SBN Pittsburgh: We've asked blogger DigNittany, of DigNittanyVolleyball, a website for fans of Penn State Women's Volleyball, to give us its take on Saturday night's NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship Match. So, DigNittany, what should fans be looking for?
DigNittany: Thanks for having us on. By way of disclaimer, we're about as far from being volleyball experts as you can get -- we try to bring in people who are experts for real analysis on our blog, but we obviously are big fans, so we'll give you the fans-eye view.
It should be a great match, with Cal coming in about as hot as you can get -- they won every single set they've played so far in the NCAA Tournament. Penn State is playing very well too. To our non-expert eyes, they played their best match of the season against Texas. As we noted on DigNittanyVolleyball.com, a key question before the Texas match was whether the high-pressure atmosphere of the NCAA Semi-Finals would affect the play of Penn State freshmen 6-foot-1 OH Deja McClendon, 6-foot-5 OH Ariel Scott, 6-foot-6 MH Katie Slay, or 5-foot-6 DS Ali Longo, but it didn't seem to phase them at all. If anything, McClendon, Scott, and Slay seemed to be energized by it, as they combined for 24 of Penn State's 45 kills and 12 of 19 blocks. Deja, who is simply amazing, had 11 kills on 15 swings, no errors, and hit .733 (her season's best attack %).
SBN Pittsburgh: More than 40 games in this season have transpired. Does the team have one more win in them?
DigNittany: We don't think it's fair to expect them to replicate their national semifinals performance (for one thing, we think Cal is a better team than Texas), but we would wouldn't be surprised if they have solid matches against Golden Bears.
The Penn State seniors have more than carried their share of the load. Against Texas, 6-foot-5 Sr. Opp. Blair Brown (AVCA First Team All-American) led the team with 12 kills (.235 attack %), with 6-foot-3 Sr. Arielle Wilson (AVCA First Team All American) totaling six kills (.465 attack %) and three blocks. 5-foot-9 Sr. L Alyssa D’Errico recorded a match-high 11 digs, while 5-foot-1 Sr. DS Cathy Quilico added six digs.
Penn State Head Coach Russ Rose said Friday that Cal is "a great representative of a strong conference." He noted that Penn State (which has played Cal in the NCAA tournament each of the past three years) is going to have its "hands full," and called this year's Cal team "the best Cal team that we’ve played." He singled out 5-foot-11 Sr. setter Carli Lloyd and 6-foot-3 Jr. Outside Hitter Tarah Murrey -- both First Team AVCA All-Americans -- as two Cal players who could be stealing votes from each other for the National Player of the Year, and who will be a tough challenge for Penn State. Coach Rose also noted Cal's great system and defensive package that have been caused problems for alot of teams. Some observers believe that the ability of Tarah Murrey to adjust to the Penn State block (if matched up against Blair Brown/Katie Slay) will be a significant factor in how the match plays out.
SBN Pittsburgh: There has been alot of pre-match focus on the comparison between the setters for the two teams: Cal's Carli Lloyd, the consensus All-American, and Penn State's Kristin Carpenter. How does PSU fare?
DigNittany: During the pre-season, Carpenter wasn't expected to be Penn State's setter -- she was slotted for duty as a defensive specialist/libero, but she stepped in when other options weren't working out, and has kept on improving as the season progressed. One observor put it this way: "[Rose] doesn't look at her as a setter as much as a great player and competitor who is setting." Listening to the announcers during the Texas match, she clearly has earned the respect of many people in the volleyball world.
But, having said that, Cal's Carli Lloyd clearly is the better setter, so Cal has the advantage there. As another observer put it, if this comes down to which team has the best setter, Penn State is in trouble. But Kristin Carpenter doesn't have to be the best setter for Penn State to win -- she just has to be good enough.
SBN Pittsburgh: OK, enough analysis. Give us the final prediction...
DigNittany: Well, Cal was ranked No. 4 in the November 29th AVCA poll, and Penn State was ranked No. 8. But Penn State was seeded No. 4 in the Tournament, whereas Cal was seeded No. 7. We think it's almost a toss-up, but we think the gravitational pull of the court is leaning slightly in Cal's direction. So if we were following our head, we'd say Cal wins in 4 or 5. But we're fans, so we'll ignore our head, and, when adding Coach Russ Rose (who we think is the best coach in Division 1 Women's Volleyball) into the calculation, we're going to go with Penn State, in an Instant Classic, five-set victory. We'll be the ones in the intensive care recovery room, with oxygen tubes and all sorts of wires going everywhere, but a happy look on our faces.
There you have it, folks, Penn State in five sets. We at SBN Pittsburgh certainly hope DigNittany is right! Although, after last year's "Instant Classic, five-set victory" over Texas, we're not sure how much more we can take. Here's to hoping the girls make it a little easier on the fans, winning easily in three quick sets.
Thanks once again to DigNittany of DigNittanyVolleyball.com for giving us their always valuable time and analysis. If you're not familiar with DigNittanyVolleyball, you should really be reading this site to keep up on all of the latest Penn State women's volleyball news, notes and analysis.