With seven teams in the top 25, the Big Ten is certainly no cupcake conference for women’s volleyball.
“There’s no resting in the Big Ten,” coach Russ Rose said. “If you go on the road, and you’re not ready, they’re going to pin your ears back and send you on your way.”
Two of the top four ranked teams in the country are Big Ten teams, and the Nittany Lions sit atop the rankings
In spite of this, Rose is seemingly never content with his team’s performance. It’s very unlikely that he would concede that his team was the best in the nation unless it was after they secured a Big Ten and NCAA championship.
All-American outside hitter, Deja McLendon reinforced this sentiment, saying of Rose, “I don’t think he ever really thinks we’re number one. It’s our job to prove it to him, so it’s good motivation.”
In the midst of her third season on the team, McLendon seems to have picked up Rose’s never-ending desire to be better. After finding out that her team was fifth in the nation in kills per set, she went on to state ways in which they could improve.
“I think we make more errors. I think that’s setting us back a little bit,” McLendon said . “You can have a better hitting percentage than the other team and still lose. I don’t really think that’s what we want to focus on. I think we really want to focus on minimizing our errors.”
Coming off a big weekend in which they swept both Wisconsin and No. 10 Minnesota, Rose’s squad should have plenty of incentive to prove their talent. They’ll take to the road again this weekend to take on Northwestern and No. 21 Illinois.
Illinois beat the Lions twice last year, accounting for a quarter of their losses on the season. McLendon, the Louisville, Ky., native, said the team’s match up with the Illini wouldn’t be about revenge, but rather, proving that the squad has improved since last year.
The team sports a 14-1 record (4-0 Big Ten) to this point in the season after going 11-4 through 15 games last year. Barring a major collapse over the second half of the season, the Lions are on pace to improve on last year’s mark of 25-8.
This improvement from last season could be attributed to Rose’s team playing better as a unit.
McLendon noted the importance of team chemistry.
“I think it’s very important to have a strong, well-rounded team,” she said. “It’s a team sport. I don’t think anyone’s really looking for the spotlight. I think ultimately it’s about the W.”
Rose, the 34-year veteran coach, also took time to make mention of the importance of game planning and team chemistry.
“ …It’s not a recipe that you just do your thing, and it doesn’t make a difference what the other teams do,” Rose said. “We’re not in that category as we were a few years back. Other teams had to change what they did to beat us, and now that’s not the case. We need to come up with a game plan for each opponent, and we need to try to do the things that we can do well against them and identify those things…”