PSU Women’s Volleyball: 2010 Season Preview

Joe Paterno, the relatively successful Penn State football coach, has said on more than one occasion that Russ Rose, the relatively successful Penn State Women’s Volleyball coach, is the best coach on Penn State’s campus. What does Russ Rose say?

I don’t look back. I’ve got a cigar with my name on it out there tonight. So I’m not looking back.

Still, fans will be fans – enthusiastic, optimistic, perhaps even irrationally exuberant (like the fable of the scorpion and the frog, it’s in their nature) – so when the conversation turns this fall to who will win the 2010 national championship, many Penn State Women’s Volleyball fans undoubtedly will pick Penn State, flicking aside minor annoyances like the departure of four-year starters Alisha Glass and Megan Hodge , and the injury to 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Darcy Dorton.

Of course, supposedly dispassionate observers – like the voters in the AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Preseason Poll released on August 17, 2010 – have reached the same conclusion (whether out of habit or based on some approximation of reasoned analysis, it’s hard to say). In that poll, 60 voters gave Penn State 1456 total points (40 1st Place votes), followed by Nebraska with 1384 total points (16 1st Place votes), Texas with 1352 total points (four 1st Place votes), Stanford with 1296 total points, and Hawai’i with 1166 total points.

Penn State’s phlegmatic head coach Russ Rose isn’t having any of it. Here’s a link to Coach Rose, Alyssa D’Errico, and Blair Brown at Penn State’s Media Day on August 25th:

In Penn State’s 2010 Season Outlook, he draws a sharp line between the three National Championship teams and the 2010 team:

The last two or three years, I thought on paper that we had a team that could legitimately compete for a national championship. I wouldn’t say that about this team because it’s unfair. What this team can do is improve throughout the season. I expect us to hit a lot of bumpy roads along the way. The conference is tough and our schedule presents us with some great challenges. Our goal in the end will be to be the best team we can be, to get better through the season, to play hard and play together. We’ll see where we end up.

Of course, there’s always the chance that at the end of a bumpy road, you’ll find a stunning view:

Whether that will be the case for the 2010 Penn State Women’s Volleyball team, time will tell.

In the meantime, here’s DigNittanyVolleyball’s look at the players who will make up the 2010 team.

Setter

Of all the talented setters who have passed through Russ Rose’s Penn State Women’s Volleyball program, Alisha Glass certainly ranks among the very best. But no matter how hard or how long you stare at the roster for Penn State’s 2010 Women’s Volleyball team, you won’t find Alisha Glass’s name on it. She’s moved on, taking her three National Championship rings and her All-American honors with her, and leaving Coach Rose with the challenge of finding a new Setter to lead his Nittany Lions in the 2010 campaign.

Below is a table showing Penn State’s Set/Serve statistical leaders for the 2009 Season:

Set/Serve Leaders - 2010

#Name ClSPMPMSAA/SSASA
/S
SE
5Kristin Carpenter2/
So.
1193736137111.52140.1234
12Alyssa D'Errico 4/
Sr.
123370560.46490.4070
23Ali Longo1/
Fr.
6429020.03200.3118
18Deja McClendon1/
Fr.
1223737150.12200.1644
14Cathy Quilico4/
Sr.
1233722210.17130.1119
22Mikinzie Moydell1/
Fr.
1181736.6410.092
Team1233737162313.201601.30272
Opponents1233737124710.14960.78206

Although Marika Racibarskas and Kristin Carpenter – two players with setting experience either at Penn State or in high school and at the club level – return from the 2009 squad, true freshman Mikinzie Moydell appears to be the favorite to win the job as starting Setter. Here’s a look at all three contenders.

Mikinzie Moydell #22, Fr. 6-0, Parker, Colorado

Moydell, who earned three varsity letters at Chaparral High School in Colorado, comes to Penn State with a glittering resume. As a senior she was named to the Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 and was selected as an AAU, AVCA Under Armour, and ESPN RISE All-American. Just to rub it in on mere mortals like us, she also was a member of the National Honor Society and the Chinese National Honor Society and made the honor roll four years in a row.

If she does win the Setter position, Rose knows she will face tough challenges.

Mikinzie will have a lot of pressure on her because she’s replacing a four-year starter and a three-time All-American with both veteran and younger players around her. . . . The physical nature of college volleyball is something she won’t understand until she’s in the gym and has balls being hit at her at a certain velocity, big outside hitters hitting over her and small outside hitters being crafty with her. It’ll be a far cry from what we’ve done the last couple of years, but that’s not going to stop us from going to practice every day and trying to find a way to be competitive both in the conference and in the national picture.

