Penn State 2012 Season Preview (20 Questions)

 

Plenty of Questions for 2012 Nittany Lions

“Everything flows, nothing stands still.”  (quote attributed to Ηράκλειτος/Heraclitus of Ephesus, 535 BC475 BC)

Heraclitus had it right — you can’t cross the same river twice.  In sports, each season is different — different players, players whose skill levels have changed,  different opponents, different challenges.

The one constant may be questions, and heading into the 2012 season, the Penn State Women’s Volleyball team has plenty of those.  Here are a few:

                                                   

                        Is Micha Hancock all set for 2012? (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports.com)

  • Will Katie Slay build on her impressive sophomore campaign, when she was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and significantly improved her offensive output?
  • Will Ariel Scott make the move from opposite/RS to middle hitter  (she’s listed as an MH on the official Penn State roster — the one with no liberos or opposites)? If she does move to middle hitter, will she be able to hit the fast tempo slide Penn State has featured since the 1990s?
  • Will Nia Grant return to middle hitter, or move to the outside?
  • Will 2012 be a breakout year for Erica Denney, after her redshirt year in 2010 and limited play in 2011?

 

Will Katie Slay and Ariel Scott hold down the middle for Penn State in 2012? 

 

 

 

 

(Photos courtesy of GoPSUsports.com)

 

 

 

Assuming Deja McClendon has one OH spot wrapped up, will Maddie Martin again fill the second OH position, and if not, which of four other candidates (listed alphabetically) will win the starting slot?

Paulina Prieto Cerame

Megan Courtney

Nia Grant

Aiyana Whitney

 

 

We don’t know the answers to any of these questions (and there undoubtedly are more we’ve overlooked). Then again, at this point — before pre-season practice is over — the Penn State coaching staff probably doesn’t know the answers to some of them either.  This is still a very young team, so it wouldn’t surprise us to see the answers change more than once during the season, as Penn State evolves and matures and, ideally, improves.

Great Expectations: What the Players are Saying

Although we’re brimming with unanswered questions, the player profiles on the gopsusports.com website reveal players who are clear about their goals, have set their goals high, and are commited to putting in the hard work they understand will be necessary to be in a position to achieve those goals.

We’ve included some of their quotes (and some comments from Head Coach Russ Rose) below (photos courtesy of GoPSUsports.com):

#8 RS So. MH – Erica Denny: This past spring we have really grown together as a group. We have worked extremely hard to come back this season and fight for the ultimate goal. We just have to take it day-by-day and continue to work hard and we will be a major challenge for any competitor to defeat.”

#33 So. DSLacey Fuller: “After experiencing the 2011 season, I have far greater expectations for 2012. We need to exhibit effortless high energy and a better team volleyball IQ. We need to show that we are a factor in the Big Ten conference and NCAA tournament.”

#4 So. DS – Dominique Gonzalez: “We have worked really hard to get better at the things we needed to work on and are excited to get started up again and work towards attaining those championship titles.”

 

 

#12 So. S – Micha Hancock: “This year’s expectation is the same, with new additions and better team chemistry we hope to make our school proud.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

#15 RS So. DH – Maggie Harding: “I’m really excited to put together what we built in the spring and summer with what our new freshmen bring to the table. We’re working hard to come together as a team and go after that number one spot.”

 

 

 

 

 

#6 Jr. OH – Maddie Martin: “After the way last season ended, the team is more motivated and determined than ever to be the best team we can be and compete at the highest level. I think this is going to be a great year for us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

#18 Jr. OH – Deja McClendon: “My expectation for the 2012 season is to emerge not only as a physical leader on the court and also a vocal one. I expect for every player on this team to push themselves a step further so that we can make it back to the top as National Champions.”

 

 

 

 

#16 Jr. MH – Katie Slay: “We’ve worked really hard this off-season to come back stronger for the 2012 year. I’m very excited for what we can accomplish this year. We learned a lot from last season, and we are now a more experienced team. I know we will uphold Penn State’s tradition of Success With Honor and make the university proud. We Are!”

