Fanalysis: Penn State Fans on the 2011 Team Outlook



Photo courtesy of KamStak23, Wikimedia Commons

We’re introducing a new segment to DigNittanyVolleyball — Fanalysis— in which we’ll ask Penn State fans to give their opinions on various questions we have about the Penn State Women’s Volleyball team.  An important point: these aren’t people claiming to have any inside knowledge or claiming to be experts.  They are fans, speaking to other fans.  But whether you agree or disagree with their opinions, we think you’ll find them to be interesting.

For this inaugural segment of Fanalysis, we’ve asked RaymondLuxuryYacht and Talking Head to answer a few questions about the prospects for the 2011 Penn State Women’s Volleyball team. 

We should note that RaymondLuxuryYacht and Talking Head responded before the AVCA poll came out yesterday — putting Penn State #1 and USC #2 — so we don’t know what they would have said about that poll.  You can judge for yourselves from their answers. 

So here’s the Fanalysis take (with RaymondLuxuryYacht and Talking Head presented in alphabetical order) on a few questions we’ve been mulling over.  For the definitive answers, come to Rec Hall on August 26th and 27th, when Penn State opens its season in the Rockvale/AVCA College Volleyball Showcase! (Or watch the matches live on BTN.) 

On Carpenter and Setting

DigNittany: Kristin Carpenter returns as the starting setter from the 2010 squad, but there has been a lot of off-season focus on true freshman Micha Hancock – partly because of Hancock’s resume and partly because if Hancock were able to step in at setter, Carpenter could move to libero or defensive specialist, which could help take the sting out of losing Alyssa D’Errico and Cathy Quilico to graduation. What is your take on some of the ways this might play out? Could there be a 6-2 in Penn State’s future?

RaymondLuxuryYacht: My instincts say it will be very difficult for Micha Hancock (or any other freshman setter in the nation) to replace Carpenter.  Carpenter is so gutsy, and the experience and confidence she gained last year are very difficult, if not impossible, to replace.  I realize Russ reevaluates each player every time he sees them play, and is not loathe to replace even proven All-Americans with freshmen (think Melissa Walbridge with Arielle Wilson, and Kate Price with Megan Hodge), but he handed Carp the reins last year, and she took the team to the National Championship.

However, if Hancock is good enough to legitimately compete for that spot, then I think Russ will consider a 6-2 (he’s tried this before, although sparingly).  Russ is always looking at how he can get his best athletes on the floor, to come up with a better team. Perhaps if Hancock can hit RS (opposite Scott), and blocks better than Carpenter, and PSU doesn’t come up with an explosive slide hitter, then Russ can compensate with a 6-2. That would put Carpenter in as a 3-rotation player (although she is also a very competent blocker, and hitter, and Russ could switch to a 5-1 with her at any time).  But, if Russ sees so much talent in Hancock that he just has to put her on the floor, then a 6-2, with Scott coming in for Carpenter in the front row, and Hancock playing all six rotations, could be an option.

Talking Head: Carpenter will stay as a 5-1 setter for most of the year.  She is too good an athlete not to have on the floor at all times and is the best “out of system “player” – and setter – that PSU has.  I don’t think Hancock will be ready and the change would be too traumatic.  But Hancock will get playing time as a setter and Pin Hitter in situations.

On Carpenter, Fuller, and Gonzalez

DigNittany: If Micha Hancock does win the setter position, do you think Carpenter would move to libero or defensive specialist?  Do you anticipate that either Lacey Fuller or Dominique Gonzalez will play significant roles in 2011, and do you think either of them will see much time at libero?

RaymondLuxuryYacht: I think Carpenter has to be on the floor as much as possible – there are no returning senior starters.  Carp has to be out there in a leadership role.  I think that Hancock and Carp are tied together – if PSU needs Carp in the back row more than they need her setting, then Russ wouldn’t hesitate to put her there.  If Hancock is good enough, and PSU’s defense and passing are porous enough, then it might make sense to move Carp to the back row at libero.  In that case, I think Fuller and Gonzalez will both get shots at DS, along with Longo.  That’s just conjecture on my part – I’ve seen Carp play some great defense from the back right position, but I haven’t seen her pass.  On the other hand, I haven’t seen Fuller or Gonzalez play at all.