But Rose appears confident that Moydell will answer the call.

Mikinzie has a good handle on the game and she interacts well with others. . . . She came from a fine club program and has all the tools to be successful. Mikinzie has a great volleyball IQ at the setting position, is not afraid to try things and knows the role she has to play.

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

Because no player will be handed a starting position, the outcome of this competition isn’t a foregone conclusion. Rose views Racibarskas (who was named to the Volleyball Magazine – Fab 50 as a high school senior) as one of the hardest workers on the team.

Marika continues to improve. I think her efforts in the weight room from the fall and spring were positive. She’s strong and a good volleyball player. Where she fits in the mix, we’ll see. I believe she’ll be someone we’ll look at as a front row player, as she is a solid blocker.

In 2009, Racibarskas saw action in 14 matches and 14 sets as a serving and defensive specialist, won the match against Miami (Ohio) with an ace (in her college debut, no less), and also recorded aces against Wisconsin (10/3), Purdue (10/24) Binghamton (12/4) and Penn (12/5).

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

Coach Rose has singled out Carpenter, who saw action in 34 matches and 52 sets in 2009 as a serving and defensive specialist (including two aces against Buffalo (9/4 in her Rec Hall debut) and three kills and two aces on 9/5 against Robert Morris), as the best athlete of the three.

Kristin is one of the most talented athletes we have, in addition to one of the best jump servers. She needs to step up and make some plays. I wouldn’t be surprised if she comes in to set, jump serve, play back row and get into some offensive situations. Few people live life with the joy and smile she does.

And Carpenter garnered some impressive awards of her own before arriving at Penn State in 2009. In 2008, she was named the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, was selected as an AVCA Under Armour All-American, and was named to Volleyball Magazine’s Fab 50. She was the starting setter on the USA Youth National Team her sophomore year and the starting libero her junior year.

Outside Hitter

Coach Rose would have had a big job on his hands at Outside Hitter even if he were faced only with the challenge of replacing the incomparable talent of Megan Hodge. But fate wasn’t as kind to Penn State as it might have been; Darcy Dorton (#1, So. 6-2, Muncie, Indiana) suffered an off-season injury that will keep her off the court for at least the first part of the season.

The following table of Attack statistical leaders for the 2009 team highlights how Hodge and Dorton (while she’s out) will be missed:

Attack Leaders - 2010

#Name ClSPMPMSKK/SETAHit
%
9Blair Brown 4/
Sr.
12337375214.241321214.320
18Deja McClendon1/
Fr.
12237374183.43112925.331
7Arielle Wilson4/
Sr.
12337373342.7260645.425
1Ariel Scott1/
Fr.
632021432.2757414.208
2Katie Kabbes 2/
Jr.
582212991.7158303.135
3Fatima Balza 4/
Sr.
813126961.1923189.386
16Katie Slay1/
Fr.
522311541.0412104.404
Team1233737176414.344864066.314
Opponents1233737133510.857724243.133

Says Rose:

Darcy is in that strange place where you’re recuperating from an injury and you’re not as involved in some things. Darcy’s strength is her passion and energy to play and I hope those things win out in the end. Until she’s ready to play, we’ll need her to be a mentor and help the younger players.

Whether Dorton will be ready this season is an unanswered question. But the irrepressible Dorton (who was the emotional spark for the Nittany Lions in their comeback against Texas in the 2009 NCAA Finals) remains characteristically optimistic:

With the experienced players we have returning and the talented freshmen coming in, this year will be just as exciting as the last. Our team will be very different from last year’s, but our goals will remain the same. I expect us to remain a frontrunner for another national title.

Enthusiasm. It’s in her nature.

Competing for the two openings at OH will be Junior Katie Kabbes and incoming freshmen Deja McClendon and Maddie Martin.

Here’s a quick look at each of these three players.

Katie Kabbes #2, Jr. 6-4, Raleigh, North Carolina

Kabbes, who as a high school Senior was a Volleyball Magazine First Team All-American, a PrepVolleyball.com All-American, and a Volleyball Magazine “Fab 50” selection, and was the 2006 and 2007 North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, played in the shadows of Hodge, Dorton and Blair Brown in 2009, when she played in 17 matches and 33 sets. She’ll be looking to make an impact in 2010, and Coach Rose, for one, hopes she does.