 

 

 

 Russ Rose on Great Expectations

Courtesy of GoPSUsports.com:

“I’m not much of a believer in predicting a team’s level of success. I can only state that we’re going to do our best. If we’re good enough to win matches then we’re going to win matches, but if we lose it’s never going to be because we didn’t prepare, respect our opponent and work hard and it’s not going to be because we rested on our program’s previous laurels.  The players need to understand what it takes to be successful and they need to have fun. We showed that winning can be fun and that it isn’t necessary to change in a stressful environment. Every team starts with the same dream but few programs can really talk about competing for a chance to win a National Championship.

I want the players to have a good experience — I want them to enjoy the many opportunities available at Penn State, but clearly I want them to know that they’ve come to a competitive, disciplined program and we’re going to work hard. And without question have some fun along the way.  We’re not fanatics, and I want the players to be happy.  It goes without saying that it is easier to be happy when you’re winning than when you’re struggling. So the staff and I will have to provide them with the necessary direction and opportunities to excel and hope they remain healthy enough to see if we can make a run at winning as many matches as possible.”

Great Expectations (Fighting Through Adversity)

We have great hopes for the 2012 Penn State Women’s Volleyball team.  Judging from their comments in the previous section, the players do too.  It’s good to have confidence in one’s ability to achieve great things — people don’t succeed by expecting failure and defeat.

But there are many talented, confident athletes out there.  To reach the highest level requires more than confidence and lofty expectations.  It takes perserverance in the face of adversity,  finding a way to win when you aren’t playing your best.

There are many inspirational stories about people who have overcome seemingly impossible challenges and cruel odds.  The story of Matthew Long, a New York City firefighter, is one we think of often:

Sports presents challenges.  Great teams fight through adversity to overcome those challenges. We’re hoping that the 2012 edition of Penn State Women’s Volleyball is such a team.

2012 Outlook by Position

Setter

Set/Serve Leaders - Who's Back from 2011

Name 2011 ClassSets
Played
Matches
Played
Matches
Started
Assists% of 2011
Team Total
Service
Aces
% of 2011
Team Total
Service
Errors
% of 2011
Team Total
Hancock, MichaFr.1213332127582.39143.57626.4
Longo, AliSo.117330905.83215.33010.4
Carpenter, KristinJr.100334764.9146.73712.8
Returning Players (Category Leaders)n/an/an/an/a142892.216378.023581.6
Non-Returning Players (Category Leaders)n/an/an/an/a905.83215.33010.4
Teamn/a12233331549100.0209100.0288100.0

Micha Hancock returns as the starter for the Nittany Lions after a 2011 season in which she was named AVCA Mideast Region Freshman of the Year,  Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and was a unanimous Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection.  So she’s the odds-on favorite to win the job again in the 2012 season.

Still, positions are never won based on past performance, so Penn State coaches will also be looking at 5-6 Sr. Kristin Carpenter, the starter in 2010 (when she started 36 matches and led Penn State’s offense to a .314 attack percentage — first in the Big Ten and second in the nation — and, oh yes, the NCAA Championship), 6-0 Sr. Marika Racibarskas, a solid performer who will provide invaluable senior leadership, and incoming 6-2 Fr. Megan Courtney.

Here’s a look at all four contenders.

#12 Micha Hancock, 5-11 So., Edmond, Oklahoma

Snapshot: Aggressive setter with a terrific spin serve, who has improved the other aspects of her game since her debut in 2011.

Micha Hancock would probably be quick to tell you that her first season as Penn State’s starting setter had its share of ups and downs.  Still, with Hancock at setter, Penn State  managed a .267 hitting percentage — which ranked 12th nationally — and her 10.54 assists per set were sixth best in the Big Ten.  She also was second on the squad with 279 digs, and registered 59 total blocks.

But it was her serving that caught the attention of Penn State fans and the media, as she set the Penn State single season record for aces with 91 (the previous record was 72, set in 1988 by Noelle Zientara, an AVCA All-American in 1988 and 1990). Her 0.75 aces per set average was second in the nation and first in the Big Ten.

