Penn State’s volleyball streak relies on new blood
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The team with one of the longest winning streaks in the history of college sports sounds a little unsure of itself.
It’s not due to a crisis of confidence nor a lack of talent on the Penn State women’s volleyball team. It’s more a matter of trying to figure out how some new faces and former reserves can mesh and replace three players who had major roles in helping the Nittany Lions roll up a record 108 straight wins.
The streak will be tested this weekend when Penn State travels to the University of Florida for a tournament featuring volleyball powerhouses Florida, Stanford and Texas.
“People think we’re not as good as we have been in the past, and this is a chance to show where we’re at against some of the best teams in the country. This is a way to make a point,” junior outside hitter Katie Kabbes said.
She’s one of several players expected to assume added responsibilities this season. Outside hitter Megan Hodge and setter Alisha Glass – considered two of the best players in the game – have joined the U.S. women’s national team after using up their college eligibility.
Another hitter, Darcy Dorton, is sidelined because of a left knee injury after being selected the Big Ten’s top freshman last season.
Penn State restocked its roster with nine new recruits, including Deja McClendon, who has turned into a top threat at the net in the team’s 6-0 start against overmatched foes this season.
The Nittany Lions won the last three national titles, but coach Russ Rose doesn’t think his team deserves its No. 1 ranking in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
And he doesn’t like talking about “The Streak,” either.
“We’ll go play and if we win, we win and if we lose, we lose. We won’t be concerned about the streak and all the other things people talk about because these guys have played six matches together; that’s the streak they’ve gone,” Rose said after last week’s three-set sweep over Virginia Commonwealth.
For the record, Penn State’s streak is the second-longest in Division I team sports, behind the 137 straight wins by the Miami men’s tennis program from 1957-1964. Penn State’s last loss came Sept. 15, 2007, to Stanford.
“Some of the players wouldn’t even know the girls on that team that started the streak if they were sitting in the crowd,” said Rose, a no-nonsense coach with a dry wit.
Well, not all of them.
Sophomore Kristin Carpenter is very familiar with the woman she’s replacing at setter – Glass expertly ran the Penn State offense as if she were a 10-year veteran point guard on the basketball court.
So far Carpenter, a former defensive specialist, has had most of the assists. A self-described energetic player who smiles a lot on the floor to keep teammates positive and focused, Carpenter acknowledged she still has much to learn about setting.
“Her shoes are twice as big as mine,” joked Carpenter about Glass. The 5-foot-6 Carpenter said she has size 8 1-2 feet, while the 6-foot Glass was about a size 11.
Carpenter doesn’t have the ideal height for a front-row position that often requires jumping high over the net for spikes and blocks, but Rose likes her toughness. She’s also getting tips from freshman Mikinzie Moydell, whose regular position is setter.
“She’s always going to be small, so that poses some problems when she’s in the front row,” Rose said about Carpenter. “It’s how you play, not how tall you are. But certainly she can learn a lot about setting.”
Penn State isn’t entirely devoid of top seniors. The 6-foot-3 Arielle Wilson and 6-foot-5 Blair Brown offer imposing height and quickness at the net, while 5-9 libero Alyssa D’Errico is one of the nation’s best servers.
The 6-foot-1 McClendon has led the team early in kills. A freshman with a contagious ear-to-ear smile, McClendon says it can be nerve-racking playing next to some of the nation’s best players.
“If you asked me a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have said I would be playing my freshman year,” she said. “But it’s a real big opportunity, and it’s one of those things where if you get a chance to do it, you step up and play as hard as you can.”