Katie has to make the big step from being good in practice to games. She’s been here for two years and during those two years, the outside hitters in front of her were first team All-American selections. Katie mentally is aware of what she needs to do and I thought she had a good spring. I hope the momentum will carry over. I know she wants to play. She cares about the team and needs to learn to handle the demands of a very challenging position. . . . Katie certainly has made great strides over the last two years. I hope this will be a breakout season for her.

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

Coach Rose describes McClendon as “. . . a great offensive player who plays high at the net.” She was a highly sought-after high school recruit – in 2009, she was named Miss Kentucky Volleyball, Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year, was an Under Armour All-American, and ranked seventh on Prepvolleyball.com’s “Senior Aces,” and Coach Rose clearly is expecting big things from her in 2010.

Deja is going to be one of our key offensive players this year and into the future. She hits high and hard and has a variety of shots. I think her game is suited to step in and make contributions at the net as soon as we start going. She blocks and hits well. Usually young players do one or the other.

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

Maddie Martin is yet another member of Penn State’s incoming group of nine true freshmen who excelled in high school and at the club level. She was a two-year member of the USA A1 Select Team, was the 2009 Florida Gatorade Player of the Year, and was selected as a PrepVolleyball.com, AAU, ESPN RISE and AVCA Under Armour All-American. According to Coach Rose, Martin is a “well-skilled, all-around player” whom Penn State will “need to depend on” in 2010. Having said that, Rose doesn’t want to force things with Martin.

We just have to find what we can get her to do without over-working her. We can’t expect her to just take over for the absence of Megan and Darcy. Her 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.

Opposite/Right Side

Blair Brown #9, Sr. (RS) 6-5, Purcellville, Virginia

With two-time All-American Senior Captain Blair Brown returning on the right side, the Opposite position should be a strong point for Penn State in 2010. In addition to being a unanimous First Team All-Big Ten selection, Brown was named to the 2009 NCAA Regional Championship All-Tournament Team and the AVCA First Team All-Mideast Region Team. She was second on the 2009 team with 347 kills (2.97 kills per set), and added 107 blocks.

Coach Rose will be counting heavily on Brown in 2010, both as a player and as a leader.

Blair has the opportunity and talent to step up and be one of the elite players in the country. She’s gone from being named a second team All-American to a first team All-American. She has the responsibility to make her presence felt as a team leader and key player. She’s a terrific player at the net and has been making good progress as a player who can player all the way around.

Ariel Scott, Fr., 6-4, Ridgewood, New Jersey

Coach Rose has indicated that if there are problems at the Outside Hitter position, it’s possible that Blair Brown won’t end up as the starter on the right side.

We might have to move Blair to the outside and have someone else play right if our hitting doesn’t come along. At this point, I don’t know. But Blair is a two-time All-American and I’m confident she’ll play like one.

If Brown is moved to Outside Hitter, that “someone else” might be incoming freshman Ariel Scott, who in 2009 was named the #17 Senior Ace by Prepvolleyball.com, the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, and an AVCA/Under Armour All-America. Coach Rose describes Scott as having “a great frame for college volleyball” and says she is “strong and competitive,” and notes:

She moves well along the net. I think Ariel will be in the hunt to play at middle or right side.

Middle Hitter

 

Coach Rose is famously understated, but we hope that at least once, in a private moment when he has the opportunity to think about the Middle Hitter position for the 2010 Penn State team, he allows himself at least the hint of a smile. After all, AVCA First Team All-American Arielle Wilson and senior Fatima Balza both return, and they are joined by three highly-touted freshmen — Katie Slay, Erica Denney, and Ariel Scott (who, as noted above, may end up on the right side).
But if Rose does allow himself that smile, it will be short, because he is acutely aware that whatever was accomplished by his players last season, those accomplishments were part of a team effort that included great players like Alisha Glass and Megan Hodge who have graduated (we suppose that’s the Glass half empty view).

With that in mind, below is a table showing Penn State’s blocking leaders in 2009, followed by a rundown on the Middle Hitter position for 2010.

Blocking Leaders - 2010

#Name ClSPMPMSBSBATBB/SBEBHE
7Arielle Wilson 4/
Sr.
1233737101291391.1390
16Katie Slay1/
Fr.
522311974831.6033
3Fatima Balza 4/
Sr.
81312671011081.3335
9Blair Brown 4/
Sr.
1233737111021130.9222
18Deja McClendon1/
Fr.
1223737876840.6983
1Ariel Scott1/
Fr.
63202340430.6861
Team123373752636370.03.014235
Opponents123373736315193.51.578750

Arielle Wilson #7, Sr. 6-3, Broadview, Illinois

Arielle Wilson has put up some astonishing numbers in her three years at Penn State. In 2009, she was third on the team with 337 kills, she led the team with 186 blocks (1.52 blocks per set), her .540 hitting percentage broke the NCAA record, and her career .489 hitting percentage is the best in Penn State history. Her performance earned her a place as an AVCA First Team All-American, selection to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team and NCAA Regional Championship All-Tournament Team, and a spot on the First Team All-Big Ten Team.

