We caught up with Talking Head this morning (actually, our Slacker Staff, in an unexpected burst of enthusiasm most likely attributable to the new energy drink they found (“PURE CAFFEINE – It’s Scary Good”) caught up with Talking Head in a surprise ambush, and managed to hold onto TH until we arrived) and we’re so pleased to be able to pass on TH’s thoughts about the Stanford match, some of the Penn State standouts, and thoughts about the future for this team.
DigNittany: What were your overall thoughts about the Stanford match last night?
Talking Head: First of all, it was just a pleasure to see the energy level for women’s volleyball in general, and what Penn State’s fans were able to bring last night. It was a great show that presented extremely well on the broadcast. The play-by-play and the color commentary by Salima [Rockwell, former Penn State All-American and associate head-coach] was fantastic. It’s so nice to have someone who is so eloquent and knowledgeable about the game. Her acumen is really sharp, and that added to the way the game came across during the broadcast. The energy level was clearly through the roof in Rec Hall. I’ve been in those experiences and it’s just a lot of fun. The kids were excited; the parents were excited; I think anyone who likes the sport was getting their money’s worth last night. It was two fantastic coaches, two fantastic programs, two terrific teams and, by the way, two of the best liberos in the game, which was a treat. They really kept their teams in the match. [Kendall White is the libero for Penn State and Morgan Hentz is the libero for Stanford].
DigNittany: Which other Penn State players stood out to you in last night’s match?
Talking Head: Kendall obviously was terrific. Her energy level and just plain grittiness increased the level of competitiveness of her teammates — even players like Gabby Blossom and Kaitlyn Hord and Jonni Parker, who are all already really competitive. I thought Gabby Blossom was terrific. She was maybe the best player on the floor for Penn State in terms of surpassing what I’ve seen her do before. I think it was maybe her best game that I’ve seen. That’s a really nice sign. Kaitlyn Hord? We’re going to see more and more of the kind of performance she put on last night. We’re just going to see this kid dominate. There were times when everyone in the gym knew that the set was going to go to Kaitlyn, and she still was unstoppable. [Editor’s Note: Kaitlyn led Penn State with 16 kills, only one attack error, and hit .517 for the match].
DigNittany: What kinds of improvement have you observed in Kaitlyn Hord from last season to this one?
Talking Head: I think a lot of it is she has grown into her body. Last year she was a long, tall kid and now she’s a long, tall young woman. I think she’s just one of those kids where you say “Every time I watch this kid I think she’s going to get better and better because her body control is going to get better and better. And that’s what it really comes down to — then she was an 18 year-old kid, now she’s a stronger, more physically mature young woman. She’s a lot more comfortable, and when she goes up she’s a lot stronger, and what we’re seeing is she’s really aggressive on every play. If she has to hit an off-speed ball, she’s strong enough to do that. Last season I didn’t think she was always strong enough in her approach, strong enough in her jump, and that sometimes translated into somewhat sketchy arm swings. So the improvement is both physical maturation and hard work — Kaitlyn has clearly worked hard.
DigNittany: Anyone else stand our to you from Penn State?
Talking Head: The defensive corps [Kendall White, Keeton Holcomb, Jenna Hampton, Macall Peed and Emily Sciorra] was spectacular — they looked really good. I wish we would have gotten a little more service pressure and production from the Minis. That’s usually almost a given from the four or five backrow players Coach Rose will go to. But we just couldn’t get dent Stanford’s serve-receive.
DigNittany: Was that at all related to the fact that Penn State appeared to target Kathryn Plummer on many, if not most, serves, trying to get her out of her comfort zone, with maybe a tradeoff being less service pressure?
Talking Head: That may have been true to some extent, but you still have to be able to get that kid [Plummer] completely out of system occasionally.
DigNittany: Any thoughts on Jonni Parker’s performance?
Talking Head: Last night wasn’t her best performance, but she was second on the team with 14 kills and had block assists. Jonni is a great player, and I think if Penn State gets a second chance against Stanford in the NCAA tournament, you’re going to see a better performance from her.
DigNittany: Coach Rose emphasized in his post-match comments that there are no silver linings from a loss like this. We’re not going to question Coach Rose, but were there any good signs for the future that you took away from last night’s match?
Talking Head: First of all, I think people who are not familiar with Coach Rose can be caught off-guard with a comment like that. They may think “What a curmudgeon. What an unhappy man.” What they don’t understand, and what they learn over time, if they pay attention, is that he is who he is, all the time. And that’s why he’s so good. And that’s why the kids love to play for him. And that’s why they get better. They get better because he’s not sugar-coating anything. He is telling them how it is, and saying “Are you doing enough to make sure that’s not who you are. We got exposed, and we’ve got to get better.” When he calls out kids and tells them what he needs from them, some kids figure it out, and some kids don’t. He’s not going to waste energy figuring out ways to not tell the kids the way it is. I think it works for him (and the record certainly bears that out) but it doesn’t necessarily work for other coaches or for every kid. But that’s who Coach Rose is, and because he is so genuine, and so consistent, it works for him and for his players.
DigNittany: Thoughts about the future for this Penn State team?
Talking Head: I think there were positive signs about where this team can be down the road — not only how they can play against top teams, but their energy level and their competitiveness. Obviously, not the result Coach Rose or the players wanted, but I saw more positives last night than negatives.
DigNittany: We really thank you for your time. We appreciate it and so do our DigNittany viewers.
Talking Head: My pleasure.