From defending to attacking and passing, Penn State’s nucleus has depth across its lineup.
So far in 2012, right-side hitter Ariel Scott has earned two tournament most valuable player awards (Active Ankle Challenge and Nike Big Four) and Katie Slay won the Penn State Classic MVP.
Going back to 2011, then-freshman Micha Hancock won MVP of the Pittsburgh Invitational and Slay won MVP of the Hampton Inn Classic.
And as far back as 2010, the Nittany Lions’ outside hitter Deja McClendon won the NCAA Championship tournament MVP, as just a freshman, when Penn State defeated California for the NCAA crown.
In other words, no one player is solely responsible for getting Penn State (18-1, 8-0) to its current No. 1 ranking. The Lions are not ones to put blame on the others and have embraced a “team first attitude.”
At a postgame press conference following a 3-1 win against Indiana on Saturday, coach Russ Rose refused to name names when asked what players played below his expectations in the win.
In response to the question, Scott, presumably taking offense on behalf of her teammates, grinned and remarked to Rose and the media that it is a “cold world.”
“I don’t think any of them think, necessarily, it’s about themselves,” Rose said. “I think they know it’s a team game, but part of being on a team is being sensitive to making sure everybody’s on the same page and helping each other out.”
McClendon shared Rose’s sentiments in an interview earlier this month, shrugging off the assertion that she minds sharing the spotlight with her teammates.
“It’s a team sport, I don’t think anyone’s looking for the spotlight,” McClendon said. “I think it’s very important to have a strong, well-rounded team. Ultimately, it’s about the W.”
And while the aforementioned pieces of the puzzle may carry the most experience, name recognition and career accolades, key contributions at the right times have come from more unexpected sources.
Megan Courtney has come in as a freshman and immediately joined the ranks of her fellow starters, amassing nine kills in an early season victory against Eastern Illinois, tying Slay and Scott for the match lead.
Sophomore Nia Grant has seen her role increase exponentially from her freshman season, raising her kills per set from 1.29 to 1.71. Grant showcased her skill recently against No. 10 Minnesota, earning eight kills over Golden Gopher defenders and sporting a team-leading .800 hitting percentage.
The players on the backrow, including libero Dominique Gonzalez, generally do not see their names hailed in statsheets the same way as the hitters,
However, never forgotten, the team always finds a way to note how its success thrives off those defensive specialists.
“When we went up to swing, a lot of the backrow players were talking and telling us … where to hit,” Slay said after a 3-0 win against No. 17 Purdue on Friday.
“It was a really good team effort out there and that’s what it takes to get the job done.”
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