Despite the flawless record that No. 1 Penn State women’s volleyball boasts in the Big Ten, the team is nowhere near satisfied with its performance this past weekend.
The Nittany Lions (16-1, 6-0) came out unscathed from their weekend matches, sweeping Northwestern (12-5, 1-5) on Friday night, then pulling out a dramatic five-set victory at No. 21 Illinois (8-8, 2-4) on Saturday.
Ariel Scott and Katie Slay, racking up 29 and 26 kills respectively, led the Lions in the games.
“I just try to step up in my role and provide some offense,” Slay said. “It’s a group effort where we can only succeed if everyone does their role.”
Penn State edged Illinois, despite 13 service errors, including five from the reigning Big Ten Setter of the Week Micha Hancock.
Coach Russ Rose said his team was fortunate to head back to Happy Valley with the wins.
“Sometimes you do things right and it doesn’t go your way, and then you win some that you’re not supposed to,” Rose said. “We made some bad mistakes and we were fortunate to get a few points in a row in the fifth set.”
But Rose was frustrated with the team’s effort prior to the nail-biting win against the Fighting Illini.
Rose said that Northwestern played a much better match than the Lions did on Friday night, which warranted him to hold a team meeting afterward.
“I wanted to hold them accountable, but I don’t think we really atoned for it tonight,” Rose said.
Despite out-hitting the Wildcats .259 to .150, service errors again plagued the Lions in the Friday night match, with Penn State having nine errors while Northwestern had four.
Rose attributed some of the team’s struggles to its youth — which can eventually yield positive results as players gain experience through the season.
One of the biggest challenges facing the freshmen and sophomores to this point has been handling business on the road, and they have done just that.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Slay said about the atmosphere at Illinois’ Huff Hall. “They have passionate fans, but we just had to stick together and compete.”
Penn State is no stranger to big crowds, averaging third in home attendance nationally, but they ran into hostile crowds this weekend.
Illinois, sixth in average attendance, had a crowd of 3,075, while Northwestern had a significantly above-average turnout of 1,504.
“The girls are resilient,” Scott said. “They are always staying positive, despite the crowds.”
The Lions will be tested again this week as Purdue (13-3, 4-1) visits Happy Valley on Oct. 12.
“It’s how you play,” Rose said. “Not who you play.”