This is the first of a two-part series of scouting reports in which we break down the strengths and weaknesses of each team in a featured match. Today’s SR focuses on #1 Penn State playing host to #12 Wisconsin to either (1) have Penn State remain in the hunt for the #1 overall seed come December, or (2) keep Wisconsin in the conversation for possibly hosting on opening weekend. Currently, Penn State is 9-1 in the Big Ten and 19-1 overall, while Wisconsin is 5-5 in conference and 14-5 overall. For the record, we take our rankings from our own Power Rankings, which are updated every week.
- Wednesday, October 25
- University Park, Pennsylvania
- 7:00 PM Eastern Time
- Television: Big Ten Network
- Full TV and live streaming schedule
Aside from Nebraska at Michigan State on Friday, this is by far the biggest match in the Big Ten this week with major RPI, host seeding and #1 overall seeding for the NCAA tournament come December. A win for Penn State would keep the Nittany Lions on track to stay in the hunt for #1 seed overall, far and away an easier path to another championship and hopefully avoiding any tough matchups until at least round 3 or possibly round 4. A win for Wisconsin, however, puts yet another major victory in their pockets, and keeps the Badgers on the minds of the seeding committee. Both teams are in the top 10 in the most recent RPI rankings that came out on October 23 (PSU: 1, Wisconsin: 8). Penn State’s lone loss was to Nebraska at home over a month ago (RPI: 5). Wisconsin’s 5 losses are all in-conference: two to Minnesota (RPI: 5), two to Michigan State (RPI: 13) and one to the aforementioned Huskers. The Badgers’ best win is a big one—at home against Nebraska on October 11 in four sets. But their biggest true ROAD victory is at Iowa (RPI: 42). To put a stamp on this season, snagging a road victory in Happy Valley would be huge for the folks from Madison.
WISCONSIN SUCCESS FACTOR
- Consistently accurate serve receive feeds your middles and opens up the offense
If you can’t pass, you can’t play. Not at this level, anyway. Purdue found that out the hard way in their recent match hosting Penn State last week. Not receiving serve well makes the offense predictable and keeps the ball away from your strengths. Wisconsin’s strength is in the middle—freshman Dana Rettke, reigning Big Ten Player of the Week. She averages 3.37 kills per set, leading the team. She also leads the team and is currently second in the Big Ten in hitting percentage (.459). Rettke also leads the Badgers and is fourth in the Big Ten in blocks per set (1.42). The middle opposite from Rettke is no slouch, either. Tionna Williams is fourth on the team in kills per set (2.55), second on the team and fourth in the Big Ten in hitting percentage (.437) and second on the team and seventh in the conference in blocks per set (1.17). Both middles showing offensive and defensive success means that Wisconsin receives serve well, and regularly. In their most recent loss to Minnesota, Rettke and Williams, when they got the ball, got theirs (combined 33-3-59, hitting .508). However, their three pin attackers are not terminal (combined 23-20-96, hitting .031). By the numbers alone, one can see where the Badgers’ strengths—and weaknesses—lie.
PENN STATE SUCCESS FACTOR
- Efficiency, offensive balance and floor defense
“You do you, boo boo.”—an immortal quote from Kevin Hart that can define who Penn State is; highly efficient, highly balanced on offense, and will have the best defender on the floor in tonight’s match. The Nittany Lions lead the country in hitting percentage (.351), have at least one attacker in the front row and one in the back row at all times that can terminate a play (Simone Lee and Ali Frantti), and have Kendall White that digs almost 4 digs per set and covers half the court in serve receive. If Penn State just does what it does—-multiple players with double-digit kills, high efficiency, and defend well, they should produce. Take their lone loss to Nebraska, for example. Simone Lee had her kills, and was clearly the most dynamic athlete on the court that night. She finished with 15 kills, 13 digs and hit over .300 on the night. No other player had more than 9 kills, and no present full-time attacker hit over .200. PSU hit for their lowest mark of the season (.227) and their leading defender was……Simone Lee. Watching the match, it was clear that keeping the ball away from Kendall White at all costs helped Nebraska have a signature road win early in the season.
Many questions can be asked about tonight’s match-up: Can Rettke keep up the pace? Will a freshman middle blocker lead the Badgers to a major road victory? What if Molly Haggerty was available? Other than Simone Lee, who else can produce for PSU? Can Penn State solve Wisconsin’s block (2nd best in the Big Ten)?
Wisconsin needs to receive serve well to feed their top players, which are their middles. Without this, can Lauryn Gillis and Kelli Bates carry the load?
Both of Penn State’s outsides need to show up to have an efficient, balanced offense. Penn State libero Kendall White needs to have at least one touch on every point.