PSU Women’s Volleyball: 2011 Season Preview


Yes We Have No Liberos (Also, No Right Sides Today)

Judging by the Official Roster posted on, the 2011 Penn State Women’s Volleyball team won’t have any liberos and won’t have any opposites/right sides either.

That certainly would be a novelty, but we bet that when the team takes the floor against Oregon on Friday, August 26th at 8:00 pm (the match will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network (BTN) in case you’re unable to see it in person) liberos and opposites will be part of the team. The question is, who will be the libero and the opposite for Penn State’s first match in 2011?

Actually, Penn State has alot of questions heading into the 2011 season. Here are a few:

  • Will Kristin Carpenter reprise her 2010 role as Penn State’s starting setter, or will true freshman Micha Hancock or junior Marika Racibarskas take the reigns as setter for this very young (seven freshmen and six sophomores) and inexperienced 2011 team?
  • If either Hancock or Marika Racibarskas does take over at setter, will Carpenter move to libero or to defensive specialist?
  • Will Katie Slay build on her impressive freshman campaign, adding more offense to her already lethal blocking?
  • Will Ariel Scott make the move to middle hitter (she’s listed as an MH on the official Penn State roster — the one with no liberos or opposites), or opposite/right side, or will she stay at outside hitter? 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 2011 be a breakout year for Erica Denney, after her redshirt season in 2010?
  • Assuming Deja McClendon has one OH spot wrapped up, and Ariel Scott moves to middle hitter or opposite/right side, who will earn the second OH position?
  • Will incoming freshmen Lacey Fuller and Dominique Gonzalez help ease the loss of Alyssa D’Errico and Cathy Quilico? Will Ali Longo succeed in an expanded role? Where do Megan Shifflitt and Maggie Harding fit in?
  • Oh yes, and who will start at opposite?

Obviously, we don’t know the answers to any of these questions (and there undoubtedly are more we’ve overlooked). Then again, we assume the Penn State coaching staff doesn’t know the answers right now either, and won’t until the conclusion of pre-season practice, at the earliest. Given the youth and relative inexperience of this team, it wouldn’t surprise us to see the answers change more than once, as Penn State evolves and matures during the season.

Goals and Expectations: What the Players are Saying

Although we’re brimming with unanswered questions, the player profiles on the 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 a few of the quotes below:

Kristin Carpenter:

With the addition of a new team in the Big Ten this year, our season is definitely going to put us to the test. We’re going to show the incoming freshman and everyone around that no one is going to work harder than us or play with more heart. Just because winning another championship isn’t very probable this year, it doesn’t mean that it’s not possible. We all have the same goal so why not go for it?

Darcy Dorton:

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.

Katie Kabbes:

I hope to end my career here working hard every moment, growing as a team and getting better from day one till the last day in order to uphold the Penn State Women’s Volleyball tradition.

Maddie Martin:

We have big shoes to fill with the loss of our seniors, but that’s always the case at Penn State. I expect Coach Rose to push us hard and get the best out of us he can possibly get, and I believe that will make us good enough to compete at the highest level.

Deja McClendon:

My expectations for the 2011 season are to work harder than we did last year, to prepare the incoming freshmen to play big roles on the team and to personally improve my defense.

Katie Slay:

In the 2011 season I want to uphold the Penn State tradition of working hard so I can help the team however I can, and win more championships. I also want to help the freshmen adjust to the demands of college life and volleyball like the older girls helped me. GO STATE!

2011 Outlook by Position


2010 Statistics - Kristin Carpenter

#Name SPAstAst/SSASA/SetSE
5Kristin Carpenter119137111.52140.1234

Although Kristin Carpenter returns as the starting setter from the 2010 squad, much of the off-season discussion has focused on whether true freshman Micha Hancock can step in as the starter for the Nittany Lions.

If Hancock were able to win the starting position, the Penn State coaches would have the freedom to move Carpenter to libero or defensive specialist, which would certainly take some of the sting out of losing Alyssa D’Errico and Cathy Quilico.

