Perennial power Penn State is a national championship contender year in and year out, and despite its youth, 2018 is no different.
The Nittany Lions, ranked ninth nationally by VolleyMob in the preseason, returns eight letterwinners from last year’s squad, which finished 33-2 overall and 19-1 in conference play to claim the program’s 17th Big Ten title. Penn State spent the majority of the season atop the national polls and fell short of its eighth national crown, bowing out to Big Ten foe and eventual national champion Nebraska in the NCAA national semifinals.
Following the graduation of a trio of All-Americans in Simone Lee, Haleigh Washington and Ali Frantti, Penn State’s success this season is directly tied to how the youthful team rises to the occasion against the country’s top talent. The Nittany Lions will rely on returning starters Kendall White (libero) and Bryanna Weiskircher (setter) to lead the way for a team comprised of eight freshmen, one sophomore, three juniors, four seniors and graduate transfer Taylor Leath in from UNC.
Penn State kicks off its season at home, hosting the Penn State Classic Aug. 24-25 in University Park, Pa. The Nittany Lions open the year with a 7:30 p.m. ET match against Eastern Kentucky Friday and play a double header on Saturday with a 10 a.m. matchup with UMBC and a 7 p.m. matchup with Navy.
The Nittany Lions will have 14 home matches this year and three meetings with fellow 2017 NCAA Semifinalists, meeting Stanford once in the preconference slate and Nebraska twice during the conference season.
Quoting Penn State head coach Russ Rose:
“(We have a) new roster of players, but a lot of times the expectations are high. I don’t see why we shouldn’t continue to have high expectations. There are a lot of unknowns when you’re playing with so many young people, and I think that’s one of the exciting things about coaching; to see how that comes together.”
“There is a lot to be said for young people that have a good skill set and have a winning tradition themselves where they came from. They came to Penn State because they want to continue the success that we’ve had. I think all of the freshmen have made a good point that they are here for a good reason.”
“I think it’s hard to win when you’re supposed to win, so I think one of the relaxing things, hopefully, for this group is that they don’t really have the same expectations placed on them as some of those previous teams when they came in ranked first in the conference and first in the country. This is a group that will have chances to play some of those teams that are ranked that high and see how they stack up and see how they compete. I’ve seen flashes in practice where I think we compete well, and we compete hard. The question is can you sustain it against opponents that are veteran players and players who have played well for extended periods of time with each other in tough situations. That’s why you play, and that’s what you hope to see.”