Thoughts on the Minnesota Match, by PhillyTom
I thought the Minnesota match was a big step forward for PSU, especially defensively. For the first time in the season, the Nittany Lions looked like a top 10 team for an entire match. If they keep refining a few things, they will have a good shot at Illinois at Rec Hall on Saturday night.
On the Block
Given this team’s size, the block should be a big strength, and with 14.5 team blocks in a three set match, PSU’s block is starting to look like the PSU block from recent years. Slay is the anchor and just getting better and better. Minnesota’s pin hitters are high caliber and PSU was really making them work. Katie Slay, A. Scott, Micha Hancock, Nia Grant, Katie Kabbes, Deja McClendon and Aiyana Whitney were all getting the job done, with Slay, Scott and Grant leading the way . There were a couple good looking triples. Technique is tightening up – they’re improving on arm angles, spacing, hand position, timing, everything. Good job team and coaches!
Penn State’s blockers were all smacking together against Minnesota.
“I thought we did a nice job blocking. We got a number of blocks, I think, when we triple-blocked in different situations. For us, we needed to block well because our backcourt defense isn’t our strength.” Russ Rose on Penn State’s blocking against Minnesota, in an interview with Matt Howland of the Daily Collegian.
The Back Row
Back row defense has improved amazingly from four weeks ago. I’m sure it’s not settled yet, but Maddie Martin (who led the team with 10 digs) may be carving out a role as a 6’2” defender who can serve and attack. Nia Grant also had two superb digs playing in the back row — amazing how versatile these young players are. Ali Longo continues her steady improvement. Back row players look better positioned — the block is channeling more balls their way. They’re covering blocks better, and they’re doing much better job of not letting tips hit the floor.
Offense Looking Up
Offense still has a long way to go but showed good improvement as well. Ariel Scott is emerging as a bona fide star and will be all-Big10 if she can sustain this. She seems equally comfortable on the right and left sides, which is unusual.
This was far and away Micha Hancock’s best night as a setter — .344 hitting percentage against an excellent defensive team means she was well prepared and really executing the game plan. She’s probably setting a little better to the right pin than the left, but that could also be the way defenses are keying on McClendon.
Hancock does appear to be reading the defenses a little better and is starting to do some clever things with sets that keep the other team off balance. When Micha was setting Kabbes (who had, if not the best, one of her best matches in a PSU uniform), her sets sometimes appeared to be a little to the inside of where the Minnesota block was setting up, and Kabbes did a good job of seeing this and pouncing on the opening. A couple of her sets to Slay really gave Katie a whole range of choices. From what I’ve seen, one of the toughest sets is the fast cross-court to the left and she nailed at least one of those.
Are things looking up for the Penn State offense?
Slay, who has worked hard to develop as an offensive player, hit .667 for the match and is hitting .413 on the year. I saw two well-executed slides. She can’t leap like Arielle Wilson on the slide but at 6-6 maybe she doesn’t need to. She’s a really intelligent player who prepares hard and does the little things well. She was driving Minnesota crazy anticipating their tips and just blocking them at the net.
McClendon is still not in gear offensively but she is contributing in all sorts of ways. Defenses preparing her are leaving openings for other players on the front line, just like last year when defenses preparing for Brown and Wilson weren’t prepared for Deja. Given time, and probably soon, Deja and Micha will have a breakout match. But the team’s goal, especially early in the season, has to be developing the offensive capability of everybody not named Deja. They know what Deja can do.
Here are the match statistics: