DigNittany’s Penn State Women’s Volleyball 2015 Season Preview

Rec Hall (courtesy of GoPSUsports.com)
Rec Hall (courtesy of GoPSUsports.com)

Penn State Women’s Volleyball 2015 Season Preview

By the DigNittanyVolleyball.com Staff, August 15, 2015

Big Picture (or “Don’t Put Too Much Stock in that #1 Preseason Ranking”)

Micha Hancock
Micha Hancock
Nia Grant
Nia Grant

To the surprise of almost no one, the AVCA 2015 preseason poll, out on August 12th, has Penn State ranked #1 (for our story and a link to the complete AVCA poll, Click Here).  Preseason polls generally are more about the previous season (“What did you do for me last year?”) than they are about the upcoming one.  Penn State won the NCAA Championship last season.  Ergo, #1 preseason this year.  (On that point, see Lionsfan’s article “Penn State’s No. 1 – But What Does the AVCA Preseason Poll Really Tell Us About Who Will Win the NCAA Title?”)

But, for those of you not paying particular attention (or those who are still in denial), please note the following: Micha Hancock has graduated.  After leading the Nittany Lions to back-to-back NCAA Division I Championships (7th overall and 6th in eight years),  she has moved on to a professional career, taking her booming serve, fierce competitiveness, and determined leadership with her. And Nia Grant also graduated.  And also moved on to a professional career.

But wait.  There’s more.  Dom Gonzalez and Lacey Fuller have graduated too.  The starting libero and the ace defensive specialist.  Gone. So it will be understandable if (make that “when”) Head Coach Russ Rose dampens down the expectations a bit.  Alot of talent and senior leadership has moved on.  And they’ll be missed.

 

Dom Gonzalez
Dom Gonzalez
Lacey Fuller
Lacey Fuller

Still, quite a few very good players return.  And some promising new players have joined the team. So even though we are pretty lousy at predictions (we had Megan Courtney moving to Opp/RS last season, and Aiyana Whitney at MH or OH, so what do we know?), we do know that it should be an exciting season for Penn State fans. For the coaches and players? It takes a lot of work (an unbelievable amount of work, actually) to be really good.  So, if nothing else, the team will burn a lot of calories.  To win the B1G or make it back to the Final Four? They have their work cut out for them.

For thoughts on how the season will end, we spoke with Talking Head and Club Coach, both of whom played volleyball at the collegiate level and have coached for many years with great success.  Here’s what they had to say:

Club Coach: Death, taxes, and PSU starting out as the team to beat.  Although it is only a pre-season poll, the #1 AVCA ranking demonstrates that Penn State once again has the respect of the nations coaches, and a bulls eye on its back. The defending champion and pre-season favorite will again be looking to compete for the Big Ten and National Championships.  Like all teams, the Nittany Lions are faced with the challenge of replacing star players, talent and experience.  In their case, although the three key losses  come in the form of a two All-Americans in Micha Hancock and Nia Grant, and maybe the most underrated player in the country in Dom Gonzalez, nobody has been able to reload better than the Nittany Lions, and the cupboard is far from bare.

Penn State returns some of the top net players and point scores in Haleigh Washington, Aiyana Whitney, and Megan Courtney. Although the question marks are obvious — who will replace Hancock and Gonzalez and at what level can they perform — in my opinion, the bigger challenge will be replacing the leadership void left by Hancock and Gonzalez. It’s easier to replace talent than it is to replace experience and leadership.  Although I don’t believe this team starts the season as the best in the land, I firmly believe they can finish there, and that is the only thing that matters.

Talking Head: What will life for PSU volleyball be without Micha, Dom, Lacy and Nia?  That is the question on most every fan’s mind for the past eight months.  Fortunately for us, it is not a question that has lingered much on the minds of the 2015 squad.  They have been training, competing and battling with each other and their coaches to keep that tradition of excellence going.  From what little we have heard, there are some very competitive battles taking place at practice, which to us is a great sign.  Hopefully, that internal competition will translate into a very deep team this year at multiple positions.

For now though, there are so many questions: Who will set? Will Aiyana play opposite or middle? Who will be the Libero? Who will be the 1st DS?  Will Simone break into the Starting Line up?  Will any freshmen break in?  My answer to these, and many, many more . . . talent rises to the top.  The best player will be there in the end.

