DigNittany Preview: Duke (You Can Go Home Again)

With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, you can go home again, at least if you’re the Penn State Women’s Volleyball team, which heads to Megan Hodge’s hometown, Durham, North Carolina, for the Duke Invitational. The Nittany Lions will face off on Friday against Loyola (Md) (3-5, but fresh off a 3-1 upset of the University of Maryland), and Saturday against College of Charleston (1-5), and Duke University (5-1).

The Blue Devils, the ACC coaches pre-season pick to win the ACC championship, are by far the best of the three teams, having made four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Last year’s 25-9 team won the ACC Championship. Here’s a quick preview of Saturday’s match with Duke:

Time and Place: September 12, 2009, 7:00 p.m. ET.

Media Coverage: The match is listed on Duke’s website as being available on LiveStats.

The Skinny: Duke

By the time Duke takes on Penn State, it will have opened its home season against pre-season #24 Colorado State (4-2, but with four straight victories after opening-weekend losses to No. 19 Pepperdine and Oregon State). Duke has also been red hot (if Blue Devils can be red hot), having won the Georgia Dawgs Invitational with victories over Georgia 3-1, South Alabama 3-0 and Tennessee State 3-0.

Duke is led by 6-1 So. MB/OH Sophia Dunworth, who was named MVP of the Georgia Dawgs Tournament (with a .529 hitting percentage and only three attack errors), 6-1 Jr. MB Becci Burling, and 6-3 So. MB Amanda Robertson, all of whom made the all-tournament team. Add in 6-5 Fr. MB Christiana Gray (ranked by PrepVolleyball.com as the 15th best recruit for 2009), and Duke is impressive at the net, with the four combining for a .355 hitting percentage and over two blocks per set.

Duke’s OH’s — 5-10 Sr. Rachael Moss and 6-1 Sr. Brittany Staffeil, also have made significant contributions, with each averaging at least 2.50 kills/set. Sophomore setter Kellie Catanach, is averaging 8.86 assists per set.

The Skinny: Penn State

The Nittany Lions are undefeated, haven’t lost a set this season, hit .702 against Buffalo — a new Big Ten record for single-match hitting percentage, and have extended Penn State’s NCAA-record winning streak to 70 consecutive matches and 114 consecutive regular-season sets. Senior OH Megan Hodge is leading Penn State with 4.00 kills/set, followed by Freshman OH Darcy Dorton (3.17 k/set), Junior Opp. Blair Brown 2.89 k/set) and MH Arielle Wilson (1.89 k/set). Junior MH Fatima Balza leads in blocks with 1.50/set, with Arielle Wilson at 1.33/set and Blair Brown at .78 per set.

Senior Setter Alisha Glass leads the Nittany Lions with 11.22 assists/set, while Junior Alyssa D’Errico leads the team with .61 service aces/set. D’Errico is averaging 3.44 digs/set, with Megan Hodge second on the team at 3.00 digs/set, and Alisha Glass at 2.28 digs/set.

We anticipate a Penn State victory, but at the risk of beating a dead horse, the Blue Devils could surprise if the Nittany Lions take them for granted.

The Head Coaches

Duke: Jolene Nagel

Duke Head Coach Jolene Nagel is in her 10th season as Head Coach of the Duke Women’s Volleyball team. She has led the Blue Devils to six NCAA Tournament appearances in the last seven years, and a combined ACC record of 82-20 over the last five years.

Penn State: Russ Rose

Head Coach Russ Rose on why Penn State doesn’t deserve its #1 ranking: “This team is a work in progress, and I don’t see us as being ranked number one. . . . This group has played six matches now, and they haven’t beaten anybody that would have them ranked number one.”