Rose knows he has a stellar talent in Wilson and will be counting on her as a key player in 2010.

Ari has made incredible strides as a player since she came to Penn State. I believe she’s demonstrated that she is one of the top offensive players in the nation. Hopefully, we’ll be able to expand on her array of shots and continue to get her the ball at key times. We’re going to need her to score and block well, as well as make plays while in the back row.

Still, Rose sounds a note of caution:

Ari led the nation in hitting last year, but it was with the aid of a great passing team and a terrific setter. She will have to adjust this year with the change in our level of passing and setting and will have to make good swings every time. Ari will be our leader in the middle.

Fatima Balza #3, Sr. 6-3, Merida, Venezuela

Before the start of the 2009 season, many analysts and fans pointed to the Middle Hitter position as potentially the weak link for Penn State. To be sure, Arielle Wilson returned from an outstanding 2008 season, and Junior College transfer Fatima Balza had helped lead Western Nebraska Community College to a third place in the national tournament (and a gaudy 59-4 overall record) and was named Most Valuable Player Region IX. But that was . . . Junior College. How would she perform against top teams and players in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament. Coach Rose thinks Balza, who started 37 of 38 matches, finished second on the team with 171 blocks (1.47 per set — 10th nationally), did just fine.

I thought Fatima hit the ground running last year and did a great job in a tough situation playing with new people and veteran, demanding teammates. . . . I thought she did an admirable job. Fatima did a terrific job last year with what we asked her to do. She was not one of our primary offensive options, but was very good when offered the opportunity. Overall, Fatima made great contributions to the team and I believe she’ll continue to be a hard worker and a good blocker.

Rose will be expecting even more from Balza in 2010.

This year she’ll have to be more of an offensive player, continue her good blocking and seeing if she can make some contributions in other areas. She’s a mature and experienced player and we’ll have to depend on that more this year with the youth around her.

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

At 6’6 inches tall, Katie Slay is the tallest player on the Penn State roster, and according to Coach Rose, “one of our most engaging and enthusiastic kids.” Personality aside, what interests Coach Rose the most is her blocking ability.

Katie may be the best incoming blocker we’ve ever had in the program. She may have to work hard to earn time on the court from an offensive standpoint, but she’s going to be able to block a lot of balls. . . . We have to get her offense up to par, but she’s smart and a great team player. I don’t think you’re ever at a disadvantage when you have someone who can block the ball the way she does.

In 2009, Slay earned First Team AVCA/Under Armour, ESPN RISE, Volleyball Magazine and PrepVolleyball.com High School All-American and second team MaxPreps High School All-American, and ranked #18 on PrepVolleyball.com’s list of Senior Aces. Slay was named to the USA Women’s Junior National Team her sophomore and junior years, and was a member of National Honor Society and National English Honor Society.

Erica Denney #8, Fr. 6-5, Centennial, Colorado

Similar to Darcy Dorton, Erica Denney’s role on the 2010 Penn State team is uncertain. She arrives 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, but she is recovering from an injury. Says Coach Rose:

When healthy, I know she is a terrific offensive player. She played with Mikinzie on her club team so there are existing good connections. She’s recuperating from an injury so she may come in a little behind from a physical standpoint. Her participation or being a redshirt candidate will depend on her starting point and progress. 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.

Libero/Defensive Specialist

We’re going to depend a lot on our seniors, Cathy [Quilico], Alyssa [D’Errico] and Jess [Ullrich]. I think we’ll be stronger in the back row. While I don’t think you can win a lot of matches being stronger in the back, I think you can steal a couple of matches thanks to the impact of the back row players. It will prove to be a competitive position for us this year and the expectations of those individuals playing will be very high.

Head Coach Russ Rose discussing the back row for the 2010 Penn State Women’s Volleyball team.

