Penn State 2014 Season Preview: Part 1 — Setters and Outside Hitters

This is the first part of a four-part Season Preview of the 2014 Penn State Women’s Volleyball team.

  • Part 1 focuses on the Setter and Outside Hitter positions.
  • Part 2 will cover the Opposite/Right Side and Middle Blocker positions.
  • Part 3 will look at the Libero and Defensive Specialist candidates.
  • Finally, Part 4 will focus on Head Coach Russ Rose, and his new staff members — Associate Head Coach Salima Rockwell, Assistant Coach Stevie Mussie, Director of Operations Kevin Burch, and Volunteer Assistant Coach Jay Goddu.

It’s obviously early (pre-season practice hasn’t even begun yet), so things undoubtedly will change.  If something major comes to our attention (other than our slacker staff actually doing some work — which would be major, but of limited interest outside of DigNittanyVolleyball World Headquarters), we’ll endeavor to provide updates to these Previews.

Thank You Ariel, Deja, Katie, Erica, Maddie and Maggie

Ariel ScottDeja McClendonKatie SlayMaggie HardingMaddie MartinErica Denny





“We all know it will be hard to replace the class that bookended their collegiate career with Big Ten and National Championships.” Penn State Head Coach Russ Rose quoted in Penn State Women’s Volleyball Booster Club Newsletter, Volume 24, Issue 2.

Bookend Championships -- 2010 to 2013




Bright Future, Hold the Shades


“The incoming class was recognized as the nation’s finest by both and Volleyball Magazine, and I hope they are right as we need to replace 10 years of All-American recognition among Ariel, Deja, and Katie, as well as the many contributions from Erica, Maddie and Maggie. Throw in an entirely new staff and it goes without saying that we will have our work cut out for us this season.” Penn State Head Coach Russ Rose quoted in Penn State Women’s Volleyball Booster Club Newsletter, Volume 24, Issue 2.

Well, Maybe Not an Entirely New Staff

Salima RockwellWelcome-to-Rec-HallStevie Musie





OK, we’ll give Coach Rose that a lot of talent has graduated, and he had to replace his entire staff, adding new Associate Head Coach Salima Rockwell (pictured at left) who is starting her second stint as an assistant to Coach Rose, after having earned the AVCA’s award as 2013 Assistant Coach of the Year as an assistant at Texas, and new Assistant Coach Stevie Mussie (pictured at right). But sharp-eyed fans will notice one very important returnee: Coach Rose himself. It’s safe to say, that’s significant. Russ RoseHere’s Coach Rose on the outlook for the B1G in 2014:

I feel the Big Ten is going to be very strong once again, with Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska returning the most starters from last year’s teams and everyone else, like us, hoping to replace veteran players with new faces. I think the winner this season will really have to perform well, as the conference schedule has some imbalance to it.

2014 Outlook by Position


Setting: Who's Back (Who's Not)

 Name Pos2014
For 2014, Setter is one position that appears to be . . . well, pretty much set. 5-11 Sr. AVCA All-American (and All B1G 2013 Setter of the Year) Micha Hancock (pictured at left), returns after leading the Nittany Lions to the NCAA Division I Championship (its 6th overall and 5th in seven years) and its 16th B1G Women’s Volleyball title. With Hancock as Penn State’s starting setter, the Nittany Lions registered a .305 attack percentage — the 5th best percentage in NCAA Division I and first in the B1G. Other returnees on the roster who are listed as potential setters are 6-2 Jr. Megan Courtney and 5-6 So. DS/S Taylor Krause. Although Courtney is a dynamic athlete who certainly could play the setter position, she started the past two seasons at OH and we look for her to start the 2014 season at Opposite/Right Side. (We include her bio in that section, below.)  Krause played in 10 matches as a true freshman last season as a defensive specialist, and will look to expand her role in 2014. (Her bio is included in the DS section, below.)

New to the mix will be 6-1 Fr. Bryanna Weiskircher (pictured at right), who ranked as the #13 Senior Ace for 2014, and who has the ability to compete with (and learn from) Hancock — though Hancock is obviously the heavy favorite to win that competition. Although Coach Rose tinkered with a 6-2 in 2006 with Alisha Glass and Jessica Yanz, and last year during the pre-season with Hancock and Courtney, we think it is unlikely (though not impossible) that we will see this from Penn State this season. What will be seen is a highly competitive 2nd team, led by an intense Weiskircher, pushing the starters day in and day out for playing time.  And, in contrast to 2013 — when we never saw Hancock come off the floor — we also expect to see Weiskircher sub in from time to time to gain experience. Quality depth will be a welcome asset for Penn State in 2014. Below is a brief rundown on Hancock and Weiskircher:

#12 Micha Hancock, 5-11 S, Sr. Edmond, Oklahoma

The Buzz on Micha: As Washington and Wisconsin learned in the NCAA Tournament, Hancock’s serve can be a game changer. Hancock will be counted on to provide senior leadership, as Penn State looks to blend the highly-touted freshmen with a solid core of returning players.

