[Update: to join the Penn State vs. Stanford Match Day conversation on DigNittanyVolleyball Forum, Click Here]
We’re speaking today with Talking Head, who played D1 volleyball and has coached the sport for many years.
DigNittany: The first weekend of the season is in the books, and it spurred a lot of commentary on the DigNittanyVolleyball Forum. Your thoughts?
Talking Head: I think the posters on the DigNittanyVolleyball Forum are even more knowledgeable and articulate this season than ever, and it’s really fun to read their thoughtful and insightful posts. Now I know the team won nine straight sets this past weekend, so there really wasn’t a lot to complain about, but it’s refreshing to see so many people engaged in such a positive way.
DigNittany: So, about the WVU tournament. Is it OK to feel good about the Nittany Lions’ performance?
Talking Head: Let’s start with this: For the weekend, Penn State hit .469, and held its three opponents to .004 hitting. I know UT-Martin, Delaware and West Virginia aren’t top-20 teams, but those are still D1 athletes, and those are still teams giving out 12 scholarships each, and there’s some good coaching on each of those teams. Penn State went on several massive runs during the weekend matches, where some of the points were unforced errors, but some of the points were errors forced by Penn State’s good play, where Nittany Lion players were going all-out to keep the ball in play, getting digs off transition, and eventually winning the point. That’s a real positive sign. Last season — maybe even the last two seasons or three seasons — we had trouble holding leads, keeping the pedal to floor, and putting people away. This past weekend, we were putting people away.
DigNittany: Penn State ran variations on the 6-2 in all three matches. How much do you think that put additional stress on their opponents defenses, and opened up opportunities for Penn State’s offense?
Talking Head: A lot. When you have three or four live arms ready to attack the ball at all times, that’s just hard to defend against.
DigNittany: Does a left-handed right-side, like 6-0 Sr. setter/RS Abby Detering, make it even harder?
Talking Head: Left-handed right-sides are really tough to stop. Every women’s national team out there, that’s really what they want. The best right-side in the world right now — 20 year-old Tijana Boskovic from Serbia — is a big lefty. You saw the two Olympian right-sides that the U.S. took last year were lefties. They can hit all the angles, it’s very natural for them. But having said that, Penn State certainly did really well with right-handed right-sides like A. Scott, and Blair Brown, and Aiyana Whitney. But back to Abbey, she’s quick to turn on the ball, she can take the ball on two if Bryanna Weiskircher plays the first ball, so the defender is on her toes all the time.
DigNittany: Do you think this is the “new system” and this is what we’ll see all season?
Talking Head: I don’t know if Penn State will stay with that consistently throughout the season, but what I do like is that this team has options so that they can put players in positions where they have the best chance to be successful, and not ask them to do other things or play in systems where they aren’t really comfortable. An example is Penn State asked Heidi Thelen to play right-side last season, and she did, but she’s not really a natural right-side, and sometimes Penn State got exposed because of that. Tori Gorrell did a nice job in the middle as a freshman, but maybe she was a little undersized against some teams. It’s just nice to have depth so that players are comfortable with what they’re being asked to do, and that translates into a successful environment for the team.
DigNittany: The personnel who are playing so far were all playing last season. So why the changes this season, and not last season? Did the coaches all have an epiphany, or did the growth and maturation of the players allow the coaches to be more flexible?
Talking Head: Experience and maturity are certainly an important part of it. Plus the players are healthy this season, whereas I suspect last season a few key players were never really 100%, and it affected their play. An example of the growth process, I think a player like Simone Lee now realizes she has national team potential — not a given, but in my opinion the potential is there. This kid is going to be right up there for Player of the Year. But let’s go back two and three years ago. She took a lot of criticism from fans for inconsistency, or whatever. She played through that, and she has grown to become the best version of what she can be — a very, very good player. But it takes time. It takes patience. The pieces of puzzle for the team are now seemingly there. Penn State has options, and a little depth so the coaches can rest a player if they think the player needs to be rested. To me it looks like the team is in a really good place mentally, and they’ve done a lot of preparation, and they are mature. I think you’re seeing now the maturation of that 2014 recruiting class, who want to do something special this year. I’m excited to see where it goes.
DigNittany: Jumping back to Abbey Detering at right-side. She’s 6-0, which is a bit shorter than the players Penn State has had at the position in recent years. Could that be a problem against teams like Stanford, who’s mascot is a tree and have one of the tallest lineups in the country, and Texas? Does height win out?
Talking Head: Height wins out when the ball is out of system, and the defenders know that the setter only has one option so the middles can cheat towards that option. The advantage of height is predicated on the block being closed, and sealed, and hands being pressed into the court. But in the first three matches, Penn State’s first touch was so good that defenders rarely were in that position, and Penn State’s setting was so quick and good that Abbey was in situations where she could just slice and dice teams. She hits hard and makes good contact on the ball. It’s not like she’s going to bounce balls, but she hits hard against the hands. A player like that can be very effective in a ball-control team like Penn State hopefully can become. One more thing — Abbey is not afraid to challenge the block, and she was very effective doing that this past weekend.
DigNittany: Abbey also looks like she has a very quick arm. Is that right?
Talking Head: I think so. Detering doesn’t have a long, protracted arm swing that is easier to read and tell where the attack is going to go. She chops the ball. It’s fast, and it’s a chop and it’s a flat ball, and that’s a very tough ball to stop. I’m very intrigued to see Penn State against teams with bigger blocks — but hey, West Virginia isn’t a bad team. They have some pretty good players, and they were picked 6th in the Big 12 preseason poll (with only nine teams, they were ahead of TCU, Oklahoma and Texas Tech). I think she’ll do fine.
DigNittany: Thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.