By the DigNittanyVolleyball.com Staff
This is the second part of a four-part Season Preview of the 2014 Penn State Women’s Volleyball team.
- Part 1 focused on the Setter and Outside Hitter positions.
- Part 2 covers the Opposite/Right Side and Middle Blocker positions.
- Part 3 will look at the Libero and Defensive Specialist candidates.
- Finally, Part 4 will focus on Head Coach Russ Rose, and his new staff members — Associate Head Coach Salima Rockwell, Assistant Coach Stevie Mussie, Director of Operations Kevin Burch, and Volunteer Assistant Coach Jay Goddu.
It’s obviously early (pre-season practice hasn’t even begun yet), so things undoubtedly will change. If something major comes to our attention (other than our slacker staff actually doing some work — which would be major, but of limited interest outside of DigNittanyVolleyball World Headquarters), we’ll endeavor to provide updates to these Previews.
Opposite/Right Side (We know – Megan Courtney was an OH)
Who's Back: Opposite/Right Side Attack Leaders from 2013
Who's Back: Opposite/Right Side Blocking and Points Leaders from 2013
In 2013 and 2012, Ariel Scott was the go-to terminator for the Penn State Nittany Lions. Those days are over. A. Scott has graduated, taking her 3.33 kills/set (1st on the team), .82 blocks/set (tied with Nia Grant for 2nd on the team) and 3.76 points/set (1st on the team) with her. There are several players who will be vying to take her place, but our guess (and it is no more than that) is that 6-2 Jr. Megan Courtney will be there on opening day, so we’ve treated her as a “returning player” for purposes of the statistical tables above. Other players who may see time at the position include 6-4 RS Jr. Aiyana Whitney and 6-1 Fr. Simone Lee, both of whom are discussed in our Outside Hitter section.
Of course, all of this is speculation on our part, and Coach Rose may have something entirely different in mind. But until the season begins, we’re left with speculation.
If Courtney does end up at Opposite/Right Side, she’ll bring some different things to the position. For one thing, she is a better defender than Scott — and that’s not a knock on Scott. Courtney is a six rotation player. Scott was not. And, arguably, Courtney will provide better out-of-system offense than Scott, even though she doesn’t have quite as big of an arm.
6-2 Fr. Simone Lee and 6-4 RS Jr. Aiyana Whitney are both viable options here too. As mentioned in the Outside Hitter section, Whitney has seen time in previous seasons at all three front row positions, and Lee gained international experience at right-side when she was a right-side starter on the 2013 USA Youth National Worlds finalist team. Whether either of these players will see time at Opposite/Right Side for Penn State in the 2014 season remains to be seen. But at the very least, the fact that they seemingly are comfortable at multiple positions can only be viewed as a positive for Penn State moving forward.
Below is a quick rundown on Megan Courtney:
#17 Megan Courtney, 6-2 S/OH, Jr., Dayton, Ohio
The Buzz on Megan: Outstanding athlete with a terrific volleyball IQ, we have Courtney starting at Opposite/Right Side, but she could easily end up at Outside Hitter. As in 2013, she is one of the keys to a successful season in 2014.
Megan Courtney's Career Attack Stats
Megan Courtney's Career Blocking Stats
Megan Courtney's Career Recept/Dig Stats
2013 (Sophomore): Courtney came up big in some very big matches in 2013:
- posting a career-high 17 kills in a 3-1 comeback win at #17 Michigan on November 1st, to go with nine digs and seven blocks;
- registering 15 kills (.400 attack %) and 11 digs as the Nittany Lions swept then-#14 Wisconsin on 11/1/13;
- totaling 14 kills (.312 attack %), 12 digs) and four blocks in Penn State’s 3-1 win over No. 10 Nebraska on 11/30/13;
- posting a team-high 17 kills (with an eye-popping .556 attack %) in Penn State’s 3-0 win over Utah in its 2nd-round NCAA Tournament match on 12/7/13;
- totaling 10 kills and 14 digs in the NCAA Regional Semifinal match against MSU on 12/13/13;
- contributing 9 kills, 14 digs, and two key solo blocks in Penn State’s fifth-set comeback victory in the NCAA Regional Finals against No. 7 Stanford on 12/14/13;
- putting down six kills (with a .545 attack% — which on this night, was only 4th best on the team), nine digs and two blocks in the 3-0 sweep of #3 Washington in the NCAA national semifinal match on 12/19/13; and
- leading the team with five blocks, tied for the team lead with 20 digs, and added five kills in the Nittany Lions’ 3-1 win over No. 12 Wisconsin in the NCAA Finals on 12/21/13.
2012 (Freshman): In 2012, Megan Courtney was named AVCA Mideast Region Freshman of the Year; was a unanimous selection to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. She started 35 out of 36 matches at outside hitter, ending the season fourth on the team in kills (240 — an average of 2.00 kills per set), digs (237 — an average of 1.98 digs per set), and blocks (101 — an average of 0.84 blocks per set, including at least one block in 33 matches, and 27 matches with multiple blocks).
High School: In 2011, Courtney capped-off an exceptional high school career by garnering 2011-12 First Team AVCA Under Armour All-American honors and being named the #4 high school player in the country by PrepVolleyball.com. For the season, she registered 451 kills (.603 attack %), 426 assists, 316 digs, 52 blocks and 36 service aces. On December 14th, she was named the 2011 Gatorade Ohio Volleyball Player of the Year.