As I have watched Coach Rose move his players out of their comfort zone over the years, I have come to realize that these players are able to reach new levels that they did not know they could achieve.   We have heard the terms “street fighter” and “tough as nails” often linked to past Championship teams and players, and I have feeling we will see the same from this year’s team.  Certainly, some of these characteristics are innate, but I believe a longitudinal study of the type of player that rises to the top in the Nittany Lion uniform would find those players have honed their talents and competitive edge through Coach Rose’s uncompromising practice regime, to emerge as very strong players in every sense of the word.  Many observers say that every 2015 team comes with some warts.  I would agree that this is true for most every team.   My sneaky suspicion is, however, that PSU’s warts will blossom into beauty marks! Crystal Ball:  2015 will be a very very good year!

AVCA's Top 6 - 2015 Preseason Poll (click Team Logos for More Info)

RankSchool1st Place
Votes
Total
Pts.
Adj.
2014
Record
2014
Rank
#1Penn
State



54153836-31
#2

6
146833-22
#3


1138427-35
#4


0133828-46
#5 (tie)

0127523-108
#5 (tie)Wisc.
1127531-34

First Serve

Micha Hancock Photo by Mark Selders
Micha Hancock
Photo by Mark Selders

Though Micha Hancock excelled in so many aspects of the game, it was her serve that generated the most media buzz and fan reaction (“boom”).  And why not? She ranked 1st in NCAA D1 aces/set in 2014 (best in the 25 point scoring era, starting in 2008), and she holds both the Penn State and B1G records for aces in a single season (126), and for career aces (380).  So trying to replace (or come close to replacing) her part of Penn State’s service game would be a very tall order, even if all the other top servers returned from the 2014 team.  But they don’t. As shown in the table below, three of the top four servers from 2014  — Hancock, Dom Gonzalez, and Nia Grant — who were responsible for 169 of the team’s 243 service aces in 2014 (69.5%), have graduated. So among the many “to do” items for Coach Rose in pre-season practice, is to retool the team’s serving.

Of the returning players, 6-2 So. OH Ali Frantti showed promise (28 aces), as did 5-6 So. DS Lainy Pierce (11 aces with 8 service errors).  Incoming 6-3 Fr. Opp/RS, Jelena Novakovic, reportedly has a very good serve (and, coincidentally, is a lefty).  But to expect her to replicate Hancock’s production is unfair.

Although we don’t know who will be Penn State’s top servers in 2015, we do know two things: 1) for the players, opportunity is knocking . . . loudly; and 2) Russ Rose has always emphasized serving tough.  There is no reason to think that the graduation of Hancock, Gonzalez, and Grant will motivate him to change his approach this season.

Who's Back or Not Back: 2014 Serving

 Name '14
Cl.
SPMP
(MS)
SASA
/S
SE
Not BackHancock,
Micha
4/Sr.12739
(39)
1260.99110
BackFrantti,
Ali
1/Fr.12239
(39)
280.2341
Not BackGonzalez,
Dominique
4/Sr.12739
(0)
260.2043
Not BackGrant,
Nia
4/Sr.12539
(39)
170.1434
BackPierce,
Lainy
1/Fr.6130
(0)
110.188
BackCourtney,
Megan
3/Jr.12739
(39)
110.0912
Teamn/a12739
(39)
2431.91291
Opp.n/a12739
(39)
610.48242

Setter

Quick Look

OK, Micha Hancock has graduated.  Who will take her place? The two leading candidates are 6-0 RS Fr. Bryanna Weiskircher, ranked by PrepVolley.com as the #13 Senior Ace for 2014, and Wilma Rivera, a 5-8 Fr. from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Below is a table with the setting stats from 2014, followed by profiles of Weiskircher and Rivera.

Who's Back or Not Back: Setting Stats - 2014

 Name Pos2014
Cl
SPMPAsstAst/
Set
Not
Back
Hancock,
Micha
S4/Sr.12739147511.61
Not
Back
Gonzalez,
Dominique
L4/Sr.12739950.75
BackCourtney,
Megan
OH3/Jr.12739660.52
Teamn/a12736166913.14

The Players

#21 Bryanna Weiskircher, 6-0 S., RS Fr., Loves Park, IL

The Buzz on Bryanna:  Although Bryanna Weiskircher did not play in any of Penn State’s matches in 2014 (her redshirt season), she is an experienced, smooth and confident setter and leader who interned behind Micha Hancock — not a bad role model, right? — and has really stepped up her game.  She is a skilled and polished setter, with good location and solid awareness of the position.  Her knowledge of the game is a real strength and she should be a significant contributor in 2015.   

