About the Lineup Changes
DigNittany: Starting with the 3-1 loss to Illinois on October 11th, and continuing for Penn State’s 3-2 win over Purdue on October 17th, its 3-0 win over Indiana on October 18th, its back-to-back sweeps of The Michigans on October 24th and October 25th, and its 3-0 win over Ohio State on October 28th, the Nittany Lions have been sporting a new lineup, with 6-4 RS Jr. Aiyana Whitney moving from MH to RS/Opp, 6-3 Fr. Haleigh Washington getting starts at MH, and 6-2 Jr. Megan Courtney moving from RS/Opp back to OH – where she was B1G Freshmen of the Year. During that time, 6-1 Fr. Ali Frantti has started at the other OH position, and 5-6 Sr. libero Dom Gonzalez and 5-6 Sr. DS Lacey Fuller have continued to be featured in the back row and 5-11 Sr. setter Micha Hancock has started every match. 6-1 Fr. Simone Lee has seen limited playing time.
It’s hard to say how much of an impact the new lineup had on the outcome of the Illinois match (if any). Coach Rose obviously made the changes because he wasn’t totally satisfied with the way the team had been playing since its terrific 3-0 win over Wisconsin on September 24th — including the 3-1 loss to Nebraska in Lincoln on October 3rd (which Penn State lost after taking the first set 25-12). But it does appear that Whitney, Washington Courtney Frantti Gonzalez and Fuller are getting more comfortable playing in this new lineup.
We have two questions: 1) what do you think Coach Rose was seeing before the changes that led him to make the changes, and 2) how do you think the changes are working out from an attack, blocking and backrow defense perspective?
Club Coach: I think the decision was two-fold: First, it was as much about getting Haleigh Washington on the court more than it was moving Whitney and Megan. Washington was a player they’ve wanted to have on the floor since camp, but her health prevented that from happening. This line-up allows them to put their best players on the floor. Instead of moving Washington in and putting one of two AA-level players on the bench (Grant or Whitney) Coach Rose moved Whitney and Courtney to positions they were both comfortable in. The thinking is that this line-up allows Coach Rose to puts his best player on the floor. The move also gives Penn State more firepower behind the setter, and allows Courtney to be in a more “all-around” player role, which of course is her strength. I think the players have looked progressively more comfortable and better in this lineup with each match.
About Aiyana Whitney and Ariel Scott
DigNittany: We’ve talked a lot about Aiyana Whitney recently, but her ability to move to the RS/Opp has been one of the keys to Coach Rose’s moves. As Talking Head put it in a recent Q&A, Whitney “is putting together an All-American caliber season and is literally hitting at a higher plane than most everyone on the floor.” How would you compare Whitney’s game to last season’s starter, Ariel Scott?
Club Coach: Well, offensively they are very similar. Both go up top and bring heat. Neither — ironically given their size and athletic ability — were/are exceptional blockers, something I think will be critical for PSU as it tries to make a title run. The one thing we don’t know yet is will Whitney be able to be the same level of “go to” player that Scott was. It’s one thing to rack up 20 kills in a match, and quite another to get a must-have kill in a Final Four match. We shall see.
About Megan Courtney
DigNittany: There have been times this season when Megan Courtney has struggled on offense (a statement that could probably be made about every player in Division 1 women’s volleyball). But she so often makes the critical dig, or the rally-saving pass. How important is Courtney to this year’s Penn State team, and do you think the moves from OH to RS/Opp (and back) contributed to her inconsistency on offense?
Club Coach: As I said earlier, her game is so much more about how solid she is in every skill, than it is about dominance in any one skill. Courtney is incredibly important to Penn State’s success, given the fact that the Nittany Lions have young players on the court, and a few great “athletes,” having a great volleyball player on the court is critical and, in my opinion, the lack of that type and caliber of player has kept a program like Texas from winning more titles. Courtney gives the Nittany Lions a balance of athleticism and volleyball skill and IQ. She is a “glue” player.
About Haleigh Washington
DigNittany: A lot has been said about Haleigh Washington — the #1 ranked recruit from PrepVolleyball.com. It looks like she’s really starting to contribute both on offense (which shouldn’t be a surprise – she recorded 48 kills in the 2013 Colorado Class 5A title match) and as a blocker (where she had, to our inexpert eye, looked a bit tentative). Your thoughts on Washington’s growth as a player and her importance to this year’s Nittany Lion team?
Club Coach: Well what I have been really impressed by her is her energy, and personality. Those who know her will tell you she is a really fun kid, and helps make the court fun and light. Not the least bit surprised by her success as a hitter and blocker.
About Tonight’s Match
DigNittany: So, quick thoughts on tonight’s night’s match against the Buckeyes.
Club Coach: Ohio State is an odd team, in that there is a pretty huge range in terms of their level of play. The fact they have beaten two teams PSU has lost to, says something, but their performance on Tuesday shows they have some real challenges. I thought they really laid down vs PSU earlier in the week, and it will be interesting to see if they are motivated by that performance to do better, or whether they just don’t see themselves at the level PSU is at. In my opinion, PSU has a decided advantage at every position, and will win again in three.
DigNittany: Thanks so much, as always. We really appreciate it.