When Russ Rose was asked about what his team needs to improve, his answer could be essentially summed up with one word — everything.
The Penn State women’s volleyball team (4-3) is off to its worst start in 28 years.
The 32nd-year coach said he’s not really focusing on any one thing in practice this week to remedy that start but only because his team needs to show improvement everywhere.
“All of the things that make a team a good team, we would have to address,” Rose said. “The good teams are the teams that, when things get into hairy situations, they find a way to make good decisions and play a little smarter team-play. And we’re a little too inexperienced in that realm right now.”
The Nittany Lions started the season ranked No. 1 in the nation but have now dropped to No. 5 after losses to then-No. 3 Stanford and then-No. 10 Texas. The Lions also dropped their season opener to then-unranked Oregon (now No. 16) and possess only one win against a ranked team.
That win came against then-No. 2 USC, but even that comeback victory looks a little less impressive now. The Women of Troy have plummeted to No. 13 after a loss to No. 6 UCLA and an embarrassing three-set loss to unranked UCF.
Rose also has questioned the manner of that victory, saying he’s not sure if the Lions would have been able to come back from two sets down against USC outside of Rec Hall.
“We could have easily lost to USC when we played USC,” Rose said. “We’re [ranked] fifth right now, and I don’t think we’re the fifth-best team in the country right now. The teams that have the ability to start the season and play at a high level and get healthier, get stronger and get better throughout the season are the teams that should be at the top. Right now I don’t think we’re one of those teams.”
Rose said he voted his team 10th in the rankings this week, which is the spot he said he thought his team realistically should have been ranked in preseason.
He said that lower ranking would more accurately reflect the middling play he’s seen from his team in all aspects of the game.
“I think there’s good and bad in all of the things that they’re doing. I don’t think it’s that we’re especially good or especially bad at something,” Rose said. “If I was going to say what’s our biggest challenge, it just seems that we don’t have as good of on-court communication as you need to compete with the top teams. And we have a tendency to make individual errors at inopportune times for the team.”
Those individual errors have added up in a major way for the Lions.
Against Texas on Saturday, the Lions had 40 errors — the Longhorns scored 98 points total.
That amounts to 26 hitting errors, 13 service errors and one blocking error.
And that error-prone performance didn’t even match up to the Lions’ showing the night before, against Stanford, when the Lions tallied 43 errors.
That number includes 33 hitting errors, nine service errors and one blocking error out of Stanford’s 100 points over four sets.
Rose was frustrated by the sheer amount of errors, and he pinpointed his team’s general sloppy play as a main factor in the Lions’ 0-2 weekend trip.
“We would have to be a little more cautious with giving points away,” Rose said. “In the last game against Texas, we gave them seven points and you can’t expect to beat anyone like that. If we could have served the ball in the court, we could have gone five games with Stanford.”
Essentially, Rose said his squad just isn’t playing well enough to compete with the highest echelon of teams that the Lions are ranked among.
The team has one more weekend of non-conference matches to get better before outcomes really start to matter in Big Ten play.
Rose said, for now, he isn’t sure if his team will improve enough in time.
“It’s college sports. And the kids that get to the good programs know what they have to do and we haven’t been doing a very good job of it,” Rose said. “I don’t know if they’ll ever reach the level that they should or could, if they were committed.”
Ask the players, however, and they’ll give a different outlook.
They know they need to improve, and they know they have the potential.
“We need to focus more than anything on just playing consistent volleyball, good volleyball and get back to what we all know how to do,” freshman Aiyana Whitney said. “Our main goal is to do big things, better things, to get our minds right before [Big Ten] season.”