 

2014 (Redshirt Season)

 

High School:

  • John Tawa of PrepVolleyball.com, described Bryanna Weiskircher as “a ferocious competitor oozing with Division I talent in every phase of her game.”
  • PrepVolleyball.com’s #13-ranked Senior Ace
  • 2013-14 Under Armour First Team All-American and 2013 Mizuno Honorable Mention All-American
  • Finished her senior season at Boylan Catholic as a three-time captain and team MVP, leading her team to a 32-2 record and recording 341 assists, 239 kills, 232 digs, 51 aces and 43 blocks.
  • Was the setter for Club Fusion (which included fellow freshmen 6-1 OH Ali Frantti and 6-1 OH Simone Lee), as it won two AAU championships.

 

11214119#4 Wilma Rivera, 5’8” S, Fr., Carolina, Puerto Rico

The Buzz on Wilma: Wilma Rivera has trained with the Puerto Rican national team for several years, was the team captain for Puerto Rico’s team last year in the FIVB Youth World Championships, and was named the best setter at the Youth Championships in 2013.  With the departure of Micha Hancock, Wilma will be competing with Bryanna Weiskircher for the starting setter position.  

 

Outside Hitter

Quick Look

Back for a final season is 6-2 Sr. Megan Courtney (who earned Most Outstanding Player for the 2014 NCAA Championships after having been overlooked for any B1G awards).  She’ll be joined by 6-2 Ali Frantti (AVCA Freshman of the Year and an AVCA 2nd-Team All-American), and 6-1 Simone Lee, along with 6-2 Nia Reed (who redshirted last season after being ranked as the #12 Prepvolleyball.com Senior Ace in 2014).

The Nittany Lions obviously are very talented at outside hitter.  Like last season, however, the question — even with all the returning talent — is who will play where?  Could Courtney end up at RS/Opp?  Will Nia Reed break through?  Will Lee be at OH or RS/Opp?  Will Aiyana Whitney make an appearance at OH? Regardless of how that question is answered, Penn State will be loaded in the front row.

Who's Back or Not Back: 2014 Outside Hitter Blocking/Points Leaders

 Name SPMP
(MS)
BSBATBB/SBEBH
E
PtsPt
/S
BackFrantti,
Ali
12239
(39)
1048580.4822453.03.71
BackCourtney,
Megan
12739
(39)
1678940.7472376.02.96
BackLee,
Simone
6427
(1)
520250.3940150.02.34
Team12739
(39)
73535340.52.6854162450.519.29
Opp.12739
(39)
22347195.51.5462281566.512.33

The Players

Megan Courtney#17 Megan Courtney, 6-2 S/OH, Sr., Dayton, Ohio

The Buzz on Megan: One of the most complete players in college volleyball, Megan Courtney, one of three team captains for 2015, has all the skills and the maturity to lead the 2015 Penn State team.  She likely will play at both outside positions and contribute in both the front and back row.  Courtney  is an outstanding athlete with a terrific volleyball IQ, and will be one of the keys to a successful season in 2015.

Megan Courtney's Career Attack Stats

YearClassSP
MP
(MS)
KK/SAETA%
'143/Jr.12739
(39)
3102.4485794.283
'132/So.120
35
(34)
2972.4796740.272
'121/Fr.120
36
(35)
2402.0088632.241

Megan Courtney's Career Blocking Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
BSBATBB/SBE
'143/Jr.12739
(39)
1678940.747
'132/So.12035
(34)
2859870.7314
'121/Fr.12036
(35)
32691010.848

Megan Courtney's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
RERcpt
TA
Rcpt
Pct.
DigsD/S
'143/Jr.12739
(39)
26n/an/a2972.34
'132/So.12035
(34)
--466.9703012.51
'121/Fr.12036
(35)
22----2371.98

2014 Honors:

 

2014 (Junior): 

 

2013 (Sophomore):

 

2012 (Freshman):

  • Big Ten Freshman of the Year;
  • Named AVCA Mideast Region Freshman of the Year;
  • Unanimous selection to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team;
  • Started 35 out of 36 matches at outside hitter, ending the season fourth on the team in kills (240 — an average of 2.00 kills per set), digs (237 — an average of 1.98 digs per set), and blocks (101 — an average of 0.84 blocks per set, including at least one block in 33 matches, and 27 matches with multiple blocks).