Hancock certainly has the credentials. She was the starting setter on the 2010 U.S. Youth Olympics team that won a Silver medal in Singapore, was named a 2010 AVCA Under Armour 1st-Team All-American, was a 2010 top-50 Senior Ace, and was the Gatorade Oklahoma State Player of the Year in both 2009 and 2010.

But credentials do not guarantee playing time, let alone a starting position (heck, Coach Rose has stressed in interviews that even a stellar performance in weekend matches doesn’t guarantee anything come Monday), and alot will depend on how other players perform, including Marika Racibarskas, the junior setter who is a solid performer in her own right.

Here’s a look at all three contenders.

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

Kristin Carpenter’s 2010 season was extraordinary. She won the starting setter position the first weekend of the season and never looked back, playing in all 37 matches, starting 36, and leading Penn State’s offense to a .314 attack percentage — first in the Big Ten and second in the nation.

There’s more: all of Carpenter’s primary hitters hit .320 or above, with graduated All-American middle hitter Arielle Wilson leading the way at .425 — good for fourth in the nation; Carpenter’s 11.52 assists/set led the Big Ten; she had 10 double-doubles and ranked third on the team in digs with 273; and she registered at least one block in each of 29 matches, totaling 54 blocks for the season. To close out the season, she was named as the setter on the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.

We have no idea whether Kristin Carpenter will be the starting setter for Penn State in 2011, but we do know this: if she isn’t, the person who is will have played very, very well to win the job.

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

Will Micha Hancock play well enough in preseason practice to win the starting setter job? Who knows, but she does have an impressive record of accomplishment. Hancock lettered all four years at Edmond Memorial High School in Edmond, Oklahoma and, more impressively, was captain of the team for three years.

As we noted above, she was the starting setter on the 2010 U.S. Youth Olympics team, was a 2010 AVCA Under Armour 1st-Team All-American, a 2010 top-50 Senior Ace, and was the Gatorade Oklahoma State Player of the Year in both 2010 and 2009.

Here’s what Hancock had to say, in a video produced by that is posted here, about why she chose Penn State:

I really like the tradition of winning. Coach is adament about working hard every day and challenging you. So I think the hard work was what brought me here.

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

In 2010, Marika Racibarskas saw action in 15 matches as a serving and defensive specialist. She registered one kill, eight digs, and ten assists. She also was Academic All-Big Ten.

But statistics don’t really tell the story for Racibarskas (who was named to the Volleyball Magazine – Fab 50 as a high school senior), whom Rose views as one of the hardest workers on the team. Here’s what he said prior to the start of the 2010 season:

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.

Hard work clearly is key to her approach to the game. In her Penn State player profile, she says that “to uphold the tradition of Penn State volleyball, we all must work hard and work together every day to reach the next level.” We don’t think those are empty words.

Outside Hitter

Coach Rose welcomes back both of last year’s starting outside hitters — 2010 National Freshman of the Year 6-1 So. Deja McClendon and 6-4 So. Ariel Scott. But if Scott moves to middle hitter (as noted above, that’s where she’s listed on the official roster), or to opposite/right side, then one spot opens up.

There would be plenty of candidates, starting with 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Darcy Dorton — if she’s healthy. The problem is, Dorton suffered an off-season injury in 2010 that kept her off the court for the entire 2010 season. It’s unclear, as of this writing, when she will be able to compete in 2011. If Dorton isn’t ready to go at the start of the season, other top contenders include junior Katie Kabbes, sophomore Maddie Martin, and true freshmen Aiyana Whitney and Nia Grant.

Regardless of who wins the outside hitter spots, they’ll need to bring some offense to the party. As the following table shows, Penn State lost 7.73 kills/set to graduation (53.8% of their total kills in 2010), with those key graduating players (highlighted in red) having had a collective .359 attack percentage, compared to the .272 attack percentage for key returning players.

