Penn State (12-3, 4-0 Big Ten) completed a weekend sweep of The Michigans with a straight-set win (25-20, 25-19, 25-15) over then-#22 Michigan (13-3, 2-2 Big Ten). If team play was the goal, the Nittany Lions met the test, as six players had at least 4 kills, the team hit a collective .432, “the Bigs” combined for 11 blocks, and “the smalls” dug everything in sight, helping to hold Michigan to a collective .207 for the match, and .171 and .125 in the second and third sets, respectively.
6-1 Jr. OH Ali Frantti led Penn State with 11 kills (.391 attack %), with 7 digs and 2 blocks. 6-2 RS Fr. Tori Gorrell totaled 9 kills and paced the team with 5 blocks. 6-1 Jr. OH Simone Lee and 6-3 Jr. MH Haleigh Washington each recorded 8 kills, with Washington adding 5 blocks. 6-0 Jr. setter Abby Detering recorded 35 assists, 4 kills, and a team-high 11 digs. 6-2 RS/Opp Heidi Thelen (who runs middle at times when the opponent is serving), registered 6 kills, with a team-high .667 attack %.
Match Wrap in Haiku
Ali and Abby
Washington and Lee stand tall
Q&A with Talking Head
DigNittany: Early in the season, you observed that this year’s team was struggling to find its identity, and to gain cohesion. Based on recent matches, and this weekend’s play, how do you think they are doing?
Talking Head: I think you saw a team last night that was really excited and having fun. It’s evident that they are embracing who they are and who they are becoming, and I think they’re really excited about what they’re seeking to achieve. But I noticed that even after this win, they’re excited, but they’re level-headed. There’s a sense of maturity that’s starting to come around, and a sense of identity, and also a constant awareness that it’s a long, long haul. And that starts with Coach Rose.
DigNittany: The team had 8 aces last night, and 9 service errors. That’s a much better ratio than Friday night (although it came courtesy of several net-clippers that dropped in front of the Michigan players). What did you think of the serving?
Talking Head: They served tough. I know they missed some serves. And I would say there were two, maybe three, bad serves. But the rest of the misses were “aggressive” misses. That’s something that Penn State is familiar with. Think back to Micha Hancock — unquestionably one of the best servers at Penn State, or any NCAA D1 team, ever. She missed alot of serves. For her career she had something like 400 service errors (with 380 aces). But she was also capable of running off five or six straight points.
[Editor’s note: Think back to the Semifinal match against Washington in 2013. We never get tired of this one:
Talking Head (continued): And, in recent matches, we’re seeing some Penn State players running off three or four or five straight points. We have several players who are putting serious pressure on our opponents with their aggressive serving. I never thought [5-7 So. DS] Keeton Holcomb had a great serve, but she’s been coming in and really serving tough. And [5-5 Fr. libero] Kendall White struggled a bit serving early on, but she ended with an ace.
DigNittany: So is the improvement in serving the main difference in the team’s improvement, or is it a combination of things?
Talking Head: I think what we’re seeing is a team that is doing is the things well that it’s good at, and also is a team that is really working hard at improving on the things that it doesn’t do very well, or that they’ve got to do better. And that’s individually and collectively. I think the blocking is something that was missing early on this season, and certainly missing last year. But Penn State is becoming a good blocking team. Their form has improved — I mentioned blocking form in an earlier Q&A [9-18-16 Weekend Wrap with Talking Head]. Last night and Friday night, you could see the Penn State blockers were dropping-in to the court. They’re taking away alot of space from the attackers, and succeeding at blocking into the court, where they want the ball to go. And it’s the outsides — Thelen, Lee, Frantti (we know, because she learned from the expert, Megan Courtney), and the middles — Washington and Gorrell — and the setter, Abby Detering. They’re all getting some blocks, they’re not reaching out, they’re disciplined. That’s an area that they’re working at, and they’re getting better at.
DigNittany: What are some other improvements or areas in which the team is playing well?
Talking Head: Our backrow defense right now, boy, they are moving. They are really moving well, going from dig, to swing, very quickly. The transition sets are a little faster tempo. That’s allowing our outside hitters to come with a bit more speed and timing, and really get a good rap on the ball. So it’s alot of little things that the team hadn’t been doing very well, that they’ve been working really hard on, and they are really dialed-in right now. And that starts with Coach Rose. They are listening to him, the staff is prepared, and they have the right mindset. If you think about it, set three has been the problem set last season and this season. In both matches this weekend, the team came out for set 3 and just played gangbusters and opened up big leads. And that’s impressive.
DigNittany: Speaking of the outsides, Ali Frantti led the team in kills. Your thoughts on how she’s doing.
Talking Head: Ali had a great match tonight. Her timing is improved. She’s waiting on the ball and getting better shots. She passed really well tonight. Michigan served some pretty difficult serves at her — serves that alot of players in the country would have a tough time with — and she handled them. So she’s just playing very well generally (with, admittedly, a couple of poor serves), and her confidence seems to be high. If she plays the way she’s playing right now, Penn State will be in the mix.
DigNittany: Abby Cole has been Michigan’s big gun this season, but she struggled, with only 7 kills, and hitting .087. How was Penn State able to limit her effectiveness?
Talking Head: I think Penn State’s aggressive serving was a big part of it — even some of the off-speed serves. The serving got Michigan off-balance, their setter ended up running all over the place to get to the ball, so the sets weren’t really very good for Abby. If Abby gets a good set, it’s over. I saw her go over our block twice. She’s just too good.
DigNittany: Last call. Final thought?
Talking Head: We were very efficient on sideout, for the most part. We had several runs with three or four consecutive points. You’re going to win alot of matches when you play like that. I’m excited to see where we are come Wednesday night against Minnesota, which is a very, very, very good team — a team that is capable of being in the Final Four. I think the Penn State players will be excited for the challenge, and the fans should be excited as well, to see an opponent that is that good, and that well-coached. It will be a very good test to see where the team is at. We may not win on Wednesday, but with the trajectory of this team, it should be a really good match. We definitely took two giant steps forward this weekend.
DigNittany: Thanks, as always, for your time.
Courtesy of GoPSUsports.com
- Volleyball Band, by Nyline
- 7 lions spotted along the road in the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya. By The Lilac Breasted Roller from Sullivan’s Island, United States. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
- Image supplied by Dan Dailey Studios, of work by Dan Dailey (glass artist). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
- Ali Frantti, courtesy of GoPSUsports.com