A reliance on key players such as Serena Gray, Jonni Parker and Kaitlyn Hord might be what keeps Penn State’s early season winning streak alive.
But at the same time, coach Russ Rose wants to get his younger players experience before Big Ten play begins.
“We want to do a variety of things with the talent and the team we have returning before you really get into your conference schedule,” Rose said.
After jumping two spots to No. 6 in this week’s AVCA poll, Penn State will travel on the road for its second tournament of the season after three solid victories this past weekend at home, but will now face some tougher competition.
The Nittany Lions will first face Iowa State on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and LSU Saturday at 3 p.m. as part of the Cyclone Invitational.
“Both teams and programs have a tradition of success and come from conferences where coaches and players are accustomed to playing top teams,” Rose said. “Hopefully our ranking this weekend will be a reflection of our performance and not of our history.”
Penn State is 1-0 in the all-time against the Cyclones and 9-2 in the all-time series with LSU.
“Anything can happen so it’s not a given that we are going to win no matter who you play so I wouldn’t want it to be perceived that you look past any teams.” Russ said
Three quarters of the roster are freshmen and sophomores, and thus not all Nittany Lions have experience playing together. Though it’s an obstacle, Rose thinks the weekend tournament will provide his team with a valuable opportunity to grow more cohesive.
“Every team has challenges and the challenges you get when a team hasn’t all played together are magnified when you play on the road,” Russ said.
The Nittany Lions and the Cyclones faced each other later in the season of 2018 after most freshmen and underclassmen gained experience, Gray.
One of four game leaders in last year’s match against Iowa and named this past weekend’s tournament MVP, Gray will enter the invitational with a career high of 34 kills in three matches and a hit percentage of .702.
“We are trying to build on what we are capable of but that is going to take effort from the entire team,” Gray said. “Getting these freshman on the road for the first time against teams like Iowa and LSU will help us grow through the season.”