On August 24th, The Daily Collegian Online published an article by Bill Landis: “PSU downplays familiar No. 1 ranking.” Although some Penn State fans may believe a “three-peat” for Penn State as NCAA National champion is almost inevitable, a quote from Penn State’s Head Coach Rose makes it clear he does not share that view:
“There’s a lot of teams in the country who have their entire starting lineup coming back, or who only graduated one player. . . . Certainly those teams in my mind are gonna be way ahead of where we are at the start of the race.”
At DigNittanyVolleyball, we’re as excited as the next bunch about Penn State’s prospects for 2009. Still, one statistic keeps popping up that gives us pause: No school has ever won three consecutive NCAA Women’s Volleball Championships. Ever. And there are a number of schools with a legitimate shot at knocking off the Nittany Lions and ending up as the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Champion for 2009.
So, which are those schools? Coach Rose says there are “a lot,” but in the interest of time (ours) we’re going to focus on just three — (cue the “How could you leave out _________”) — which coincidentally rank #2 (Texas – Big 12), #3 (Washington – Pac-10), and #4 (Nebraska – Big 12), in Rich Kern’s Preseason Poll.
Here’s Part I of our three-part series:
The University of Texas Women’s Volleyball Team came within a
whisker horn tip of playing for the national championship last year, losing its semi-final match to Stanford 3-2, after leading 2-0. Reinforcing Coach Rose’s point, Texas Coach Jerritt Elliott says of that loss: “They had the experience. They were down 0-2 and they didn’t freak out and I think we were up 2-0 and we did. That’s where the experience beat us . . . .”
Experience shouldn’t be a problem for the Longhorns this year.
At Outside Hitter, Texas returns five seasoned veterans, including 2008 AVCA First Team All American Ashley Engle (6-3 Senior, Opposite Hitter/Setter), Honda Award Finalist and 2008 AVCA First Team All American Destinee Hooker (6-4 Senior, Outside Hitter), two-time All Big 12 First Team member Juliann Faucette (6-2 Junior, Outside Hitter), 2007 U.S. Women’s Junior National Team member Jennifer Doris (6-5 Junior, Utility Player), and letter winner Amber Roberson (6-2, Sophomore, Outside Hitter), and welcomes two highly-touted Freshmen: Sha ‘Dare McNeal (6-1 MB/OH; ranked the #5 recruit nationally by PrepVolleyball.com in 2009) and Bailey Webster (6-3 Outside Hitter who was ranked the #1 recruit nationally by PrepVolleyball.com in 2009). Can you say “loaded for
Bear Nittany Lion”?
There’s also talent and experience at Middle Blocker, where the Longhorns return Rachel Adams (6-2 Sophomore, who played in 25 matches in 2008 (she missed eight with an injury), with three huge blocks in UT’s 3-1 Regional semifinal win over UCLA), with Jennifer Doris and Sha ‘Dare McNeal also challenging for playing time.
At Setter, it’s more of the same, with two talented and experienced returnees in 2008 Big 12 Freshman of the Year Michelle Kocher (5-10) and Ashley Engle, about whom Elliott says “Ashley is one of the players that every coach likes to have on their team because she has the ability to perform each skill at a very high level. She is our big ball control pin-attacker right now, but she also has the ability to set for this team. Ashley truly has the ability to take over a match at any given time. Her leadership is also very important to this team as one of our captains.”
Texas must have a weakness at Libero/Defensive Specialist, right? Wrong. Returning are two-time All Big 12 First Team member Keather Kisner (5-9 Senior; all she did in 2008 was break Texas’ 20-year old record for season digs, totaling 488 — the previous record of 476 was set in 1988 by Dagmara Szysczak), and Sydney Yogi (5-2 Sophomore L/DS) whom Elliott says “had a very good spring with her passing levels improving dramatically.”
Looking at the Texas Roster, it’s easy to see how Coach Rose would be concerned about the Longhorn’s talent and experience. But it’s a long season, and a lot can happen along the way. As Coach Elliott says: “I think you really do need to take it one step at a time. . . . We want to be challenged and we want to get put in tough spots and find ways to win. Ultimately we’re looking for the Big 12 title, getting to the final four and hopefully getting to that final match that we didn’t get to last year.”
That’s fine with us, just as long as Penn State is right there with you in that final match.