Talking HeadLacey Fuller will prove to be a bonus pick up for the team this year and Penn State is lucky that she came to PSU and not Washington.  She is very verbal, active, and fast . . . very committed to the ball.  Gonzalez possesses a natural touch on the ball and I believe is, at present, the best passer and most likely will be the Libero . . . but that might change.  Both will have some adjusting to do to the speed of Big Ten volleyball.

DigNittany: As long as we’re focusing on the back row, what do you look for from Ali Longo this season, and do expect Megan Shifflitt or Maggie Harding to see increased playing time? [Editors note: we realized on a re-read that because Maggie Harding was a redshirt in 2010, any playing time will, by definition, be an increase in playing time.]

RaymondLuxuryYacht: Ali Longo got the shot last year, and came through beautifully by the time the Final Four came around, especially serving.  So, I think she beats out the other returning DS’s.

Talking Head: I agree.  Ali has such a weapon with that serve and can come in and, in an instant, buckle the opposing team.  But Megan and Maggie are tremendous assets to the team chemistry and will receive spot roles.

On Katie Slay

DigNittany: Katie Slay had an impressive freshman campaign, but benefited from the presence of Blair Brown and Arielle Wilson.  How do you think their graduation will affect her play and the way other teams attack her? Do you think she’ll carry a bigger offensive load in 2011?

RaymondLuxuryYacht: I think Slay is a lock at MB2 (the MB opposite the MB that’s next to the setter).  She’s just such a huge blocker.  I’m sure they’ve been working on a connection on offense.  From what I saw last year, she’s probably a little too slow to be the explosive slide hitter that PSU has relied on for so many years – Terri Zemaitis, Lauren Cacciamani, Christa Harmotto, Arielle Wilson.   But I’m confident that Russ and Slay have been focusing on her offensive contribution.  There were a number of times in the Final Four last year when teams simply ignored her, and yet she was up with the setter, ready to take that quick hit.  I think she’ll be much more a part of the offense this year.

Talking Head: Katie Slay is a devastating and terminal blocker.  People need to realize that a point is a point is a point and she might end up leading the Big Ten in blocks this year.  She doesn’t need to be worried about offense – she plays her role on the team so well, taking up so much space and channeling hitters.  To me, a balanced attack consists of three stud hitters with others filling their roles.

On MH and Opposite

DigNittany: With the graduation of Arielle Wilson and Fatima Balza, there will be plenty of opportunity at middle hitter. Do you think Ariel Scott makes the move to middle hitter?  What do you see as her strong points at the position, and are there any parts of her game that you think will require more work than others?  Do you think Scott or Erica Denny will be able to hit the fast tempo slide that has been a Penn State staple since the 1990s?  Who starts at opposite?

RaymondLuxuryYacht: I don’t think Scott’s mechanics will allow her to effectively run a quick slide — but those were last year’s mechanics.  Then again, Russ isn’t prone to changing that kind of stuff.  She’ll always be good at OH2, opposite McClendon, but I think Dorton will eventually step in there, assuming she’s healthy, and can get back up to speed.  Thus, I think Scott goes to opposite.  That leaves a middle position open for Erica Denney – though I have never seen her play.  Scott is an enigma – she has a middle hitter’s knowledge, which should help with her hitting play sets, and with the hitting tendencies of her opponents, and she has an outside hitter’s experience in big matches from last year.  That makes her quite versatile and dangerous at the net.  I think she could step into a spot more like Blair Brown’s from two years ago, when they ran Brown from many different spots on serve receive, but didn’t use her as much in the back court.

Talking Head:  I look for A. Scott to become 1st team All American material this year.  She is maturing into a very composed, physical, and confident player.  I look for her to swing a little in the middle, a little OH, but primarily in the RS.  Good luck to teams trying to stop her and read that arm swing, lol.  I think that Katie Kabbes and Aiyana Whitney will be backup at RS.  The other middle will be a battle between Denney, Whitney and maybe Nia Grant.  Whoever takes that other middle spot will have to move well and be extremely athletic.