The 2013 season saw Micha Hancock continue her steady maturation as a setter and the improvement in her overall game. With Hancock leading the way, Penn State registered a .305 team attack percentage — good for first in the B1G and fifth nationally.  She averaged 11.22 assists per set (oddly, exactly the same as her average in 2012), 1.02 kills/set (on .331 hitting), and registered 289 digs (fourth best on the team), and 74 total blocks (fifth best on the team). Here’s an interview with Micha at the 2013 AVCA All-America Awards Ceremony:

Micha Hancock's Career Set/Serve Statistics


Micha Hancock's Career Attack Stats


Micha Hancock's Career Blocking Stats


Micha Hancock's Career Dig Stats


2013 (Junior): NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player; AVCA 1st Team All-America; Volleyball Magazine 2nd Team All-America; Big Ten Setter of the Year; All-B1G Ten. Continued her record-setting performance from the service line, averaging 0.65 aces/set — good for 2nd overall in NCAA Division I and 1st in the B1G — which upped her career total to a Penn State career best of 254 service aces (breaking the previous record held by Ellen Hensler, who starred for the team from 1983 to1986). Other highlights from the season included:

2012 (Sophomore): AVCA 1st Team All-America; Volleyball Magazine 1st Team All-America; West Lafayette Regional All-Tournament Team; Big Ten Setter of the Year; All-Big Ten; Big Ten Player of the Week (9/3); Big Ten Setter of the Week (9/3, 9/24, 10/1, 10/22, 11/5, 11/19); AVCA National Player of the Week (11/6).

2011 (Freshman): AVCA Mideast Region Freshman of the Year; Unanimous Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection; Big Ten Freshman of the Year; Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week (11/14, 11/21, 11/28). Guided Penn State to a .267 hitting percentage (12th nationally); averaged 10.54 assists per set (sixth in the Big Ten).

High School: Two-time Oklahoma Gatorade Player of the Year; 2011 Top 50 Recruit and Senior Ace; member of the 2009 USA Junior National Championship All-Tournament Team; named to Volleyball Magazine’s “Fab 50”; Best Setter Award in 2010 USA High Performance International Championship Tournament; selected to the 2010 Youth Olympic Team; 2010 Under Armour All-American.

#21 Bryanna Weiskircher, 6-1 S., Fr., Loves Park, IL

The Buzz on Bryanna: A well-skilled and polished setter, with good location and solid awareness of the position. Weiskircher is smooth and confident and can be a great asset to the Nittany Lions — not only this year but well into the future. John Tawa of has described her as “a ferocious competitor oozing with Division I talent in every phase of her game.”

High School:’s #13-ranked Senior Ace (and a 2013-14 Under Armour First Team All-American and 2013 Mizuno Honorable Mention All-American), Weiskircher 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. With Weiskircher as the setter, Club Fusion (which included fellow freshmen 6-1 OH Ali Frantti and 6-1 OH Simone Lee) won two AAU championships. Here’s a video of Bryanna from October 22, 2011 in a match in which against Winnebago. In the video, Boylan’s Maddy Guyette makes a save from a Winnebago attack, and Bryanna (No. 1) ends the rally with a kill:

Outside Hitter

Gone from 2013 are 6-1 Sr. Deja McClendon, 6-2 Sr. Maddie Martin, and 6-2 RS So. Paulina Prieto Cerame. Add in the distinct possibility that 6-2 So. Megan Courtney moves to Opposite/Rightside (which is where we have her listed in this Season Preview) and it’s clear that Penn State has lost a lot of firepower at the outside hitter position. In fact, as reflected in the table below, if you include Courtney among the departed outside hitters (which we do — we think she’ll be at Opposite/Rightside), then Penn State loses three of its top four outside hitters from 2013, representing 764 out of a total of 806 kills contributed by the four leading outside hitters. As in 94.8% of the outside hitter kills.