Here’s a video of Katie Slay interviewing Megan Courtney (if we see something more recent, we’ll replace this):
As a three-year returning starter, 6-2 Sr. Nia Grant is the odds-on favorite to nail down one MB slot (even though she is listed — as she was in 2013, and in 2012, and in 2011, as an OH). But with the graduation of 6-6 All American Katie Slay, competition for the other spot will be fierce. 6-0 Fr. Kelly Robertson returns, after appearing in three matches in 2013, registering six kills (on 9 attempts for a .556 attack %) and four blocks. And the much-heralded 6-3 Fr. Haleigh Washington will make her debut, as will 6-2 Fr. Heidi Thelen. Based purely on prep-rep, Washington — PrepVolleyball.com’s #1-ranked Senior Ace — would win this battle over Thelen — PrepVolleyball.com’s #61-ranked Senior Ace. But playing time isn’t won based on clippings or high school accolades, and Thelen certainly will be in the mix at the MB position.
Regardless of who ends up winning that competition, they will need to step up right away in the blocking department. As reflected in the table below, the three graduated seniors — 6-6 MB Katie Slay, 6-4 Opp/RS A. Scott, and 6-1 OH Deja McClendon — ranked 1st, tied for 2nd, and 5th on the team for Penn State in 2013:
Who's Back: Blocking and Points Leaders - 2013
The Buzz on Nia: Dynamic athlete who continued to improve during the 2013 season, earning AVCA All-America honorable mention honors. With Katie Slay having graduated, the Nittany Lions will be looking for a big season from Grant, and the word is that if she continues to work hard and train at a high level, she can deliver.
Nia Grant's Career Blocking Stats
Nia Grant's Career Attack Stats
Nia Grant's Career Serving Stats
2013 (Junior): Highlights for Grant in the 2013 season included:
- earning AVCA All-Northeast Region honors;
- earning AVCA All-America Honorable Mention;
- posting a .350 attack %, good for 5th in the Big Ten (second on Penn State);
- ranking 2nd on the team with 38 aces in 2013;
- tying her career-high of 11 kills in a 3-0 win at Northwestern on October 20, 2013.
- Again tying her career-high of 11 kills, this time in a 3-1 win over Northwestern on November 22, 2013;
- Registering four kills and four digs in the comeback 3-2 win over Stanford on December 14th in the NCAA Tournament Regional Finals;
- Totaling six kills, one ace, two digs and four blocks in Penn State’s dominating 3-0 win over #3 Washington on December 19th in the NCAA Semifinals; and
- Recording four kills, one dig and four blocks in Penn State’s 3-1 victory over #12 Wisconsin on December 21st in the NCAA Tournament Final.
2012 (Sophomore): Academic All-Big Ten; ranked second on the team in total blocks (120) and blocks per set (0.97); averaged 1.65 kills per set, hitting .376 for the season. 2
2011 (Freshman): Nia Grant debuted in impressive style in 2011 against USC (8/27), with 11 kills on 17 swings (no errors), and eight total blocks (good for second on the team). ranked second on the team with 107 total blocks and 0.91 blocks per set; totaled 151 kills with a .346 hitting percentage.
High School: Team captain at Howland High School in Warren, Ohio; named to Volleyball Magazine “Fab 50”; four-year letter winner in track & field.
Here’s Nia Grant being interviewed by Deja McClendon during the 2012 season:
#15 Haleigh Washington, 6-3 MB, Fr., Colorado Springs, CO
The Buzz on Haleigh: PrepVolleyball.com’s #1-ranked Senior Ace, Haleigh is a fantastic offensive player with a high contact point (reportedly touches in the 10′ 10″ range) and great energy. A good blocker and a player that will have lots of pressure to play out of the gate.
High School: Among the highlights from Haleigh’s high school career were:
- 2013-14 Under Armour First Team All American;
- 2013 Volleyball Magazine Player of the Year;
- 2013 Mizuno First Team All-American;
- Two-time Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year from 2012-13;
- Leading Doherty to the Colorado State 5A championship title in 2012;
- Setting Colorado state record with 48 kills in a five-set win against Grandview in a rematch of the Colorado State 5A title match; and
- Team Captain of the Doherty Rockets’ in 2012 and 2013.
Here’s a video from 2013 featuring Haley, her coaches, and her mother:
#23 Kelly Robertson, 6-0 MB, So., Allentown, PA
The Buzz on Kelly: Following a freshman campaign in which she appeared in three matches, Kelly will apply her solid work ethic to compete for playing time at the middle blocker position.
Kelly Robertson's Career Blocking Stats
Kelly Robertson's Career Attack Stats
- totaled three kills and two blocks in a 3-0 win over Albany on September 20, 2013 in the Penn State Classic;
- posted three kills in a 3-0 win over Iowa on October 26, 2013;
- recorded two blocks in a sweep of Indiana on November 9, 2013.
High School: Won four letters and served as team captain at Parkland High School in Allentown, Pa.; helped her team to three Lehigh Valley Conference Championships, three district championships and one state championship; All-State Tournament MVP as a junior; PrepVolleyball National Junior of the Year finalist and Senior Ace; Under Armour 1st Team All-American, Max Preps 2nd Team All-American; Mizuno 3rd Team All-American; Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year; earned Honor and High Honor Roll recognition at Parkland High all four years; a District XI gold medalist in the triple jump.
Here’s Kelly’s “Meet the Freshmen” video, courtesy of GoPSUsports.com:
#19 Heidi Thelen, 6-2 MB, Fr. Edgewood, KY
The Buzz on Heidi: A long limbed middle blocker that plays hard and is not intimidated by the step up in competition.
- 2013-14 Under Armour Honorable Mention All-American;
- AAU Nationals All-tournament team in 2012 and 2013 as a player with Tri-State Elite;
- AAU All-America in 2011;
- Kentucky Class AAA All-State in 2013;
- Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association (KVCA) All State in 2013; and
- 2011 and 2013 KVCA Region 9 Player of the Year.
Here’s a video of Heidi and her Notre Dame Academy teammates vs. Mother McAuley in the 2012 Asics Volleyball Challenge: