Here we'll take a look at the highlights, lowlights, and what's in the spotlight after the Nittany Lions weekend at the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic. The No. 2 Lions fell in four sets to No. 3 Stanford Friday night and in five sets to No. 10 Texas Saturday night.
Deja McClendon: McClendon continued to be Penn State's main offensive threat — with 50 attacks in each match — and justified that role. McClendon started the weekend slow against Stanford, as she had 17 kills with 12 hitting errors for only a .100 hitting percentage. But the sophomore outside hitter rebounded and played very well Saturday against Texas, with 25 kills and a .380 hitting percentage. McClendon showed on Saturday she has the talent to play well against some of the best teams in the NCAA. The sophomore will continue to be counted on as a key player.
Katie Slay: The sophomore middle hitter played well in both matches, further cementing her spot in the lineup. Slay hit .333 against Texas on 15 attacks, tallying 7 kills. Slay attacked even better the night before against Stanford, with 11 kills and a .409 hitting percentage. Perhaps more importantly, Slay also recorded eight blocks against Stanford, demonstrating her ability to contribute on defense as well.
Aiyana Whitney: Whitney, a freshman, was one of the only pure bright spots for the Lions. Whitney played five sets against Texas — only her second match of the season — and lit up the scoreboard. She tallied 15 kills on 30 attacks for a .367 hitting percentage. Whitney didn't play against Stanford on Friday, but after Saturday's performance, coach Russ Rose may give her another look in the weeks to come.
Two Losses: Coming into the weekend, No. 2 Penn State was the highest ranked team in Palo Alto. On Monday, the Lions shouldn't expect to be ranked as highly as they were on Friday. While the Lions showed fight against Texas, battling back from two sets down to even the match before losing the fifth set, losing both matches, that won't put any numbers in the win column. Going 0-2 over the weekend has to be disappointing for a team with high hopes and a tradition of success.
Ariel Scott: Scott hit .120 on Friday with six errors on 25 attacks and -.045 on Friday with only four kills and another five errors on 22 attacks. If Scott is going to get more than 20 attacks each night, she's going to have to be more effective with her chances. That includes reducing her hitting errors.
Nia Grant: The freshman outside hitter was another who didn't have the best of weekends. Despite being on a good run of form, the Howland High School product played decently against Stanford, hitting .182 on 11 attacks before grounding to a complete halt against Texas, hitting -.059 on 17 attacks. Hitting .182 against the No. 3 team in the nation is not bad, but her weekend as a whole was not up to the high bar Grant has set for herself. For a freshman, it's going to take some time to get enough experience to be able to reach a level of consistent performance against the top teams in the country.
How good are the Lions?
Coach Russ Rose said at the beginning of the season that he believed his team's No. 1 ranking at the time was a product of its success in previous years — not an objective analysis. After the Lions dropped two matches in a row against top 10 teams, that seems like an accurate opinion. Still, the Lions are a young, inexperienced team and did beat then-No. 2 USC in their second match. Over the course of the rest of the season, the spotlight will be on Penn State any time it faces a top opponent, like Big Ten foe No. 11 Nebraska in 10 days. The question remains of just how good the Lions are, and that's a question they can only answer against the very best the NCAA has to offer.