Four straight national championships, and not one AP/Getty photo of the Penn State Women's Volleyball team. So you get a beach volleyball in London. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Football finally returns to our lives in 10 shorts days (well, eight really), but another wildly popular Penn State team is set to return to action in just two days. The four-time defending national champion Penn State Women's Volleyball team will play host to the Rockvale Outlets/AVCA Showcase this weekend, welcoming Minnesota, USC, and Oregon to Rec Hall. The No. 1 ranked Lions will face Oregon on Friday night and USC on Saturday, avoiding the No. 12 ranked Golden Gophers due to league rules (the two will face each other October 1 and again November 4). Both matches will be broadcast live on BTN.
Before league play opens in late September, the Lions will take place in three other tournaments, literally traveling across the country to play the nation's best teams. On September 2nd and 3rd, the Lions will be in Pittsburgh for the University of Pittsburgh Tournament, facing Miami (OH), Pitt, and New Hampshire over two days. A week later, the team will head to Palo Alto to play in a much-hyped Nike Big Four Tournament featuring Stanford, Florida and Texas, a tournament where every team is a preseason Top 10 team. Finally, the Lions will return home to face LIU and Florida Gulf Coast in the Penn State Classic September 16 and 17.
A look at the team and the rest of the season after the jump.
When we last saw our ladies, they were taking home the 2010-2011 National Championship, besting Texas and California in the Final Four, each by a match score of 3-0. The win over the Golden Bears capped a 32-5 season, including tournament play. The year saw the end to the nation's longest team-based winning streak at 109 matches, an acceptable casualty in a championship run.
Gone from the team are front row faves like Ari Wilson, Blair Brown, and Fatima Balza, along with libero/defensive specialists Cathy Quilico and Alyssa D'Errico, not to mention defensive specialist Jessica Ullrich. Luckily, the Class of 2011 freshmen are eager to get on the court, and every one of them are top-notch recruits.
Left from last year, and primed to lead the team to another championship run, are some familiar faces, along with a star who returns from injury. Deja McClendon and Kristin Carpenter return to lock down the front court and setting spots, while Darcy Dorton returns after missing 2010 with an ACL injury. McClendon is the most promising, crushing 418 kills in 2010, good for second on the team, as a true freshman. However, keep a close eye on Carpenter. She should start the year as setter, but could slide into an L/DS role with hyped freshman setter Micha Hancock joining the team.
Overall, the losses of the seniors hurts, but the players returning know how to win, and should have no problem picking up where 2010 left off. Even more impressive, of the 17 players on the roster, only two are seniors, which means that the current run of domination is in good shape to continue for some time.
On Monday, Penn State officially released their 2011 Season Outlook. The primer is full of valuable information heading into the season. I could attempt to break it down, but the outstanding PSU volleyball site DigNittany.com has already done that. Long story short, this squad is teeming with talent, so much so that Penn State is in the envious position of figuring out where to plug in some great players.
With Nebraska entering the Big Ten in 2011, the conference schedule is immediately more difficult for the Lions. Opening at No. 5 in the AVCA Preseason Poll, the Huskers host Penn State on September 21 to open conference play. Four other Big Ten teams appear in the Preseason Poll - Illinois (8), Minnesota (12), Purdue (13), and Michigan (T-24).
Roughly thirty matches stand between Penn State and another NCAA Tournament, where six more matches stand in the way of a five-peat (and six overall) national championship. The first step is on Friday; if you're in Happy Valley then, get thee to Rec Hall and root the new team of champions to victory.