The 2017 Penn State Altoona women’s volleyball team is hungry for redemption. Last year’s squad had plenty to be proud of, including posting an 8-1 record in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference and winning 13 of its final 19 matches. But a 3-0 loss to Pitt-Bradford in AMCC championship match left a sour taste in the mouth of head coach Phil Peterman, and he knows that his team is eager for another shot at winning a conference title.
“After losing in the conference championship this past season, I feel as if we have some unfinished business to take care of,” said Peterman, who is entering his 10th year as the head women’s volleyball coach at Penn State Altoona. “The majority of my team is back, and they have at least one year of college volleyball under their belts. I think they’re hungry for any chance in the playoffs.”
The Lady Lions return a total of nine players from last season’s roster, including two All-Conference selections who will be key weapons for the team’s offense. Junior outside hitter Kelsey Bristol (Troy, PA/Troy) was a first team All-AMCC pick last fall after ranking third in the league in kills (305), kills per set (3.05), points (354.0), and points per set (3.5). Sophomore middle hitter/blocker Josie Stovall (Palmyra, PA/Palmyra) was a third team All-AMCC selection, and she finished second on the Lady Lions in kills (185), kills per set (1.85), hitting percentage (.187), and total blocks (48).
Sophomore outside hitter Lauren Diller (Chambersburg, PA/Chambersburg) also returns from last season’s squad to provide solid offense. Diller was fourth on her team in kills (152) and kills per set (1.59) while ranking ninth in the AMCC in solo blocks (16). Returning sophomore middle hitter/right side Casey Lee (Ebensburg, PA/Penn Cambria) will also look to expand her role in the team’s attack this year after posting 19 total blocks last season.
“The team has a lot of weapons, and we want to figure out how to work them all into the lineup. Kelsey and Lauren are two heavy hitters at the outside position,” said Peterman. “Josie is running very fast in the middle and becoming quite a threat. Casey is stepping up her game and becoming an offensive and defensive threat, putting up big blocks in the middle.”
Sophomore setter Emily Bryan (Waynesboro, PA/Waynesboro) is back to help power the Lady Lions’ attack. As the team’s starting setter last year, she ranked fourth in the AMCC in assists (757) and assists per set (7.65) while adding 205 digs for an average of 2.07 digs per set. Sophomore Gracie Roberts (Apex, NC/Apex) will add depth at the setter position, and she will also contribute defensively and as a server.
At libero, Penn State Altoona will look to fill the void left by Emily Baker, who graduated last spring after a standout four-year career as the Lady Lions’ defensive anchor. Peterman points to two returners – junior Nicole Kiser (Altoona, PA/Bishop Guilfoyle) and sophomore Olivia Meyer (Centre Hall, PA/Penns Valley) – and freshman Geordan Hay (Berlin, PA/Berlin Brothersvalley) as being three candidates to step into the libero role on a regular basis.
“Nicole, Olivia, and Geordan all stand out in my mind as potential starters,” Peterman explained. “Each one of them brings something different to the table to help the team. They will all get their chances to rise to the top and earn the starting position.”
Peterman expects several other first-year players to contribute in various facets for his team this fall: outside hitter/defensive specialist Erin Kalke (Wrightsville, PA/Eastern York), setter Lauren Moran (Johnstown, PA/Westmont Hilltop), opposite hitter Velanna Skripek (Moshannon, PA/Bald Eagle), and middle hitter/right side Tara Ryan (Waldwick, NJ/Waldwick).
“Erin is very good defensively, and Lauren is a phenomenal athlete who can hit, play awesome defense, and do an outstanding job setting,” said Peterman. “Velanna has a powerful swing and is very smart offensively, and Tara provides some height at the net and a lefty swing.”
With a good mix of experience and talent, Peterman expects his team to hit its stride by midseason and prepare for another AMCC postseason run. He knows that will require focus and preparation from every player on his roster.
“The team needs to continue to work together, and all players need to be ready to play any position,” Peterman said. “This has been the most depth I’ve ever had on a team at Penn State Altoona. They need to stay in the mindset of eliminating errors, siding out immediately, and earning transition kills.”
Penn State Altoona women’s volleyball starts its season on Friday, September 1 and Saturday, September 2 in the Gettysburg College Battlefield Classic, during which the team will face four different non-conference opponents. The Lady Lions’ first home match of the season is slated for Tuesday, September 5 at 7:00 p.m., when Penn State Altoona will face non-conference opponent Shenandoah University. That match will mark the first varsity athletics event in the newly-constructed Adler Arena, which was part of the multi-million dollar expansion and renovation project of the campus’ Adler Athletic Complex.
Penn State Altoona’s AMCC schedule starts on Saturday, September 23 in Buffalo, N.Y., when the Lady Lions will face defending conference champion Pitt-Bradford, as well as D’Youville College.