Ups and downs aside, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year had a very nice season.

                            Micha Hancock in 2011 (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports.com)

#5 Kristin Carpenter, 5-6 Sr., Mechanicsville, Virginia

Snapshot: Experienced multi-faceted player with the skills and strength to play at multiple positions.  Could set or take swings on the pin.

In 2011, Kristin Carpenter opened the season as the starting setter against the University of Oregon, but was replaced by Fr. Micha Hancock the following evening against USC, when she was the starting libero (registering 20 digs in an incredible come-from-behind 3-2 victory) .  For the remainder of the 2011 season, Carpenter was a defensive specialist, finishing fourth on the team with 1.82 digs/set.

Still, there’s no question Carpenter can play setter.  In 2010, all of her primary hitters hit .320 or above — with All-American middle hitter Arielle Wilson leading the way at .425, good for fourth in the nation — and her 11.52 assists/set led the Big Ten.  To close out the season, she was named as the setter on the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.

                                  Kristin Carpenter (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#10 Marika Racibarskas, 6-0 Sr., Chatham, New Jersey

Snapshot:  Good all-around player who can fill in on the front row and as a setter.  Coming off a great spring.

Marika Racibarskas brings plenty of athleticism and skill to the 2012 Penn State team — she was named to the Volleyball Magazine – Fab 50 as a high school senior — but beyond that, she brings leadership and maturity.  In 2011, she earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, seeing action in 10 matches as a serving and defensive specialist, registering three kills and three blocks against New Hampshire (9/3), with digs  against Long Island (9/16), Florida Gulf Coast (9/17), Rutgers (9/17) and Delaware (12/3).

Many players talk about the importance of hard work, but for players like Marika, who put in the same long hours as the starters, without many opportunities to shine on the court, hard work clearly is a core value. In her 2011 Penn State player profile, she wrote that “to uphold the tradition of Penn State volleyball, we all must work hard and work together every day to reach the next level.”

                                         Marika Racibarskas (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#17 Megan Courtney, 6-2 Fr., Dayton, Ohio

Snapshot: Talented all around player with the experience and skill to contribute as a freshman.

Megan Courtney is known for her versatility — she’s listed on Penn State’s roster as a Setter/Outside Hitter — and for her high “volleyball IQ.”  Here’s what Penn State Head Coach Russ Rose had to say about Courtney in a November 12, 2011 interview with Gordon Brunskill of the Centre Daily Times:

We’re looking at her with the ability to set and hit and play all the way around. We’ve had her in camp for a couple of years. She’s a terrific talent. She’s a very talented kid. She’s wiry and really strong with a great arm and a high volleyball IQ.

In 2011, Courtney capped-off an exceptional high school career by garnering 2011-12 First Team AVCA Under Armour All-American honors and being named the #4 high school player in the country by PrepVolleyball.com. For the season, she registered 451 kills (.603 attack %), 426 assists, 316 digs, 52 blocks and 36 service aces. On December 14th, she was named the 2011 Gatorade Ohio Volleyball Player of the Year.

We certainly don’t know what position she will play in 2012 (or how much), but it’s a good bet that Megan Courtney will be in the mix for significant playing time throughout the season.

                                        Megan Courtney (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

Outside Hitter

Attack Leaders - Who's Back from 2011

Name 2011 ClassSets
Played
Matches
Played
Matches
Started
Kills% of 2011
Team Total
Kills/SetErrorsTotal
Attacks
% of 2011
Team Total
Pct.
McClendon, DejaSo.122333343225.83.54144109026.2.264
Scott, ArielSo.118333141824.93.54136108326.1.260
Slay, KatieSo.122333325715.32.116350212.1.386
Whitney, AiyanaFr.652401136.71.74513207.7.194
Martin, MaddieSo.9833241418.41.44604109.9.198
Grant, NiaFr.11732321519.01.29443097.4.346
Hancock, MichaFr.12133321106.60.91342465.9.309
Kabbes, KatieSr.34193291.70.8514952.3.158
Dorton, DarcySo. (RS)22170201.20.9114611.5.098
Returning Players
(Category Leaders)
n/an/an/an/a162296.8n/a532396095.2n/a
Non-Returning Players
(Category Leaders)
n/an/an/an/a492.9n/a281563.8n/a
Teamn/a12233331676100.013.745644159100.0.267