On Outside Hitter

DigNittany: It’s a safe bet that Deja McClendon has one OH spot wrapped up. If Ariel Scott moves to middle hitter or to opposite, who do you think are the top three candidates to win the second OH position, and what is the greatest strength of each one?

RaymondLuxuryYacht: I can’t comment on the incoming freshman because I haven’t seen them play.  I’ll be interested to see how Katie Kabbes does.  She had opportunities to get in the starting line-up last year, but she was too inconsistent.  It’ll be interesting to see how she applies herself this year.  However, if Darcy Dorton is healthy, she’ll find her way into that spot opposite McClendon.  The team will need her enthusiasm and fire and positive spark on the court.

Talking Head:  Both Darcy Dorton and Maddie Martin are natural OH’s, but with McClendon’s passing development and growth, the OH2 might only need to be a three-rotation player.  Kabbes is in her senior year and might be motivated enough to blast her way into this position.  If that were to happen, it would be nice, as Kabbes, Whitney, and A. Scott can all hit and block at both pins as well as run a little middle.

On the Lineup

DigNittany: So what’s your guess on the starting lineup (let’s say by the start of the Big Ten schedule)?


OH1 – McClendon
OH2 – Dorton
MB1 – Denney
MB2 – Slay
Opp/RS – Scott
S – Carpenter
L – Gonzalez
DS – Longo and Fuller

Talking Head: – The pieces change every day, but looking at it today, my guess is:

OH1 – McClendon
OH2 – Kabbes
MB1 – Whitney
MB2 – Slay
RS1 – A. Scott
S – Carpenter
L – Gonzalez
DS – Fuller

On the Oregon and USC Matches and the Season Outlook

DigNittany: The big imponderables – what’s your prediction for Penn State against Oregon and USC  in the Rockvale Outlets/AVCA College Volleyball Showcase, and what’s your overall outlook for the season?

RaymondLuxuryYacht: Penn State hasn’t lost a match at home since December 9, 2005 (regional semi-final against Tennessee).  Of course, none of those players are around anymore, but their legacy is, and there is still a mystique about playing in Rec Hall.  I think they take Oregon in 4, dropping a game due to the jitters of a young team in front of a big home crowd.

USC is another story. They return everybody, and they are experienced in big matches.  Penn State also returns a lot – especially if Dorton is on the court.  That would give Penn State two big OHs to match up with USC’s OHs (Jupiter and Foinoimoana).  But I think PSU’s biggest question mark is their passing game.  Nummy and Widget were big losses in the back row, and Nummy’s serve was just so overpowering.  

I hate to say it, but I think this early in the season, unless PSU can come up with some great passing, and truly inspired defense, USC takes PSU in 4 or 5 and puts an end to that record-setting home win streak.  Still, I’ll be driving the two hours to the match rooting for Penn State to keep it alive.

As for the season, I think it looks a lot like last year.  Early season losses to some big teams, a lot of line-up adjustments between now and Nebraska on 9-21, some tweaking through early October, and then a run for the Big 10 title.  I see them dropping at most 3 matches in the Big 10 – Nebraska, Minnesota, Illinois, all away.  However, all three of those teams have to replace their major contributors too.  So even those matches are wide open.

Overall, if Russ can work his magic with the line-up and the freshmen, and if the passing and defense come around, I think this Penn State team will return to the Final Four.  From there, no other team in the nation has any players on its roster that have actually won an NCAA Division I NCAA Volleyball Championship.  If Penn State can get there, I think they do it again.

Talking Head: I see PSU taking Oregon 3-1 and losing to USC 2-3 – with the SC game not as close as it seems.  USC should be the team to beat at the beginning of the year.  I see PSU winning the Big 10 again, with Purdue taking 2nd, Illinois 3rd, Michigan State 4th, and Nebraska tied for 5th.  Looking at the NCAA Tournament . . . flip a coin.  But the heart of a champion (lion) is tough to beat. span

DigNittany: Thanks to both of you for taking the time to share your opinions with us.  Only ten days to go!  Go Lions!