Penn State vs. Minnesota: On Further Review (by PhillyTom)
Overall, a high quality match and a win to be proud of. Minnesota is playing very well right now — remember this team swept Illinois at Champaign just a week ago. Last year’s Penn State team lost the five setter at Minnesota to end the regular season, which was a big confidence boost for that MN team as it headed to the NCAAs. This year it might be the young PSU team that needs to know it can win matches on the road against a top team that is really on its game. So it was probably as important a win for Penn State as the victory over Nebraska at home.
This match was a real statistical oddity. When your team hits .335 with 17 blocks and 7 aces, and the other team registers no blocks, you don’t expect it to be a nail-biter. Thirteen service errors have something to do with it, but even that is not totally unexpected; Penn State had to serve aggressively to beat these guys, and great serving was key to all three sets they won.
All-American caliber performance from Ariel Scott – 26 kills, 9 digs, 8 blocks, and a .423 hitting percentage – that’s phenomenal for 52 attempts. Defenses are worrying about her but they’re still not stopping her, which is very telling. Deja McClendon not far behind with 23 kills/.357. When they are both on like they were last night, is there a better OS/RS pair in the country than these two sophs?
Anyone else noticed that wickedly deceptive motion McClendon has developed on her tips? When faced with a double block, she keeps her right arm cocked to hit until the top of her leap, then as she’s falling she drops the elbow down and kind of shot-puts the ball over the blockers as they go down. She even did this on a back-row set (the B10 play-by-play announcer thought she had mis-timed her jump; we think it was by intent). The ability to execute this shot is critical against teams like Minnesota that play such great back row D. Tips force the back row to play up a couple feet, which improves your percentages tremendously on hard hits.
Another strong match from 6-2 Fr. MB Nia Grant. Little by little she’s losing that freshman just-glad-to-be-here look and becoming more of an intimidating force in the middle. Might have been the first match where she registered more blocks (9) than Slay. I thought PSU did a good job containing Minnesota’s terrific middle Tori Dixon. Maybe they’ll be able to do a better job with Illinois’ fine freshman Anna Dorn when they see her next week.
Micha Hancock broke the PSU single season ace record, and a great serve from her on match point got the overpass that Katie Slay put down to end it. But Hancock’s most important work is what she’s doing with the hitters. My favorite set of the night came on a mediocre pass that went hard to the right side. The MN blockers moved right figuring that was Hancock’s only option. But instead she popped a fast, almost flat cross-court set to McClendon, who got it down long before the block could get there. That is the kind of play Penn State is going to need to beat great defenses.
So it’s off to Wisconsin, a team that gave PSU a surprisingly tough time at Rec Hall in late September. Match is Sunday afternoon. Let’s see if PSU can keep its concentration up and make it three strong matches in a row. That would be another good sign.