Both 6-1 Jr. Deja McClendon —  2011 AVCA First Team All-American — and 6-2 Jr. Maddie Martin (24 matches started) return this season.  In fact, as shown in the table above, Penn State returns nearly 97% of its 2011 kills, including the top seven players in that statistical category.

Who else will be in the mix?  The official Penn State roster lists 6-2 So. Nia Grant as an OH (even though she was a 2011 starter at MH) so we’ll play along and include her as one of the candidates.  Others who will be in the hunt for playing time at OH include 6-5 So. Aiyana Whitney, 6-2 Fr. Paulina Prieto Cerame, and 6-2 Fr. Megan Courtney (who we covered in the Setter section, above).

Here’s a quick rundown on each of those players (other than Courtney).

#18 Deja McClendon, 6-1 Jr., Louisville, Kentucky

Snapshot: Key player who has improved all facets of her game.  She has the ability to generate points from both a front or a backrow position.

In 2011, Deja McClendon was an AVCA First Team All-American, was named to the NCAA Lexington Regional All-Tournament Team, and earned First Team All-Big Ten honors.  She led the Nittany Lions with 432 kills, tied with Ariel Scott for the team lead with 3.54 kills/set (9th in the Big Ten), ranked third on the team with 245 digs and 2.01 digs/set, and was fourth on the team with 61 total blocks.  This after a 2010 season in which she was named the AVCA Division I National Freshman of the Year and the NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player (the second freshmen to win that award — Stanford’s Kerri Walsh being the first).

To state the obvious, Deja McClendon will be a very important part of the 2012 Penn State team.

 

                                      Deja McClendon (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#6 Maddie Martin, 6-2 Jr., Tampa Florida

Snapshot: Outside attacker with good ball handling skills and experience as an all around player.

Maddie Martin started 24 matches in 2011 and played in all 33.  She earned Academic All-Big Ten honors.  Her 141 kills ranked fourth on the team (with a season-high of 13 kills at Michigan State on 11/26) and her 156 digs ranked fifth.

Coach Rose has described Martin as a “well-skilled, all-around player” whose strength is that “she is a good all-around player with a great first-touch on the ball. She takes good swings and is accustomed to being a go-to player.”

                                           Maddie Martin (photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#7 Nia Grant, 6-2 So., Warren, Ohio

Snapshot: An explosive athlete who has worked hard to improve her involvement in the offense.

Nia Grant started 32 matches in 2011 at middle hitter, so it’s certainly possible that she’ll be at that position in 2012.  But because she’s listed on Penn State’s official roster as an OH, we’re including her in this Outside Hitter section.  ( It should be noted that after Nia signed her letter of intent, Russ Rose noted that she can touch 10-6 and 10-7, and that she has the potential to play all three front row positions for Penn State.  It also should be noted that Penn State’s official roster doesn’t list any liberos or any opposites/right sides, suggesting a certain flexibility in the labeling process).

Nia Grant debuted in impressive style in 2011 against USC (8/27), with 11 kills on 17 swings (no errors), and eight total blocks (good for second on the team).  For the season, her 107 total blocks ranked second on the team, as did her average of 0.91 blocks per set.  Grant registered her season best of nine blocks in the 11/4 match at Minnesota.

Here’s what Nia Grant had to say about Coach Rose in 2011, in a video produced by gopsusports.com that is posted here:

He’s very hard on us, which is good. He doesn’t sugar coat. . . . He knows what he’s talking about, so you just take it, and you roll with it. He knows how to make his players top players in the country, so we trust him.

 

                                               Nia Grant (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#9 Paulina Prieto Cerame, 6-2 Fr., Miami, Florida

Snapshot: Point scorer who will see time at one of the outside positions.  Has a good arm with experience as a go-to hitter.

