Penn State’s most decisive advantage on paper may be the team’s biggest weakness in the big picture.
Since the start of the 2011 season, No. 4 Penn State is 17-2 playing at home in Rec Hall. But the Nittany Lions are just 15-7 when playing on the road or at neutral sites.
After being upset by Oregon State on Saturday at the Chicago Classic, the Lions are returning to Rec Hall, a site that gives Penn State an unheard of advantage, according to 2011 All-American and starting outside hitter Deja McClendon.
“Rec Hall is amazing. There’s no other place like it,” McClendon said. “But we need to be able to play outside [of Rec Hall].”
Penn State head coach Russ Rose said the team has lengths to go before transforming into his fifth national championship team in the past six years.
“Everybody plays a little better at home, but you don’t win championships at home,” Rose said. “You win championships by being good, mentally tough and being able to handle adversity.”
Rose pointed out flaws he noticed in the Chicago Classic, among them poor serving against DePaul, an inability to adapt to the change in atmosphere — from nearly 5,000 people at Rec Hall to barely 500 people at Mother McAuley gymnasium in Chicago — and not playing hard enough.
Rose said his players played “careless” at times and below their potential during their trip to the Prairie State last weekend.
“We all failed in Chicago,” Rose said.
The Hall of Fame coach, now in his 34th season at the helm of the program, said under the circumstances of the match against Oregon State, his team deserved to lose.
“If you’re the No. 2 team in the country, and you’re going to five [sets] with somebody, and it’s 12-12, you deserve to lose,” Rose said. “It’ll be interesting to see if we can rebound and… play with a little more passion and a little more sense of urgency at certain times.”
Penn State (7-1) has dropped to No. 4 in the polls since the loss.
The teams coming to Happy Valley to face the Lions this weekend at the Penn State Classic will be Portland (5-6), Duquesne (8-4) and Eastern Illinois (3-6). The three teams have a combined winning percentage of .500, compared to the Lions’ .875.
After starting the season 8-1, Duquense lost three straight contests last weekend when competition stiffened. The Dukes fell against Oklahoma, No. 19 Kentucky and No. 1 Nebraska.
One of the keys to success for Penn State this weekend will be treating the aforementioned teams as if they are not inferior to them, as Penn State found a way to sweep then-No. 2 Texas in straight sets two weekends ago but lost to unranked Oregon State this past weekend.
“The second that you let up, and you don’t have a killer mindset, that’s the second you drop a set and then drop a match,” McClendon said. “I think that’s something we’re working on. Always having a killer mindset.”