The Lions Have the Horses
In the one-and-done gauntlet that is the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament, it’s down to this: if 31-1 Penn State beats 22-11 Missouri Friday afternoon, then they face off against either Illinois or Michigan State. If they win that match, it’s on the Final Four.
The Nittany Lions certainly have the horses to accomplish that task, as six team members were named on December 5th to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Northeast Region team: 6-1 Sr. OH Simone Lee, 6-3 Sr. MB Haleigh Washington, 6-1 Sr. OH Ali Frantti, 6-2 Sr. RS/Opp Heidi Thelen, and 5-5 So. libero Kendall White, while 6-0 Sr. RS/setter Abby Detering was named to the honorable mention list. Simone Lee was named the Northeast Player of the Year, with Head Coach Russ Rose named the Northeast Coach of the Year.
- Lee also won the 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year and was a 2016 AVCA All-American. She leads the team with 3.87 kills/set, scooped up 2.23 digs/set, and hit .316 for the season.
- Washington was the 2017 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is a two-time AVCA All-American, leads D1 women’s volleyball with a .513 hitting %, and registered 3.06 kills/set and 1.5 blocks/set.
- White was the only libero named to the All-Big Ten Team, and one of only two liberos named to the all-region team. She leads the team with 3.76 digs/set, scored 22 aces on the year, and recorded a 97.4-percent success rating for 460 serve receive attempts.
- Thelen, who won 2017 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention, hit .363 for the season, with 1.69 kills/set and 0.94 blocks/set.
- Frantti, a 2014 AVCA All-American, averaged 2.46 kills/set this season, with 1.76 digs and 0.58 blocks/set.
- Detering recorded five double-doubles this season and a triple-double in the 3-1 win against Stanford at College Station. She is averaging 5.83 assists/set, 1.32 kills/set, 1.79 digs/set and .065 blocks/set. She led the Nittany Lions with 32 aces.
For Coach Rose, it was the 13th time he has won Region Coach of the Year honor (1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2017). Our guess? He’d happily trade them all for another NCAA Championship.
The Tigers Have Some Tigers
Missouri’s 6′ 2″ Jr. MB Alyssa Munlyn (2.16 kills/set; .391 hitting %; 1.47 blocks/set) and 6′ 2″ RS Sr. Opp Kira Larson (2.43 kills/set; .289 hitting %; 0.73 blocks/set) were both named to the 2017 AVCA Southeast All-Region Team — Munlyn winning First Team honors and Larson being named Honorable Mention. Munlyn and Larson are both three-time AVCA All-Region honorees. Missouri has run a 6-2, utilizing both 5-9 Sr. Courtney Eckenrode and 5-9 Sr. Ali Kreklow at setter.
Side-by-Side Stats: Penn State and Missouri
(Courtesy of DigNittanyVolleyball Forum poster Millennium. For Millenium’s complete Sweet 16 Side-by-Side Statistical Comparison, Click Here.)
Q&A with Talking Head
We’re speaking today with Talking Head, who played D1 volleyball and has coached the sport for many years.
DigNittany: Your thoughts on the upcoming match against Missouri, and hopefully, a match against either Illinois or Michigan State on Saturday?
Talking Head: They’ve gone back-and-forth between the 6-2 and the 5-1. They have Alyssa Munlyn at MB and Kira Larson at RS/Opp that can do some damage. But I think at this point, for all the teams, you are who you are. We have a statistical advantage, we have a size advantage, we have an advantage in terms of playing in big matches, and the overwhelming advantage is playing on our home court. I think the Rec Hall crowd is going to be very difficult for a team like Missouri that hasn’t played a lot of matches in a Big Ten-type environment. When you go into a gym in the Big Ten — whether it’s Minnesota or Nebraska or Wisconsin or Illinois or Michigan State or whomever — that’s a different animal from what most teams outside of the Big Ten are used to playing in. I wouldn’t say Penn State will make quick work of Missouri, but I expect us to handle that team pretty well. I think the girls are fired-up. Putting aside the Penn State rooting interest, the second match is intriguing. It could go 3-0 — for either team. It could go 3-2 — for either team. It could be one of the best matches ever. It could be one of the worst matches ever. I don’t really know.
DigNittany: We’ve talked about this before, but any thoughts about Penn State playing a team for the third time in one season (which will be the case in the Finals if Penn State defeats Missouri, regardless of whether their opponent is Illinois or Michigan State)?
Talking Head: Given how good the Big Ten is as a conference, and how many teams got into the Tournament, it wasn’t just possible that this might happen, it was probable that it would happen. The seniors on Penn State have seen some of the Michigan State players, and some of the Illinois players, six or eight times in Big Ten play along — and probably several more times in club play in some instances. Even though players grow, improve, change over time, there’s still a level of familiarity. These players know each other pretty darn well. I believe Penn State will come into the match, look at the players on the other side of the net, say “OK, this is the task at hand.” And they’ll take care of business.
DigNittany: Penn State placed six players on the AVCA Northeast Region team — five on the first team. Did that surprise you?
Talking Head: Not at all. This team is 31-1! They have dominated over the course of the season. And their statistics reflect that. They should be recognized that way.
DigNittany: Again, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate it.