Strong play from Katie Slay this weekend helped the Lions dispatch two more Big Ten foes and move up to the No. 2 spot in the AVCA Coaches Poll.
Not a bad birthday present for the junior middle hitter from Raleigh.
Slay turned 21 on Sunday, and in turn handed unranked Wisconsin its 11th loss of the season, behind eight kills on a .500 hitting percentage.
While junior outside hitter Ariel Scott paced the Lions’ attack with 34 kills between the two matches, Slay backed Scott’s performance with a 19-kill weekend of her own.
When asked about the keys to her performance this weekend Slay gave all the credit to her sophomore setter Micha Hancock.
“Micha’s been doing a good job of putting the ball high. Even if it’s not in a perfect spot I can work with it,” Slay said.
This past weekend was indicative of Slay’s impressive season thus far. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year notched her team-leading 117th block on Sunday.
Her performance on offense has been even more impressive as Slay’s .429 hitting percentage is the best on the team, and good for sixth-best in the nation.
With only six regular season matches remaining, the Lions (23-2, 13-1 Big Ten) control their own destiny in the conference, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to Penn State coach Russ Rose.
“You’ve got to have your eyes going forward,” said Rose, who won’t be doing any scoreboard watching down the stretch.
“These guys should want to win because they want to win. They shouldn’t be looking at scoreboards and seeing how other people are doing, because if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do, they’re going to lose, as well,” Rose said.
In reference to the Lions’ three-set victory over Wisconsin on Sunday, Rose said, “It’s the second match in a row where people outblock us because we just go up and take swings at the ball. We’re not playing good team volleyball.”
The general sloppiness that Rose is speaking of, is what got the Lions in trouble in their last match against their upcoming opponent Illinois.
The Lions previously played Illinois in Champaign, on Oct. 6, and Penn State barely escaped with the win.
In that match the Lions got outblocked 13 to 10.5, and committed 21 errors.
“We just have to come out and play to our level, on our side of the net, and that’s what we have to focus on, coming out of the gate strong,” Slay said.
The Lions will face Illinois for the second and final time this season at 8 p.m. on Thursday in Rec Hall.