Paulina Prieto Cerame, who attended Palmer Trinity School in Miami, Florida (where she was a three-year team captain), was ranked #7 on PrepVolleyball.com’s 2011 Senior Aces list. She was a three-time All-Miami Dade County First Team selection, was named twice as the Miami Herald Player of the Year, was selected to the Junior Olympics 16 Open All-Tournament Team, and was a member of the USA Youth National Team, which placed ninth in the World Championships in Ankara, Turkey. Prieto Cerame played for Team VB Rags from Puerto Rico at both the 2010 AAU Girls National Championships in Orlando Florida and the 2010 USA Junior Olympics National Championship at Reno, Nevada. She started playing club volleyball in 2002 for Borinquen Coqui.  Here’s Paulina, in a video that’s posted here, speaking about Coach Rose:

 He’s very funny and he’s honest.  I like that I can always talk to him about anything and I know it’s the truth.

                                   Paulina Prieto Cerame (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#14 Aiyana Whitney, 6-5 So., Norwood, New Jersey

Snapshot: Potentially the team’s top net player, with the ability to play any of the front row positions.

Aiyana Whitney had some good performances in 2011 —  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.

Whitney was a 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.

                                           Aiyana Whitney (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

Opposite/Right Side

Once again, there are big questions for Penn State at RS/Opposite, though unlike 2011, when Penn State was looking to fill the void left by the departure of Broderick Cup winner Blair Brown, this season the problem isn’t that the starter graduated — Ariel Scott started at the position in 2011 and won AVCA Third Team All-America honors and was a unanimous First Team All-Big Ten selection — it’s that Scott may be moved to middle hitter.

If she does make that move, then candidates for the position may include 6-2 So. Nia Grant, 6-5 So. Aiyana Whitney, and incoming freshmen 6-2 Paulina Prieto Cerame, and 6-2 Megan Courtney (both of whom we covered in previous sections) .

This one is a big imponderable, so we’re giving it our Two Question Mark treatment.  But there definitely are talented players who will be eager (and we hope ready) to take on the challenge.

Middle Hitter

Blocking Leaders - Who's Back from 2011

Name 2011 ClassSets
Played
Matches
Played
Matches
Started
Block
Solo
% of 2011
Team Total
Block
Assist
% of 2011
Team Total
Slay, KatieSo.12233332735.514629.0
Grant, NiaFr.11732321317.19418.7
Scott, ArielSo.118333156.68116.1
McClendon, DejaSo.12233331317.1489.5
Hancock, MichaFr.121333256.65410.7
Martin, MaddieSo.98332456.6346.8
Whitney, AiyanaFr.6524034.0224.4
Kabbes, KatieSr.n/an/an/a45.3193.8
Dorton, DarcySo. (RS)n/an/an/a00.010.2
Returning Players (Category Leaders)n/an/an/an/a7193.447995.2
Non-Returning Players
(Category Leaders)
n/an/an/an/a45.3204.0
Teamn/a122333376100.0503100.0

Middle hitter should be a position of strength for Penn State in 2012, as 6-6 Jr. Katie Slay returns after earning AVCA Second Team All-America honors and selection as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.   The other starting MH, Nia Grant, also returns, but we’ve listed her in the Outside Hitter section, because that’s how she’s listed in the 2012 official Penn State roster.  We’ll see.  The other two players who may be competing for playing time in the middle are  6-4 Jr.  Ariel Scott (who started at Opp/RS in 2011) and 6-5 RS So. Erica Denney, who appears set to finally take the court after two seasons in which her playing time was limited by injuries.

#16 Katie Slay, 6-6 Jr., Raleigh, North Carolina

Snapshot: Key net player with the ability to generate points as an attacker and as a strong blocker.

Katie Slay — an AVCA Second Team All-America and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 — led the 2011 team with 1.42 blocks per set (which topped the Big Ten and was good for 13th nationally), registering at at least two blocks in every match.  Her 257 kills ranked third on the team, and her .386 attack percentage led the team, ranked second in the Big Ten, and was 15th best in NCAA Division 1.

