Lions hoping to start strong

By Ryan Loy

The opposition’s thoughts of winning are crushed instantly.

That’s just what junior outside hitter Katie Kabbes wants to happen when opponents step onto the court with the No. 1 Penn State U. women’s volleyball team.

However, that feat may be tough to accomplish Friday, when the Nittany Lions (6-0) face their first true test of the season at No. 4 Florida (5-0) in the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic in Gainesville, Fla.

Additionally, the Lions will face either No. 2 Stanford or No. 5 Texas on Saturday, depending on Friday’s results.

Kabbes said it’s important to set the tone of the match early.

“We don’t want to give any team a glimpse of hope that they can seize the victory against us,” Kabbes said. “Every point matters, whether it’s the first or the last. But in the beginning, we have to make a point that this is our match.”

Though they have won the first set of each match they’ve played, the Lions haven’t played their sharpest volleyball at the beginning of matches.

In Penn State’s season opener against North Carolina, the Tar Heels took a 14-12 lead in the first set before the Lions pulled away to take the set, 25-19, and eventually sweep the match.

Coach Russ Rose expects the atmosphere Friday to be similar to what his team faced in Chapel Hill, N.C., where more than 4,000 fans packed the arena to cheer for UNC.

Rose said Florida has terrific talent and will be aided by the home crowd, which could “get a little bit crazy” because it’s a home football weekend as well.

Senior defensive specialist Cathy Quilico said it’s important to get off to a good start against any opponent, but it may be even more so on Friday.

“It’s very important to start off good to establish how the game is going to be, especially with the crowd that Florida is going to have,” Quilico said. “We have to start off playing well, as in right off the bat.”

Rose doesn’t believe the Lions have played great at the start of matches and said a good start against Florida would be helpful for his players’ psyche. The coach said by playing poorly, it allows good teams like the Gators to gain momentum and confidence.

This season Florida is accustomed to grabbing that momentum. The Gators have won the opening set in each of their matches while outscoring opponents, 125-86. Their quick starts have keyed the Gators’ perfect start — including an upset win on the road against then-No. 2 Nebraska.

Rose said this year’s Penn State team has to operate differently than last season’s — a squad that fought back from two sets down to defeat Texas in the national championship match.

With a youthful lineup, he said it will benefit the Lions to avoid a poor start.

“In the past, our concern might not have been to start well, but to finish well,” Rose said. “But this team would be in a better position if they started well.”

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