Attack Leaders - 2011 Outlook

#Name SPK% of
K/SetETA% of
Attack Pct.
9Blair Brown12352129.54.24132121429.9.320
18Deja McClendon12241823.73.4311292522.7.331
7Arielle Wilson12333418.92.726064515.9.425
1Ariel Scott631438.12.275741410.2.208
2Katie Kabbes 58995.61.71583037.4.135
3Fatima Balza81965.41.19231894.6.386
16Katie Slay52543.11.04121042.6.404
Lost to Graduation
(from Key Players)
(from Key Players)
2010 Team1231764100.014.344864066100.314

With those statistics percolating in the back of your brains, here’s a quick look at the leading candidates for the outside hitter spots. We’re assuming (purely a guess) that Ariel Scott moves to middle hitter or opposite/right side, and we’ve listed Darcy Dorton last only because of the uncertainty regarding her recovery. No offense, Darcy, and we hope you’re right in the mix.

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

What will Deja McClendon do for an encore? In 2010, she was the AVCA Division I National Freshman of the Year, the NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player (the second freshmen to win that award — Stanford’s Kerri Walsh being the first), earned a spot on the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team, and was an AVCA Second Team All-American — the only freshman on that team in 2010.

McClendon started all 37 matches and played 122 of Penn State’s 123 sets in 2010. As shown in the chart above, she was second on the team with 418 kills and 3.43 kills per set, and ranked fourth in attack percentage at .331 (which was good for seventh in the Big Ten).

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

Katie Kabbes won Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2010, started 12 matches (she played in 22), and averaged 1.71 kills/set. As a team captain for 2011, Kabbes will have an important role to play whether or not she wins a starting position. We think Coach Rose’s assessment from last season probably holds true for this season too:

Katie has to make the big step from being good in practice to games. . . . Katie mentally is aware of what she needs to do. . . . 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.

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

Maddie Martin arrived at Penn State in 2010 as one 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, AAU, ESPN RISE and AVCA Under Armour All-American.

She had her moments last season, (she played in 20 matches (29 sets), totaled 22 kills, 15 digs and six blocks), with perhaps the most notable coming in the second set of Penn State’s NCAA semi-final match against Texas, when her ace put Penn State up 13-8.

Last preseason Coach Rose 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.” She will certainly be in the mix for more playing time in 2011.

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

In an interview with Gordon Brunskill in the Centre Daily Times after Aiyana Whitney signed her Letter of Intent with Penn State, Coach Rose had this to say:

Aiyana’s a skilled net player, but she has good ball-handling skills, a nice serve, she blocks well. . . . We’ve had her in camp and she’s a good prospect with a big frame. Aiyana just led her high school team to the state championship and was the MVP of the All-Star game. She is a great net player with good ball-handling skills and a frame to get strong with. I think she’ll be competing for one of the outside spots.

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 last season, which was capped off by Old Tappan’s first-ever state championship when it won the finals of the Tournament of Champions. For the season, Whitney totaled 381 kills (7.3 kps), 46 aces (.9 aps), and 121 digs (her matches were best-two-of-three). She was selected for the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Training Team in 2009.

Here’s what Whitney had to say in a video produced by that is posted here, about the leadership of Coach Rose:

He’s a great leader. There’s nothing he says that you can’t trust and everything that he gives to the team is something that is going to push us towards another national championship.

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

Nia Grant was a three-year varsity letterwinner and team captain at Howland High School in Warren, Ohio. She was named a Top 20 Senior Ace by as a senior, was an Honorable Mention Coaches’ All-Ohio Team selection in 2009, and the 19th Ranked High Jumper in 2010 in Ohio Girls High School Track & Field.

After Nia signed her letter of intent, Russ Rose had this to say:

Nia was a little banged up this year so she didn’t play a full high school season. We’ve had her in camp for a few years and she can touch 10-6 and 10-7. She has the potential to play all three front row positions for us.

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

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.

#11 Darcy Dorton, 6-2 RS So., Muncie Indiana

We’ve listed Darcy Dorton last only because we have no idea to what extent she has recovered from her 2010 injury. If she has fully recovered, she moves way up the list of possible starters at OH. If she has not, who knows.

If she can approach her level of play from 2009 — when she was an AVCA Honorable Mention All-America, the AVCA Mideast Region Freshman of the Year, and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, she will provide an enormous boost to the team.

Regardless, she brings tremendous enthusiasm and passion to the game — remember, Dorton was the emotional spark for the Nittany Lions in their comeback against Texas in the 2009 NCAA Finals. As Rose commented before the 2010 season:

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.

