The largest audience Penn State has played in front of in 2012 was barely one-third the size of the crowd on-hand to watch the Lions win it all two seasons ago.
Only five of the 15 players on this season’s roster played in front of the 14,032 fans that filtered into Kansas City’s Sprint Center to watch the Nittany Lions win their fourth straight national title in 2010.
Now with the Big Ten title in sight and a potential trip to the Final Four about one month away, it is crunch time for No. 2 Penn State (25-2, 15-1 Big Ten).
Coming down such a stretch of the regular season in most collegiate sports, you will often hear the term “senior leadership.”
However, while the Nittany Lions certainly have veteran leadership on the court, those veterans are primarily juniors, not seniors, as the team will graduate only two players this spring.
Regardless, junior Ariel Scott believes the Lions have the firepower to combat the learning curve younger players will have to adjust to.
“Those of us who have been in these situations before have to step up and lead by example,” Scott said. “Being [in the championship] before, it’s definitely important that we have some experience on the court.”
Scott registered seven kills to topple California back in 2010, while junior Deja McClendon took the volleyball world by storm in that postseason.
McClendon tallied 16 kills in the championship match, ultimately leading to her winning championship Most Valuable Player honors as a freshman.
“This is the time where you try to get everyone on your team … playing well at the same time,” McClendon said.
Getting everyone on the same page is certainly an issue, even for McClendon, who turned in a negative hitting percentage earlier this month against Minnesota. There’s also been times coach Russ Rose has criticized sophomore co-captain Dominique Gonzalez’s defense, Micha Hancock’s serving — just about everyone has come under fire at least once.
Hancock, like many of her teammates, has seen her season zigzag from hot-to-cold on a weekly basis, but right now she looks to be warming up.
“I think [Hancock] was hitting a little harder last year, but I think she’s picking it up right now,” Rose said.
As a sophomore, Hancock will likely look to the upperclassmen who have played on the national championship stage.
The three other players who played in the national championship match are Katie Slay, Maddie Martin and Kristin Carpenter.
Slay has, at times, looked like the premier blocker in the Big Ten this season, while Martin and Carpenter have seen spare amounts of playing time, at least in comparison to some freshmen and sophomore cohorts.
In the postseason match that eliminated the Lions last season, a 3-0 loss to UCLA, McClendon turned in six errors, while Scott registered a porous .162 hitting percentage.
Getting on the same page and “playing together” — a concept which several players have stressed — will be the key to avoiding a repeat disappointment.
“We’ve all had matches where we’ve played well, but not necessarily altogether at the same time,” McClendon said. “If we can do that, I’d say we have a good chance of giving people a run for their money.”
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