Prior to the 2010 season, Russ Rose described Katie Slay as perhaps “the best incoming blocker we’ve ever had in the program” and as “smart and a great team player.”  She hasn’t disappointed.

                                             Katie Slay (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#1 Ariel Scott, 6-4 Jr., Ridgewood, New Jersey

Snapshot: Key attacker with the ability to score from both the front and the back row.

Ariel Scott started at RS/Opp for Penn State in 2011, earning AVCA Third Team All-America and Unanimous First Team All-Big Ten honors.  We’re listing her at middle hitter not because we have any inside knowledge of where she will play in 2012, but because that’s where she’s listed on the 2012 official Penn State roster.  (As we’ve noted above, that’s the same roster that doesn’t list any RS/Opposites and doesn’t list any liberos).

In 2011, Scott’s 418 kills ranked second on the team, while her 3.54 kills per set average tied with Deja McClendon for ninth in the Big Ten.  Her 4.00 points per set ranked 10th in the conference.   She totaled a career-high 27 kills vs. Illinois (10/8)  and registered a career-high eight blocks at Minnesota (11/4).  In the Sweet 16 match against UCLA, Scott recorded 11 kills.

                                        Ariel Scott (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

 #8 Erica Denney, 6-5 RS So., Centennial, Colorado

Snapshot: Middle attacker who is capable of scoring off of one foot.

Erica Denney arrived at Penn State in 2010 as a much-heralded recruit, having been named a First Team AVCA/Under Armour All-American and a PrepVolleyball.com Senior Ace in 2009, and having helped the Youth National Team win a gold medal at the 2008 NORCECA Championships.  That potential has yet to translate into collegiate success, as she was redshirted in 2010 following an injury in 2009, and played sparingly in 2011. Prior to the 2010 season, Coach Rose had this to say:

When healthy, I know she is a terrific offensive player. . . . She was a player involved in the USA Youth Program so she’s had great success previously and I think she has the potential to reach that again.

We don’t know whether Erica Denney will reach her potential in 2012, but judging from comments in her Penn State profile, working hard is a given:

“This past spring we have really grown together as a group. We have worked extremely hard to come back this season and fight for the ultimate goal. We just have to take it day-by-day and continue to work hard and we will be a major challenge for any competitor to defeat.”

                                          Erica Denney (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

Libero/Defensive Specialist

Recept/Dig Leaders - Who's Back from 2011

Name 2011 ClassSets
Played
Matches
Played
Matches
Started
RE% of 2011
Team Total
Digs% of 2011
Team Total
Digs/Set
Longo, Ali

So.1173301916.839723.03.39
Hancock, MichaFr.121333243.527916.12.31
McClendon, DejaSo.12233332219.524514.22.01
Carpenter, KristinJr.1003341210.618210.51.82
Martin, MaddieSo.9833242118.61569.01.59
Gonzalez, DominiqueFr.84296108.91237.11.46
Fuller, LaceyFr.673001311.5593.40.88
Returning Players
(Category Leaders)
n/an/an/an/a8272.6104460.4n/a
Non-Returning Players
(Category Leaders)

n/an/an/an/a1916.839723.0n/a
Teamn/a1223333113100.01729100.014.17

Who will be the libero in 2012?  Who will be the key defensive specialists?  Will improved play by Sr. Kristin Carpenter, and returning sophomores Lacey Fuller, Dominique Gonzalez, and Maggie Harding, and contributions by incoming freshmen Kendall Pierce and Lara Caraway, ease the loss of 2011 libero Ali Longo?

Those are the questions, and we don’t have the answer to any of them. What we do know is that despite the departure of Longo, Penn State returns alot of experience from the 2011 team.  As shown in the table above, Longo led the 2011 team with 3.39 digs per set, but returning for 2012 are the six players with the next highest averages for digs per set.  Add incoming freshmen Kendall Pierce and Lara Caraway to the mix, and the cupboard can hardly be described as bare.  Here’s a quick look at the players who will be competing for back row playing time in 2012:

# 4 Dominique Gonzalez, 5-6 So., San Antonio, Texas

Snapshot: Key player as either a libero or a backrow sub.