The seemingly irrepressible Dorton 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.

Opposite/Right Side

Three-time All-American (and 2010 National Player of the Year) Blair Brown has graduated, leaving a huge hole on the right side for Penn State in 2011. With no clear frontrunner from the returning players, fan speculation is intense, with opinion ranging from Ariel Scott (also a fan favorite for a middle hitter slot and an outside hitter slot), to incoming freshmen Nia Grant and Aiyana Whitney, to senior Katie Kabbes.

This one is a big imponderable, but there definitely are talented players who will be eager (and we hope ready) to take on the challenge.

Middle Hitter

Middle hitter is another position where graduation has hurt the Nittany Lions, who lose AVCA First Team All-American Arielle Wilson and solid competitor Fatima Balza. On the bright side, Penn State won’t lack height, as 6-6 freshman Katie Slay returns following a very solid freshman season, 6-5 redshirt freshman Erica Denney will finally take the court, and talented 6-4 sophomore Ariel Scott appears set to make the move from outside hitter.

Although middle hitters obviously do more than block, blocking is a key part of the position. Below is a table showing Penn State’s blocking leaders in 2010 (with players who have graduated highlighted in red), followed by a rundown on the Middle Hitter position for 2011.

Sobering statistic: the now-graduated Arielle Wilson, Blair Brown, and Fatima Balza accounted for 52.8% of Penn State’s block assists in the 2010 season.

Blocking Leaders - 2011 Outlook

#Name SPBS% of
BA% of
7Arielle Wilson1231019.212920.31391.13
9Blair Brown1231121.210216.01130.92
3Fatima Balza81713.510115.91081.33
18Deja McClendon122815.47611.9840.69
16Katie Slay52917.37411.6831.60
2Katie Kabbes 5823.8528.2540.93
1Ariel Scott6335.8406.3430.68
Lost to Graduation
(from Key Players)
(from Key Players)

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

Prior to the 2010 season, Russ Rose described Katie Slay (who at 6’6 inches tall, is the tallest player on the Penn State roster), as perhaps “the best incoming blocker we’ve ever had in the program” and as “smart and a great team player.”

Slay didn’t disappoint, as she played in 23 matches (starting in 11), including the NCAA National Semifinal match against Texas, when she led the team with six blocks, and the NCAA National Final, when she totaled a match-high seven blocks. Despite her relatively limited playing time, her total of 83 blocks was fifth on the team, and her average of 1.60 blocks/set led the team.

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

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

In 2010 Coach Rose described Ariel Scott as having “a great frame for college volleyball,” said she is “strong and competitive,” and noted that she “moves well along the net” and would “be in the hunt to play at middle or right side.” As it turned out, she didn’t play middle or right side, but she did nail down a spot at outside hitter, making her surprise debut against Minnesota on October 15th, registering nine kills.

For the season, Scott played in 20 matches (63 sets), totaling 143 kills (2.27 kills/set), with a career-high 21 kills at Minnesota on November 27th. She came up big in the NCAA Semifinal match against Texas, when she was one of three players with double-digit kills, and matched her career high with five blocks against Virginia Tech in the second round the NCAA Tournament.

As a high school senior in 2009, Scott was named the #17 Senior Ace by, the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, and an AVCA/Under Armour All-America.

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

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 Senior Ace in 2009, and having helped the Youth National Team win a gold medal at the 2008 NORCECA Championships. However, following an injury in 2009, she was redshirted for her 2010 season. 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 2011, but judging from comments in her Penn State profile, working hard is a given:

This year will have major obstacles with losing so many seniors and bringing in five freshmen as well as a new Big Ten opponent, Nebraska, but our tireless work ethic in the gym will never cease. We may have a slightly rougher beginning to it all, but we will still strive to be the best. New year, same goal.

Libero/Defensive Specialist

There’s no getting around it: libero Alyssa D’Errico and defensive specialist Cathy Quilico have graduated. As shown in the table below, those two players accounted for 56.6% of Penn State’s serve reception attempts (but only 46.9% of the errors) and 42.3% of Penn State’s digs.