 

High School:

 

Frantti#5 Ali Frantti, 6-2 OH, So., Spring Grove, IL

The Buzz on Ali:  One of the top offensive players to come into the program in the past few years, Ali Frantti brings a high level of compete, and is an explosive attacker who has continued to improve her overall game. Touching in the 10-5 range, Frantti has a great arm from both the front and backrow and continues to embrace being a go-to hitter. Her blocking is improving, and she is a good passer and defender with six-rotation potential.  

Ali Frantti's Career Attack Stats

YearClassSP
MP
(MS)
KK/SAETA%
'141/Fr.12239
(39)
3913.20113898.310

Ali Frantti's Career Blocking Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
BSBATBB/SBE
'141/Fr.12239
(39)
1048580.482

Ali Frantti's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
RERcpt
TA
Rcpt
Pct.
DigsD/S
'141/Fr.12239
(39)
13n/an/a1591.30

 

2014 Honors:

 

2014 (Freshman):

 

High School:

  • Ranked by PrepVolleyball.com as the #2 Senior Ace,
  • Named a 2013-14 Under Armour First Team All-American, a 2013 Mizuno First Team All-American, and the 2013 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year.
  • Earned 1st Team All-State honors and Chicago Sun-Times All-Area honors in 2012.
  • Was Richmond Burton High School’s MVP three-times, and its captain two times.
  • Helped lead Club Fusion (where her teammates included fellow freshmen 6-1 OH Simone Lee and 6-1 S Bryanna Weiskircher) to back-to-back AAU titles, being named MVP in 2012 and making the all-tournament team in 2013.

 

Simone Lee#22 Simone Lee, 6-1 OH, So., Menomonee Falls, WI

The Buzz on Simone: Simone Lee, always a strong, physical net player (she touches in the 10-5 range) showed in 2014 that she is mentally tough and able to give her team a spark of energy when it’s needed.  Perhaps the best example came in Penn State’s NCAA Regional Final match against Wisconsin, when Simone came off the bench to put down 7 kills with no errors in the 2nd set, turning the match around.  Whether she starts, or comes off the bench, Lee will be an important part of the team in 2015.

Simone Lee's Career Attack Stats

YearClassSP
MP (MS)KK/SAETA%
'141/Fr.6429 (1)1352.1153350.234

Simone Lee's Career Blocking Stats

YearClassSPMP (MS)BSBATBB/SBE
'141/Fr.6427 (1)520250.394

Simone Lee's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP (MS)RERcpt
TA
Rcpt
Pct.
DigsD/S
'141/Fr.6427 (1)0n/an/a280.44

 

2014 (Freshman):

 

High School:

  • PrepVolleyball.com’s #8-ranked Senior Ace;
  • Named a 2013-14 Under Armour First Team All-American, a 2013 Mizuno First Team All-American, and the 2013 Wisconsin Gatorade Player of the Year;
  • Started all four years for Menomonee Falls High School (which won the Wisconsin WIAA state championship in 2011 and 2012) where she was twice named the team captain;
  • Member of the 2012 (first-place at the NORCECA U18 Continental Championships) and 2013 (second-place finish at the FIVB U18 World Championships) USA Girls’ Youth National Teams;
  • Her club team, Club Fusion, won two AAU Championships;
  • Named four times to the AAU all-tournament team;

 

Nia Reed#6 Nia Reed, 6-2 OH, RS Fr., Fort Lee, NJ

The Buzz on Nia: Following a redshirt season in 2014, Nia Reed will be looking to get into the mix for playing time in 2015.  An imposing athlete with a great smile, Reed reportedly touches close to 10-9.  She has all the tools and energy to develop into a terrific net player.

 

2014 (Redshirt Season)

 

High School:

 

Opposite/Right Side

Quick Look

Going into the 2014 season, following the graduation of Ariel Scott — Penn State’s go-to terminator in 2012 and 2013 — the Opposite/Right Side position was a huge question mark for the Nittany Lions.  We thought 6-2 Megan Courtney would be there on opening day (do not bet the farm based on our lottery picks), but as it turned out, it was 6-3  Aiyana Whitney who won the position, and finished her outstanding 2014 season ranking 2nd on the squad with 2.95 kills/set and 4th with an attack % of .353.

This season, Whitney would appear to be the odds-on favorite to fill the position again (although incoming 6-3 Fr. Jelena Novakovic is highly-regarded, she will be a freshman, and Aiyana Whitney is Aiyana Whitney).  Still, with Whitney’s versatility, and the all-around talent of Courtney, Head Coach Russ Rose might be tempted to try Whitney at middle blocker (to fill the spot vacated by Nia Grant) or even at outside hitter.