Below is a Table showing backrow Recept/Dig statistical leaders for the 2009 Penn State team, followed by a quick look at the players who will be competing for back row playing time on the 2010 Penn State team:

Recept/Dig Leaders - 2010

#Name ClSPMPMSRETAPct.DigD/S
12Alyssa D'Errico 4/
Sr.
123370266110.9575074.12
14Cathy Quilico4/
Sr.
1233722195620.9662582.10
5Kristin Carpenter2/
So.
1193736120.5002732.29
18Deja McClendon1/
Fr.
1223737235360.9572301.89
9Blair Brown 4/
Sr.
12337370321.0002812.28
23Ali Longo1/
Fr.
6429091200.925741.16
Team12337379620740.954181114.72
Opponents123373716026610.940160713.07

Alyssa D’Errico #12, Sr. 5-9, Byron, New York

Alyssa D’Errico, an Academic All-Big Ten selection in 2009, returns as the starting libero after playing in all 38 matches last season, having averaged 3.55 digs per set (first on the team), and totaling a team-leading 62 aces. Rose offers plenty of praise for D’Errico.

Alyssa is one of the most committed leaders we’ve had in the program. She has her hand on the pulse of the team and mentors and monitors as well. As a player, she possesses a tough serve and is a good passer. I especially like the fact she’s not afraid to mix it up in the back row. Alyssa is going to have a lot of challenges with the young people around her in terms of choreographing serve/reception patterns and moving people around in the back row to help us make plays.

For her part, D’Errico has high expectations for the 2010 season.

I am super excited for my last year with this program, university, teammates and fans. We are pleased to have a large and talented recruiting class that will bring a refreshing, young energy to an already intense training atmosphere. I will be proud to put on a Penn State jersey for one more season. We have high hopes and are looking forward to upholding the tradition of our program as a team with one goal in mind.

Cathy Quilico #14, Sr. 5-1, Thousand Oaks, California

Nicknamed “the Widget,” Quilico is the shortest player in the Big Ten, but came up huge in the National Final match against Texas to cap off a stellar season. In 2009, Quilico played in 38 matches – starting 18 — and 118 sets. She totaled 21 aces and 221 digs. Her talent and effort haven’t gone unnoticed by Coach Rose:

Cathy has improved every year she’s been here. She serves tough, is quick and has a great nose for the ball. She’s always upbeat and possesses great energy. Cathy made some great plays for us down the stretch in our run for the national championship last year.

Jessica Ullrich #4, Sr. 5-8, Winfield, Illinois

After two years at Purdue University, where she earned Academic All-Big Ten honors, Ullrich saw action in 29 matches last season as a serving and defensive specialist. Coach Rose describes her as “one of the hardest working players that I’ve coached,” noting that “[s]he wants to be in the gym and is committed to the team. I think when she’s on, she possesses a terrific serve and always plays hard, two very important variables.”

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

Kristin Carpenter, discussed above as a possible Setter, also will be in the mix for playing time in the back row. The always upbeat Carpenter is, not surprisingly, very upbeat about the team’s prospects for 2010.

PSU volleyball is all about tradition and that’s not about to change. We’ll be physically tough, mentally prepared and surrounded by great leaders. With the same target on our backs, I look forward to being part of a team that will surprise a lot of people.”

Megan Shifflett #13, Jr. 5-6, Falls Church, Virginia

In 2009, Megan Shifflett competed in 22 matches and 28 sets as a serving and defensive specialist. Noting that she “played and contributed in the National Championship match” against Texas in 2009, Coach Rose has “confidence that Megan can handle the pressure of making plays. She serves and passes well, and is quick, while possessing a good volleyball IQ and knowing how to make plays.”

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

Maggie Harding is one of three incoming freshman who will be competing for playing time in the back row. Harding was the captain of the 2009 State College Area High School team (Penn State is located in State College, Pennsylvania (not, sorry to disappoint, College Park or College Station) and earned All-State honors. Coach Rose, who has known her “since she was young,” describes her as “bright, a hard worker and is quick. She might not be as far along physically as some of the other players, but she works as hard and there will be a time when she’ll be able to make great contributions for us. Her biggest transition will be the speed of the game and the strength required to play.”

Krosby Pabst #19, Fr. 5-7, Long Beach, California

Coach Rose says Krosby Pabst, another contender for back row playing time, has “a great volleyball IQ and always seems to be in the right place at the right time.” Says Rose:

Krosby has a great feel for sports and she’s not afraid to get in there and make plays. All of the team’s she played on experienced great success.

Ali Longo #23, Fr. 5-6, Chatfield, Colorado

Ali Longo was named Second Team All-State Colorado in 2009. Rose describes Longo, who he says has “a strong jump serve” and who could see action at a number of positions, as follows:

Ali plays hard and has played a variety positions. I’ve seen her as an outside hitter, setter and libero. She is going to push a number of people at a variety of positions this year and should be in the mix in the back row.

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