Leaving the friendly confines of Rec Hall, where Penn State posted a perfect 17-0 record this season, the No. 1 women’s volleyball program in the nation will hit the road.
With a win against No. 16 Kentucky (22-10, 14-6 Southeastern Conference) on Friday in West Lafayette, Ind. (Purdue’s campus), the Lions will then play on Saturday in the Elite Eight.
Playing at sites where the hostility of the crowd is unknown is familiar territory to nearly every starter on the team.
The lone freshman that receives notable playing time is outside hitter Megan Courtney. It is safe to say she has no worries about the crowd bringing her down.
“I’ve said this a million times — it’s just another volleyball game,” Courtney said. “I know how to play volleyball, my teammates do, everyone does.”
Courtney added that she believed the winner of the match will be whoever “grinds the hardest,” not who receives the most crowd support.
Deja McClendon, now making her third go-around in the NCAA Championship tournament, said that experience has shown her just how far the Penn State brand travels.
“Somehow we always have fans everywhere,” McClendon said. “I think we’re so lucky that Penn State is such a big name in volleyball and that we continue to have people come to games and support us. I love seeing people there wearing blue.”
In the past two seasons, the Lions have played at Purdue twice, winning both matches against the Boilermakers.
In the most recent match at Mackey Arena, the Lions defeated the Boilermakers, 3-1, with 5,520 fans in attendance.
That crowd of 5,520 was the largest audience the Lions have played in front of in 2012. Keep in mind, this was a home match for Purdue, putting pressure on the Lions, whose regular season supporters do not travel in herds quite like they do for the playoffs.
Big Ten Player of the Year Ariel Scott echoed McClendon’s sentiments, saying she has learned from experience that the Penn State faithful will help the team from being drowned out by opposing fans.
“Mostly everyone’s parents come to these games. I know a lot of our booster club and some of our fans do, as well,” Scott said.
The trek for the weekend heavily favors the Wildcats; as a trip from State College to Lafayette is about 557 miles, while it’s just about 250 miles from Lexington, Ky. to Lafayette.
“I wouldn’t say that we have the advantage of having the home crowd, or the disadvantage of having the away crowd against us,” Courtney said. “But we’ll definitely have good crowds on both sides.”
The winner of Friday’s match of Purdue versus No. 8 Minnesota will face the winner of the Lions and Wildcats.
Should the Boilermakers face the Lions, the crowd could definitely be expected to tilt fully against the Lions.