Courtney is an intriguing option at Opp/RS (which is why we include her in the tables above).  For one thing, she is a better defender than Whitney, is a six rotation player (which Whitney is not), and would provide better out-of-system offense than Whitney.  As long as we’re speculating, 6-2 So. Simone Lee is another viable option,  having gained international experience at right-side when she was a right-side starter on the 2013 USA Youth National Worlds finalist team.

Speculation is fun, but we expect to see Whitney in the starting lineup at Opp/RS in the season’s opener against Buffalo on August 28th at Rec Hall.

Who's Back or Not Back: Opposite/Right Side 2014 Attack Leaders


Name '14
Cl.
SP
MP
(MS)
KK/SETA%
BackWhitney,
Aiyana
3/RS
Jr.
12639
(34)
3722.95109745.353
BackCourtney,
Megan
3/Jr.12739
(39)
3102.4485794.283
Teamn/a12739
(39)
186714.704984006.342
Opp.n/a12739
(39)
131010.317333940.146

Who's Back or Not Back: 2014 Right Side/Opposite Blocking/Points Leaders

 Name SPMP
(MS)
BSBATBB/SBEBH
E
PtsPt
/S
BackWhitney,
Aiyana
12639
(34)
494980.78152423.03.36
BackCourtney,
Megan
12739
(39)
1678940.7472376.02.96
Team12739
(39)
73535340.52.6854162450.519.29
Opp.12739
(39)
22347195.51.5462281566.512.33

The Players

Aiyana Whitney #14 Aiyana Whitney, 6-4 RS/Opp, Sr., Norwood, NJ

The Buzz on Aiyana: Aiyana Whitney (one of three team captains for 2015), is a very physical front row player with an intriguing combination of size and athleticism, who will be a key performer for Penn State in 2015.  She has the ability to score from all of the front row positions, and blocks and attacks at a high level.  We’re listing Aiyana as a RS/Opp, but she is a versatile athlete who could see time at  middle blocker or outside hitter. 

Aiyana Whitney's Career Attack Stats

Year'13
Cl
SPMPKK/SAETA%
'143/RS
Jr.
12639
(34)
3722.95109745.353
'132/RS
So.
3221
(3)
421.311295.316
'12RS--------------
'111/Fr.6524
(0)
1131.7451320.194

Aiyana Whitney's Career Blocking Stats

YearClassSPMPBSBATBB/SBE
'143/RS
Jr.
12639
(34)
494980.7815
'132/RS
So.
3221
(3)
012120.383
'12RS--------------
'111/Fr.6524
(0)
322250.384

2014 Honors:

 

2014 (Redshirt Junior):

 

2013 (Redshirt Sophomore): Whitney started three matches in 2013, and played in a total of 21. High points included:

 

2012 (Redshirt Season) 2011 (Freshman):

  • Posted 15 kills vs. Texas (9/10),
  • nine kills on .353 hitting against Nebraska (9/21),
  • nine kills and three blocks at Minnesota (11/4),
  • 12 kills with only one error in 24 swings (.458 attack percentage) against UCLA in the Sweet 16.
  • For the season, in which she played in 24 matches and 64 sets at outside hitter, she totaled 113 kills (.194 attack percentage), 14 digs and 25 blocks.

 

High School:

  • 2010 Top-20 Prep Volleyball Senior Ace and a 2010 Under Armour/AVCA First Team All-American.
  • She led Old Tappan to 25 straight wins over New Jersey opponents that season, which was capped off by Old Tappan’s first-ever state championship when it won the finals of the Tournament of Champions.
  • 2011 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year.

 

11214118#16 Jelena Novakovic, 6’3” RS/Opp, Fr., Belgrade, Serbia

The Buzz on Jelena: Jelena Novakovic is a lefty who has the ability to score not only in the front row, but in the backrow as well.  She brings many years of very high level international experience to Penn State, having competed in multiple European championships — experience that will be an invaluable addition to the team.  Although she lists herself at 6’3 and PSU lists her at 6’2, judging from some team photos, we’re going out on a limb and say she’s closer to 6′-3. 

