Did the lights go on for the Nittany Lions?
Q&A With Club Coach
We’re talking again with Club Coach, who has coached numerous successful college and club women’s volleyball players, about Penn State’s 11-match win streak and its upcoming matches at Rec Hall against Purdue and Indiana.
About Lights and Fire
DigNittany: After Penn State’s upset 3-2 loss to Michigan State on September 27th, but prior to Penn State’s wins over Indiana (a 25-18, 25-19, 25-8 sweep of the Hoosiers on October 3rd) and Purdue (a 3-2 (16-25, 25-21, 25-16, 22-25, 15-8 squeaker over the Boilermakers on October 5th), we asked you about how it happens that sometimes “the lights go on” and a player finally “gets it” and moves their game to a higher level.
You answered that it’s different for every kid – that “some kids never get it, no matter how hard they work, or how much they play, that some players you watch get a little better every day and every drill, and that others take time to process things, stall as they are working through it, but when they get it, they take off.”
You also said that the biggest factors may be how competitive players are and how mentally tough they are – that success at the highest level requires the “ability to navigate through adversity and to hold up to the pressures of having to grind every day,” and that at the end of the day, in your experience, it isn’t about how good the coach thinks a player can be, “it’s about how good they think they can be.”
Since that loss to Michigan State, Penn State has gone on an 11-match winning streak in the B1G, including their recent run of five very solid matches:
- a 3-0 (25-17, 25-15, 25-17) win over Northwestern in Evanston on October 20, 2013, which featured a terrific performance by 6-2 Jr. MH Nia Grant, whose 11 kills (.769 attack %) tied her career best, a 10-kill ((.474 attack %), 7-dig effort by 6-2 So. OH Megan Courtney, and eight blocks by 6-6 Sr. MH Katie Slay);
- a straight set win over Ohio State (25-9, 25-11, 25-16), in which 6-1 Sr. OH Deja McClendon led the team with 10 kills (.500 attack %), 6-4 Sr. RS/Opp Ariel Scott put down nine kills and five blocks, and Grant registered three kills, a season-high six blocks (one solo), and four digs;
- a sweep (25-8, 25-8, 25-11) of the Iowa Hawkeyes;
- a 3-1 win (16-25, 25-22, 25-20, 25-16) over Michigan in Ann Arbor,in which Megan Courtney totaled 17 kills (.395 attack %), seven blocks, and nine digs, Deja McClendon registered 14 kills and 12 digs, A. Scott put down 11 kills, Katie Slay totaled 7 blocks, and 5-6 Jr. libero Dominique Gonzalez led the team with 18 digs; and
- a very impressive sweep of Michigan State (25-14, 25-18, 25-20), in which the team had an unconscionable .451 attack %, Deja McClendon had 14 kills, a .423 attack %, 8 digs, and 1 block, A. Scott had 13 kills, a .462 attack %, 6 digs, and 4 blocks), Dom Gonzalez totaled 11 digs, Katie Slay recorded five blocks, and 5-11 Jr. setter Micha Hancock (this week’s Big Ten Setter of the Week) led the team to that eye-popping .451 attack %, with 35 assists, 9 digs and 1 block.
So, long intro for two short questions: Do you think the lights have gone on (or at least started to go on) for the Nittany Lions? And on a related note, Coach Rose has talked about “a fire that exists that makes the team better than the individuals that are playing” and identified that as a component that this year’s team needed to work on themselves. Does it look to you as though Penn State is starting to get that fire?
Club Coach: I don’t know that there is necessarily a light that went off, as much as it is a combination of other things. First, I think Penn State is settled into a line-up. The Nittany Lions are in a much better rhythm right now than they have been, and that only happens when you settle into roles, and people get comfortable. That is hard to do when you are using different line-ups and combinations.
Secondly I think their two left side players are playing with more stability. Early in the season, the play of Deja McClendon and Megan Courtney was very inconsistent, whereas at this point, it appears you can count on the kind of play you are going to see from them.
Lastly, I think A. Scott is starting to look like the player we saw the last two years. She seems to be driving to the ball harder and finishing points better than she did earlier. Obviously, when those things happen it impacts energy, and you see that spark that just seemed to be missing for the first six weeks.
