittany Lions, should they take care of business, would meet the Gators in the national semi-final in Kansas City.
To get there the Lions must protect their home court. Penn State has won an NCAA record 90 straight home matches. Gone are all-everything Megan Hodge and Alisha Glass, the pillars of the 3 previous championship teams. They will go down in history as two of the great players in Penn State history, but the seniors on the roster this year have a chance to make even more history, perfection. A chance to cap each of their seasons hoisting the trophy and cutting down the NCAA nets.
Leading the charge will be Big Ten player of the year Blair Brown and freshman of the year Deja McClendon. Five Nittany Lions received All-Big Ten honors. Arielle Wilson joins Brown and McClendon on the first team, Alyssa D’Errico earned honorable mention, and Fatima Balza received the sportsmanship award. Brown, D’Errico, and Wilson were key players on all three of the previous championship teams, and will be counted on to lead an otherwise youthful team.
The path to Kansas City leads through Happy Valley. The other seeded teams in Penn State’s region are #5 Northern Iowa, #12 Duke, and #13 LSU. Not exactly a murderers row of perennial volleyball powers, but Penn State has proven to be vulnerable this season (see losses to Indiana and Purdue). UNI’s signature win was 3-2 at #10 seed Minnesota, Duke’s was 3-0 at unseeded North Carolina, LSU’s was 3-1 at 11 seed Tennessee. It is fair to say that Penn State should, given that 87 match home win streak, advance to the national semi-final. Expect around 5,000+ rabid fans at Rec Hall to be aiding in that cause.
Steve Jones’ take on the season:
The season began with all of the talk of the streak. Once that ended it seemed to take some time for this group to find its own identity. First ever loss to Indiana, first to Purdue since 1987 not only showed that but also that those schools felt they could beat Penn State . Russ Rose’s Nittany Lions then showed they had that championship heart in them, They overcame the losses… something they had not been mentally used to for years… and rallied. Down the stretch they once again regained their edge and won an eighth straight Big Ten title. During the three year run Russ Rose emphasized that each team was its own entity. Each one took on its own personality. Well this one had a dramatic change in personnel, and in the end still wore hats and still raised a trophy that said “Big Ten Champions”. Now the NCAA gets underway. For the first time in awhile Penn State is not the favorite but they also showed in the last month that a lion is always dangerous.
Author: Joe Chuba
Bio: Sports Producer for WPSU-TV
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