The addition of a nice size southpaw, like Jelena, is a long-desired prize for the Nittany Lion program.  She has a high contact point and seems equally at ease cranking line as well as hitting deep cross court.  Her ability to attack comfortably from behind the 3 meter line should be a huge plus for Penn State once Megan Courtney graduates.  One observer summed up the addition of Jelena Novakovic this  way:

Having a D ball lefty can be devastating.  I would say the speed of the game will be the greatest transition that Jelena will have to adjust to, but she seems really excited and eager for the new challenge and I’m thrilled that she will be in Blue and White.  She has a lot of the tools Penn State is looking for.

 

Middle Blocker

Quick Look

6-2 Nia Grant has graduated, but 6-3 So. Haleigh Washington returns, as does 6-2 So. Heidi Thelen.  They will be joined by 6-2 Fr. Tori Gorrell, from  OakvilleOntario, Canada.

All  Washington did in 2014 was lead the Nittany Lions with 1.22 blocks/set and a .463 attack %.  We expect she’ll be even better (in terms of play, if not in terms of statistics) in 2015.  Scary thought.

Who will fill the other MB slot? Your guess is as good as ours.  In addition to Thelen and  Gorrell, it’s possible Aiyana Whitney could see time in the middle.

You can safely pencil in Haleigh Washington for one starting position.  After that? We’ll see as the season progresses.

Who's Back or Not Back: 2014 Blocking Leaders

 Name SPMP
(MS)
BSBATBB/SBE
BackWashington,
Haleigh
7926
(22)
1779961.228
Not BackGrant,
Nia
12539
(39)
161261421.147
BackWhitney,
Aiyana
12639
(34)
494980.7815
BackCourtney,
Megan
12739
(39)
1678940.747
Not BackHancock,
Micha
12739
(39)
482860.6811
BackFrantti,
Ali
12239
(39)
1048580.482
Team12739
(39)
73535340.52.6854
Opp.12739
(39)
22347195.51.5462

The Players

Haley Washington#15 Haleigh Washington, 6-3 MB, So., Colorado Springs, CO

The Buzz on Haleigh: Haleigh Washington is an exceptionally talented offensive player, with a high contact point (reportedly touches in the 10’10” range) and great energy.  She will be a key attacker both in front and behind the setter.  Haleigh’s blocking continues to improve and she has taken big steps heading into her sophomore season.  She has an infectious personality and zest for life, and is a natural leader.  PrepVolleyball.com’s #1-ranked Senior Ace in 2014. 

Haleigh Washington's Career Blocking Stats

YearClSPMP
(MS)
BSBATBB/SBE
20141/Fr.7926
(22)
1779961.228

Haleigh Washington's Career Attack Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
KK/SAtt
Err
TAHit
Pct.
20141/Fr.7926
(22)
2082.6337369.463

2014 Honors:

  • All-Big Ten;
  • Big Ten Freshman of the Year;
  • All-Big Ten Freshman team (unanimous);
  • Big Ten Player of the Week (11/3);
  • Two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week (11/10 following back-to-back double-digit kill performances against Rutgers (11/7) and Maryland (11/8); and 11/17, following matches against Ohio State).

 

2014 (Freshman):

 

High School: Among the highlights from Haleigh’s high school career were:

 

Heidi Thelan#19 Heidi Thelen, 6-2 MB, So., Edgewood, KY

The Buzz on Heidi: A natural blocker who has improved her strength and attacking skills, Heidi Thelen plays hard and is not intimidated by the step up in competition.  She will definitely be in the mix for playing time in the middle.

 

Heidi Thelen's Career Blocking Stats

YearClSPMP
(MS)
BSBATBB/SBE
20141/Fr.9na
(na)
1670.78na

Heidi Thelen's Career Attack Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
KK/SAtt
Err
TAHit
Pct.
20141/Fr.9na
(na)
101.11nana.364

2014 (Freshman):

 

High School:

  • 2013-14 Under Armour Honorable Mention All-American;AAU Nationals All-tournament team in 2012 and 2013 as a player with Tri-State Elite;
  • AAU All-America in 2011;
  • Kentucky Class AAA All-State in 2013;
  • Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association (KVCA) All State in 2013; and
  • 2011 and 2013 KVCA Region 9 Player of the Year.

 

ToriGorrell#11 Tori Gorrell, 6’2” MB, Fr., Oakville, Ontario, Canada

The Buzz on Tori: Tori Gorrell played high school volleyball at Abbey Park High school and club for Leaside VBC.  She will provide some immediate depth at the middle blocking position. During her club career Tori was named to a number of all tournament teams. We are all looking forward to seeing her progress throughout the season.