In 2011, Dominique Gonzalez played in 29 matches as a serving and defensive specialist, registering 123 digs (an average of 1.46 digs per set), which ranked sixth on the team.  She totaled double-digit digs in three matches — 14 against Illinois (10/8), 11 against Nebraska (10/29), and 10 against Northwestern (11/12).

That experience will be invaluable for this year’s Penn State team, and she certainly will be in the mix for the starting libero position.   If she can continue to improve her game, she can be a difference-maker for Penn State.  Based on comments in her player profile on GoPSUsports.com, she seems ready to take on the challenge:

“We have worked really hard to get better at the things we needed to work on and are excited to get started up again and work towards attaining those championship titles.”

                                       Dominique Gonzalez (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#33 Lacey Fuller, 5-6 So., San Diego, California

Snapshot: Developing into an exceptional backrow player. Tough-minded defender with what may be the team’s best pursuit.

Lacey Fuller appeared in 30 matches in 2011, as a serving and defensive specialist.  She ranked seventh on the team with 0.88 digs per set (59 digs for the season), with a season high of nine digs vs. Illinois (10/8).

Lacey’s enthusiasm is apparent from her on-court demeanor and from her comments in 2011 in a video produced by gopsusports.com that is posted here:

I think I talk alot, which is really important. My main goal is to give everyone on the court energy, as much as possible, so we can win.

Go for it!

                                           Lacey Fuller (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#15 Maggie Harding, 5-6 RS So., State College, Pennsylvania

Snapshot: Backrow player who works hard and has made great strides in her game.

Maggie Harding, saw limited action in 2011, appearing in four matches as a serving and defensive specialist, but her intelligence, enthusisam and hard work (a 2011 Big Ten Sportsmanship honoree and Academic All-Big Ten) are important for the team.

Those qualities come through in this quote from her player profile on her expectations for the 2012 season:

“I’m really excited to put together what we built in the spring and summer with what our new freshmen bring to the table.  We’re working hard to come together as a team and go after that number one spot.”

                                     Maggie Harding (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

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

Snapshot: Backrow player with a good serve and volleyball IQ.

Lara Caraway, a 5-4 DS from Evans City, PA, won four varsity letters for the Mars Area School District (whe was homeschooled), and served as the team captain.  She  earned 2011 First Team All-State honors and was a first team All-WPIAL first team selection, recording 291 digs during the 2011 season.

                                  Lara Caraway (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)

#3 Kendall Pierce, 5-6 Fr., Eden, NY

Snapshot: All around player in high school/club who will be transitioning to more of a backrow player.  A well-trained athlete with good experience.

Kendall Pierce, from Eden High School, Eden, New York and Niagara Frontier Volleyball Club, is one of four freshmen who have joined the Penn State Women’s Volleyball team for the 2012 season.  Although she was a (self-described) “spitfire” hitter in high school and club, at Penn State she will be a defensive specialist.  In an interview with the BuffaloNews.com, her coach at Eden, Stephen Pierce (who is also her uncle), described Kendall as a natural libero, and Kendall has been compared by some to Penn State’s former starting libero Alyssa D’Errico.

Kendall won three letters (and was twice named the team captain) for the Eden High Red Raiders.  During her four years on the team, Eden won four ECIC and Sectional titles and three state title titles.  Kendall was honored as the MVP of the state title tournament following her senior season.

Kendall Pierce is the daughter of former Penn State volleyball All-American Robert Pierce, who played for the Nittany Lions from 1986 to 1989.   Robert Pierce set the Nittany Lion single-season service ace record with 47 aces, and held it until 2007, when it was broken by Max Holt’s 55.  He is now the Director of the Eden Volleyball Club.  Kendall’s mother was a scholarship track athlete at Penn State.

                                                   Kendall Pierce (Photo courtesy of GoPSUsports)