Penn State Sweeps Texas A&M to Remain Undefeated
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions continued their hot start to the season by defeating the Texas A&M Aggies in three sets, just one day after doing the same to the Temple Owls. With these victories, both part of the weekend invitational hosted by Penn State, the Nittany Lions jumped out to a 5-0 start on the season.
Errors and blocks were the difference maker, as Penn State recorded just 11 errors to Texas A&M’s 24 and earned 7.5 more blocks than the Aggies.
Though many of the star players from last year’s team have since graduated, the Nittany Lions haven’t missed a beat, thanks in no small part to standout performances from numerous freshmen.
“As a whole, the freshmen have come a long way,” junior defensive specialist Kendall White said. “They’ve made tremendous steps towards communicating on the court. Our middles especially have gotten a lot better at finding the block, reading it, and hitting around it. It’s all about communication and team play, and they’ve done a tremendous job.”
One freshman who has shined brightly, in particular, is Jonni Parker, whose 11 kills helped lead the Nittany Lions to victory over the Aggies.
“My performance tonight had a lot to do with my teammates,” Parker said. “They gave me the confidence to keep swinging away.”
Another standout freshman is Serena Gray, who leads the team with 17 blocks on the season. Seven of these blocks came in Saturday’s win over Texas A&M.
Like Parker, Gray acknowledges the support of her team as a reason for success. “All the girls are just there supporting you, holding you accountable, trying to get the best out of you, while at the same time, they’re going to be there for you,” Gray said. “The girls are incredibly humble and helpful. There’s no division between the underclassmen and the upperclassmen. We all just vibe really well, and the team chemistry is great, which transfers onto the court.”
Head coach Russ Rose, a 10-time NCAA women’s volleyball champion now in his 40th year with the Nittany Lions, showed satisfaction with his team’s performance.
“I thought the middles played really well today. Kendall was really dialed in. [She] passed well and played great defense,” Rose said. “Certainly, Texas A&M has some really strong offensive players, and we knew that we’d have to play well. We did a nice job of that.”
Rose took note of the performances of his team’s freshmen as well. “Jonni had a good night hitting,” Rose said, “and certainly Serena and Kaitlyn [Hord] did a real nice job at the net.”
The Nittany Lions are coming off a successful 2017 campaign that ended in a 3-2 tournament semifinal loss to the eventual champion Nebraska. White believes they can make another run for the title with the new talent, but she also thinks there’s room to grow.
“[The freshmen] are talented. We’ve always had talent here,” said White. “Talent’s not the problem. What we need is team chemistry. What we need is a team that’s going to play hard, with heart. Talent only gets you so far. This team has what it takes. We just need to find it.”
The Nittany Lions will resume play next Friday when they travel to California to take on top-ranked Stanford before having a match with No. 18 Oregon on Saturday.
DJ Bauer is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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