 

Libero/Defensive Specialist

Quick Look

The obvious: both Dom Gonzalez (who, as Club Coach notes in our Big Picture section (above), may have been the most underrated player in the country in 2014) and  Lacey Fuller have graduated.  The less-than-obvious: who will replace them?

Coach Rose will be choosing from several players:  5-5 Sr.   Kendall Pierce has the most experience, but her sister Lainy, a 5-6 DS, So.,  5-6 Jr. Taylor Krause, 5-4 Jr. Laura Broerman,  5-7 Jr. Carley Muller, and 5-4 Sr. Lara Caraway have all seen playing time and will all be in the conversation for playing time in 2015.  Incoming 5-5 Fr. Keeton Holcomb will also be in the mix.

As Talking Head noted above: the best players will be there in the end.

Who's Back or Not Back: Recept/Dig Leaders from 2014

 #Name '14
Cl
SPMP
(MS)
REDigsDigs
/S
Not Back4Gonzalez,
Dominique
4/Sr.12739
(0)
134783.76
Back17Courtney,
Megan
3/Jr.12739
(39)
262972.34
Not Back12Hancock,
Micha
4/Sr.12739
(39)
02341.84
Not Back33Fuller,
Lacey
4/Sr.12739
(19)
22121.67
Penn State
Total
n/a12739
61162612.80
Opponentsn/a12739243139410.98

The Players

 

Kendall Pierce#3 Kendall Pierce, 5-5 DS, Sr., Eden, NY

The Buzz on Kendall: An experienced backrow player who has worked hard to help the team grow and contribute from the endline,  Kendall Pierce is a leading candidate for the starting libero position in 2015.  After nearly tripling her playing time in 2013 (appearing in 83 sets compared to 29 in 2012), she continued to play a significant role for the Nittany Lions, appearing in 79 of 127 sets during the 2014 season. Kendall, one of three team captains for 2015, is regarded as a good teammate with a high volleyball IQ, and was a 2015 winner of the prestigious Big Ten Distinguished Scholar Award.

Kendall Pierce's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
REDigDig/S
'143/Jr.79n/a4470.59
'132/So8334
(0)
--210.25
'121/Fr.2918
(1)
070.24

Kendall Pierce's Career Serving Stats

YearClassSPMPSASA/SSE
'143/Jr.79n/a40.05n/a
'132/So.8334
(0)
70.089
'121/Fr.2918
(0)
90.316

 

2014 (Junior):

 

2013 (Sophomore):

 

2012 (Freshman):

  • Played 18 matches (29 sets) as a serving and defensive specialist;
  • Recorded nine aces and seven digs, with two aces vs. Illinois (11/8)
  • Totaled two aces against Bowling Green (12/1).

 

High School:

  • Won three letters and was a two-year team captain at Eden Junior-Senior High School in Eden, N.Y.;
  • led her team to the State Championship three times;
  • two-time All-WNY First Team honoree;
  • MVP at State Championship in 2011;
  • President of the National Honor Society and the Student Council.

 

Pierce, Lainy#8 Lainy Pierce , 5-6 DS, So., Eden, NY

The Buzz on Lainy: A player who gained valuable experience in the back row and on the service line in 2014, Lainy will be battling for more playing time in 2015.

Lainy Pierce's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
REDigDig/S
'141/Fr.61n/a
(n/a)
0190.31

Lainy Pierce's Career Serving Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
SASA/SSE
'141/Fr.61n/a
(n/a)
110.18n/a

 

2014 (Freshman):

 

High School:

  • Played on four New York State Championship teams,
  • was the New York State Class C MVP in 2013 and 2012,
  • was a New York Gatorade Player of the Year finalist in 2012,
  • played for Niagara Frontier on WEVA Regional Championship teams from 2008 to 2013.
  • Both Lainy’s parents were scholarship athletes at Penn State (her dad, Robert Pierce, set the men’s volleyball team single-season service ace record with 47 aces, and held it until 2007, and her mom, Kiernan, ran the 800 meters for the women’s track team — anchoring the sprint medley to a 3:53.20 finish, which stands as the fifth-best in Penn State history).

 

Taylor Krause#13 Taylor Krause, 5-6 DS/S, Jr. Allentown, PA

The Buzz on Taylor: Can set, pass, and defend. Her big-match experience in 2014 will help her compete for more playing time this season.