Who's Back: Outside Hitter Attack Leaders from 2013

#Name '13


Another concern is the loss of the incredible defense McClendon and Courtney brought to the outside hitter position for last year’s National Championship team. As shown in the table below, that tandem ranked second and third on the 2013 team in Digs, respectively, by a healthy margin. When you couple that with their offense, it’s clear that the outside hitter position has lost an enormous amount of touches.

Who's Back: Recept/Dig Leaders from 2013

#Name ClassSPMPMSRERcpt
18McClendon, Deja4/Sr.1263636--857.9813632.88
Penn State
The good news is that even though the Nittany Lions lose a lot at outside hitter, all is not lost. 6-4 RS Jr. Aiyana Whitney returns — an imposing and veteran player who can play all three front row positions, blocks and attacks at a high level, and brings a very potent service game. Coach Rose will be counting on her to provide a strong physical presence on the front row.

Joining Whitney will be three highly-touted freshman, all of whom are all listed on the 2014 Roster as outside hitters: 6-1 Ali Frantti (#2-ranked Senior Ace), 6-1 Simone Lee (#8-ranked Senior Ace), and 6-2 Nia Reed (#12-ranked Senior Ace). Of course, prep accolades do not necessarily translate to success on the court. Still, the cupboard is not entirely empty. Here’s a quick rundown on each of those players:

Aiyana Whitney#14 Aiyana Whitney, 6-4 OH, RS Jr. Norwood, New Jersey

The Buzz on Aiyana: A very physical front row player who blocks and attacks at a high level, Whitney brings an intriguing combination of size and athleticism to a position of need for the Nittany Lions in 2014. Although she is listed in our outside hitter section, she is a versatile athlete who can play all three front row positions, and could see time at opposite/right side or at middle blocker.

Aiyana Whitney's Career Attack Stats


Aiyana Whitney's Career Blocking Stats


2012 (Sophomore): Whitney started three matches in 2013, and played in a total of 21. High points included a six-kill performance against Syracuse on 8/31/13 (.455 attack %), with three digs and two block assists; three kills and one dig against then-#19 Wisconsin on 10/12/13; and two kills against No. 7 Stanford in the Regional Finals on 12/14/13.

2012 (Redshirt Season): Redshirt season

2011 (Freshman): 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.

High School: 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. 2011 New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year. Here’s Aiyana Whitney’s “Meet the Freshmen” video from 2012:

Frantti#5 Ali Frantti, 6-1 OH, Fr. Spring Grove, IL

The Buzz on Ali: One of the top offensive players to come into the program in the past few years. Touching in the 10-5 range, Frantti has a great arm from both the front and backrow and has a smile and relaxed attitude that make her easy to be around. Brings a high level of compete, is a good passer and defender, with six-rotation potential.

High School: Ranked by as the #2 Senior Ace, Ali Frantti arrives at Penn State after a stellar prep career in which she was 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. All this after earning 1st Team All-State honors and Chicago Sun-Times All-Area honors in 2012. Frantti was Richmond Burton High School’s MVP three-times, and its captain two times. She 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. Here’s a link to a video of Ali (and Simone Lee and Bryanna Weiskircher) from the 2012 AAU Volleyball 16U Open Final featuring the Milwaukee Sting vs Fusion 16 Black:

Simone Lee#22 Simone Lee, 6-2 OH, Fr. Menomonee Falls, WI

The Buzz on Simone: Strong, physical net player — who touches in the 10-5 range — Lee has the ability to block at a high level as a freshman. Lee also could see time at rights ide/opposite

High School:’s #8-ranked Senior Ace, Lee was 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. She 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. Lee was a 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, while she was named four times to the AAU all-tournament team. A dedicated athlete, Lee drove two hours each way to Club Fusion practices.

Here’s a video interview with Simone Lee from 2013:

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

The Buzz on Nia: 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.

High School: The #12-ranked Senior Ace, started all four years at Immaculate Heart Academy, during which time the Blue Eagles won four consecutive non-public state championship titles. Reed’s coach, Maria Nolan, has stated that Reed may be the best volleyball player in New Jersey history, and some observers view her as having potential similar to that of former National POY candidate — and fellow Immaculate Heart Academy alum — Ariel Scott. Though it remains to be seen how Reed’s potential will play out in her college career, she certainly has earned her share of accolades, including 2013-14 Under Armour First Team All-American; Mizuno First Team All-American; New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013; Star Ledger Player of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013; and Bergen Record Player of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Here’s a video interview with Nia Reed from December 2012:

Next Up: A Look at the Opposite/Right Side and Middle Blocker positions (Yes, we know Megan Courtney was an Outside Hitter).