So it’s understandable that fans are wondering whether junior Kristin Carpenter will move to libero or defensive specialist, and how returning sophomore Ali Longo, incoming freshmen Lacey Fuller and Dominique Gonzalez, senior Megan Shifflitt, and redshirt freshman Maggie Harding will perform in 2011.

We can’t answer any of those questions. What we can do (and have done) is include the Table below, which shows the recept/dig statistical leaders for the 2010 Penn State team, followed by a quick look at the players who will be competing for back row playing time in 2011:

Recept/Dig Leaders - 2011 Outlook

#Name SPRE% of
TA% of
Pct.Dig% of
12 Alyssa D'Errico1232627.161129.50.95750728.04.12
14Cathy Quilico1231919.856227.10.96625814.32.10
5Kristin Carpenter11911.020.10.50027315.12.29
18Deja McClendon1222324.053625.80.95723012.71.89
9Blair Brown12300321.51.00028115.52.28
23Ali Longo6499.41205.80.925744.11.16
Lost to Graduation
(from Key Players)
(from Key Players)

#23 Ali Longo, 5-6 S0., Chatfield, Colorado

In 2010, Ali Longo played in 29 matches and 64 sets as a serving and defensive specialist, with highlights including her three aces against California in the NCAA National Championship match on December 18, 2010 and her team-leading 12 digs against Illinois on November 13, 2010.

Prior to the 2010 season, Rose talked about Longo’s “strong jump serve,” and said she could see action at a number of positions:

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.

Longo, who played for Juggernaut Volleyball club, won four letters at Chatfield Senior High in Littleton, Colorado, where she was a three-year captain. In 2009, she was named Second Team All-State and Jeffco League MVP. She was a two-time Academic All-State selection.

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

Lots of fans have high hopes for Dominique Gonzalez. So do we, though like most fans, those hopes are based on her high school credentials, and the few published comments by Coach Rose, as opposed to having seen her play.

Here’s what we know: Dominique Gonzalez was named a 2010 Top 100 Senior Ace by; was one of 11 Texans named by as a 2010 Defensive Dandy “Dandy Lion”; was a 2009 AAU All-American; was a two-time member of the All-Texas Team; totaled 556 digs and 38 aces for Sandra Day O’Connor High School (Helotes, Texas) in 2009; and was named to the San Antonio Express News Area Super Team and the TGCA Class 5A All-State team.

And Coach Rose, who has seen her play, many times, had this to say after she signed her National Letter of Intent:

I think Dom is a player that has the ability to play any of the back row positions. She’s a player that has a great nose for the ball and someone we’ve had in camp for two or three years. Dom plays the game hard and will make great contributions in the back row.

And here’s what Dominique had to say, in a video produced by that is posted here, about the challenge of playing at Penn State:

The biggest challenge is going in every day knowing you’re going to have to bust your butt for your spot, no matter what.

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

Lacey Fuller was the starting libero in 2009 for Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, California. She was a four-year varsity letterwinner at Torrey-Pines High, and helped lead her team to the 2007 CIF Championship and the 2010 League Championship. In 2007, Lacey was named the Defensive Player of the Year. In 2011, Lacey was named Athlete of the Week and MVP of the California Challenge. Like many of her Penn State teammates, she has excelled as a student as well as an athlete, and was a four-time Scholar Athlete.

Here’s how Lacey described herself, in a video produced by 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.

As far as we’re concerned, Lacey, speak up whenever you want.

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

In 2010, Megan Shifflett (yet another Academic All-Big Ten) appeared in 30 matches and 58 sets as a serving and defensive specialist, recording 15 digs for the season. She registered three aces — one each against Florida, Stanford and Princeton.

In high school, Megan was a four-year volleyball letterwinner (and three-year captain) at Langley High School in McLean, Virginia, and was a member of the NOVA Hokuleas (1999-07) and VA Elite (2008) volleyball programs. She was named the Player of the Year two times by the Washington Post.

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

Maggie Harding, who was a redshirt during the 2010 season, 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 Maggie 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.”

In her player profile, Maggie has this to say about the 2011 season:

We’ll have a new team dynamic, with a lot of young players, but I expect that we’ll work hard to keep up the tradition of Penn State volleyball.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.