Taylor Krause's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
REDigDig/S
20142/So.29n/a
(n/a)
080.28
20131/Fr.1010--50.50

Taylor Krause's Career Serving Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
SASA/SetSE
20142/So.29n/a
(n/a)
10.03n/a
20131/Fr.10100--0

 

2014 (Sophomore):

 

2013 (Freshman):

 

High School:

  • Taylor was team captain and won letters all four years at Parkland High School in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
  • During those four years, Parkland won three Lehigh Valley Conference and district championships and one Pennsylvania state championship.
  • In 2012, Taylor was named a Max Preps All-American, an Under Armour Second Team All-American and a Mizuno Third Team All-American.

 

Laura Broerman#24 Laura Broerman, 5-4 DS, Jr., Colorado Springs, CO

The Buzz on Laura: Another hardworking player who brings good quickness, coverage, and defense, as well as invaluable experience of playing on two NCAA Championship teams.  She will be in the mix for playing time in 2015.

Laura Broerman's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
REDigDig/S
20142/So.18n/a
(n/a)
030.17
20131/Fr.55--20.40

Laura Broerman's Career Serving Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
SASA/SetSE
20142/So.18n/a
(n/a)
20.11n/a
20131/Fr.5010.200

2014 (Sophomore):

 

2013 (Freshman):

 

High School:

  • Won four varsity letters in volleyball (10 total letters) at St. Mary’s High School
  • Served as team captain in her senior year;
  • four-year member of the honor roll.

 

 Muller#10 Carley Muller, 5-7 DS, Jr., Manhattan Beach, CA

The Buzz on CarleyCarley Muller is one of the most competitive players on the Penn State team.  She brings experience, good passing and defense, and a nice feel for the game.  She reportedly had a great spring and summer and should be in the mix to earn playing time in the backrow. 

Carley Muller's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
REDigDig/S
20142/So.14n/a
(n/a)
020.14
20131/Fr.77--0--

Carley Muller's Career Serving Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
SASA/SetSE
20142/So.14n/a
(n/a)
10.07n/a
20131/Fr.77001

2014 (Sophomore):

 

2013 (Freshman):

 

High School:

  • A two-year team captain at Mira Coast High School,
  • where she was named Bay League Libero of the Year after her senior year;
  • helped her club team to third-place at the 17 Open division Junior Nationals and second-place at the Las Vegas Classic in the 17 Open division;
  • Was on the honor roll in all eight semesters.

 

Caraway, Lara#2 Lara Caraway, 5-4 DS, Sr., Evans City, PA

The Buzz on Lara: Lara Caraway is a hard worker and competitor, and will be looking to earn playing time in 2015 as a serving specialist and defensive specialist.

Lara Caraway's Career Recept/Dig Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
REDigDig/S
20143/Jr.16n/a
(n/a)
070.44
20132/So.2421--60.25
20121/Fr.2416050.21

Lara Caraway's Career Serving Stats

YearClassSPMP
(MS)
SASA/SetSE
20143/Jr.16n/a
(n/a)
10.06n/a
20132/So.242110.043
20121/Fr.241630.124

 

2014 (Junior):

 

2013 (Sophomore): Among the highlights from Lara’s Sophomore season were:

 

2012 (Freshman):

  • Played in 16 matches (24 sets) with three aces and five digs;
  • debuted against Morehead State (8/24).

 

High School:

  • Won four varsity letters for the Mars Area School District (she was homeschooled), and served as the team captain;
  • Earned 2011 First Team All-State honors
  • Was a first team All-WPIAL first team selection, recording 291 digs during the 2011 season.

 

KeetonHolcomb#12 Keeton Holcomb, 5-5 DS, Fr., Houston, TX

The Buzz on Keeton: During her high school career at Belleville High School playing club volleyball for the Houston Juniors, Keeton Holcomb earned All-state honors in Texas and was named by MaxPreps as a 2nd Team All-American.  She will be in the mix of players competing to fill the spots vacated by Dom Gonzalez and Lacey Fuller.

 

Lion-Female-Toronto-1024x682Last Look: Micha, Nia, Dom and Lacey

Class of 2014: Two for the Road

YearWLAVCA
Rank
B1G
Standings
NCAA
Tourney
20143631st
2nd in
B1G


NCAA Champs
(Over BYU)
20133421stB1G
Champs


NCAA Champs
(over Wisconsin)
20123333rdB1G
Champs
Lost to Oregon
in NCAA
Semi-
Finals
20112589th2nd in
B1G
(3-way tie)
Lost to UCLA in
NCAA
Regional
Semi-
Final
Total12815