About the Defense
Alekhine’s defense probably wouldn’t work for the Nittany Lions
DigNittany: There’s been a lot of talk about how Penn State’s defense was a key factor against Michigan State and Michigan (after the first set). Do you agree, and if so, what are some of the ways in which that played out on the court?
Club Coach: The biggest change I see is that they are really starting to block the ball. Given Penn State’s size and athleticism, this should be a team that blocks for points, and we saw a lot of that this weekend. I think their block really took the fight out of the Michigans this weekend. Certainly, as your block gets better, its easier to play defense behind it. Block and D are interrelated.
Something about Purdue: A really big drum
DigNittany: The Nittany Lions 3-2 (16-25, 25-21, 25-16, 22-25, 15-8) October 5th win over Purdue in West Lafayette wasn’t pretty – for either team — but since then, Purdue generally has played solid volleyball, and is fresh off of a five-set win over Wisconsin (24-26, 25-21, 26-24, 31-33, 17-15). In that match, 6-1 Jr. S/OH Val Nichol led the Boilers with 15 kills, 34 assists and 15 digs (the first Purdue player to record a triple double since Jaclyn Hart on Sept. 5, 2009 vs. UCF), with key performances from 6-0 So. OH Sam Epenesa (13 kills), 6-4 So. OH Annie Drews (13 kills), 6-2 RS Sr. Catherine Rebarchak (12 kills) and 6-1 Jr. MB KiKi Jones (10 kills). What are some of Purdue’s strong points, and what are the biggest challenges the Boilermakers pose for Penn State?
Club Coach: I think Purdue is a really nice team that plays really hard. I also think they are an exceptionally well coached team. Purdue hasn’t played very well at Rec Hall, but after giving Penn State a run for their money in the Boiler Box, they will feel like they can compete with the Nittany Lions.
Purdue is running a 6-2, which is a tougher system to prepare for, and a tougher system to block given there are always three attackers at the net. This is a match I expect Penn State to win, but if the Nittany Lions aren’t dialed in, Purdue is a team that can beat them. I think having beaten Nebraska 3-1 in front of 8,000 Nebraska fans gives Purdue the confidence they will need to come to Rec Hall and compete.
Purdue Videos (courtesy of purduesports.com)
Something about Indiana: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
DigNittany: Penn State’s 3-0 win (25-18, 25-19, 25-8) over Indiana on October 3rd in Bloomington was a pretty one-sided affair. Megan Courtney had a tremendous match, with 15 kills on 20 swings and no errors, and Deja McClendon had 13 kills (.500 attack %), five digs and four blocks. Micha Hancock led the team to a .507 attack %, and recorded four service aces.
The Hoosiers are coming off of two losses: a 3-0 loss to then-#10 Minnesota (25-18, 25-19, 25-12), and a 3-1 loss to then-#15 Wisconsin (25-23, 22-25, 22-25, 19-25) — a match in which 6-1 Sr. RS Jordan Haverly put down 17 kills on 37 swings (a .351 attack % and her second consecutive match with double digit kills), 6-1 So. OH Amelia Anderson had 11 kills and two blocks, 6-1 So. MB Awele Nwaeze had six blocks, 5-4 Sr. libero Caitlin Hansen totaled 11 digs, and 5-3 So. DS Courtney Harnish had registered 10 digs.
Any thoughts about Saturday night’s match with the Hoosiers?
Club Coach: Indiana is a team that has really struggled to play well in the B1G this year, and a match Penn State should control. Obviously the tough part about being in this conference is getting ready to play night in and night out. It’s a match the Nittany Lions will win, but I do think they want to keep the great momentum they have built up the last few weeks. When you get it going like Penn State has, you want to keep it going. This match is about the Nittany Lions and their level of play more than it is what challenges Indiana presents.
Interview with Sherry Dunbar (courtesy of iuhoosiers.com)
Here’s a video interview with Indiana head coach Sherry Dunbar, courtesy of who talks about the Minnesota and Wisconsin matches and the Hoosier’s upcoming matches against Ohio State and Penn State. There’s also a segment with assistant coach Nancy Mueller.