It’s a question that gets posed to Penn State women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose every few years: “Who is going to be your starting setter?”
Typically, Division I’s winningest coach dances around the answer like it’s ballet.
Rose was no different this week, as the No. 9 Nittany Lions approach their season opener against West Virginia at 7 p.m. Friday at Rec Hall. Even if it’s the second straight season with a mystery at the position, Rose was noncommittal.
“It changes every day,” said Rose at Penn State’s annual fall sports media day Tuesday as he prepares for his 38th season leading the program. “If it changes every day, I guess that’s not so good.”
It changes every day. If it changes every day, I guess that’s not so good.
Russ Rose, on who will be his starting setter for his team’s season opener Friday.
Just like across campus when football coach James Franklin was dogged with questions about his starting quarterback for months, Rose faces the same inquiry about the quarterback to his offense.
Bryanna Weiskircher started nearly all of last season and figures to be the one to beat, while Wilma Rivera also saw a little time on the court. New to the team this year is junior Abby Detering, a transfer from Florida.
At a practice earlier this week, all three were rotating through and working with the starting hitters.
“We’re trying to be as strong as we can be in that position, as is every other team,” Rose said. “I think each of the three individuals — Wilma, Bryanna and Abby — all have different strengths that they bring to the table.”
When pressed to name a starter for Friday’s match, Rose left the door wide open.
“Somebody will be setting, and if they do a nice job they’ll stay out there,” Rose said. “If they mess up a bit, we’ll give somebody else an opportunity.”
He later looked at a few of his players and asked if they had a preference.
“I think all of our setters are great,” junior middle hitter Haleigh Washington said. “Abby’s got great fire, Bry’s got great hands, I think Wilma’s got great speed. We’ve got a lot of setters.”
“What we need to do is blend it,” Rose chimed in.
The big question mark on the depth chart is nothing new for Rose and the Nittany Lions.
In 2011, fresh off leading the team to the 2010 NCAA title, Kristin Carpenter battled for the job with Micha Hancock. The year before, Carpenter won the job over Marika Racibarskas and Mikinzie Moydell. In 2006 and 2007, Alisha Glass and Jessica Yanz were neck-and-neck.
It’s a typical story.
“You’re always looking for a good setter,” Rose said. “You’re looking for somebody to help you win.”
Whoever gets the keys to the offense, there will be plenty of quality choices with returning All-Americans Washington in the middle and Ali Frantti on the outside. Simone Lee also returns on the left side with Nia Reed, Heidi Thelen is back in the middle and Jelena Novakovic is a redshirt freshman opposite.
In addition to the four setters — redshirt freshman Caroline Graham, of Haiti, also plays the position — the huge roster of 22 also includes nine defensive specialists. Keeton Holcomb is the incumbent libero, but freshman Kendall White brings a strong resume to the floor.
It may be a season of ups and downs for the Nittany Lions, who fell in the NCAA regional semifinals last season, as they settle their lineup. A few tough tests follow the match with the Mountaineers, with No. 19 North Carolina — and State College graduate and preseason All-ACC pick Taylor Leath as an outside hitter — at 7 p.m. Saturday, and No. 11 Stanford on tap next weekend.
No matter who is on the court, however, hopes to raise another championship banner in Rec Hall remain.
“Expectations are always high,” Rose said. “I want the players to embrace those, but this is a team that is going to have to earn their rankings.”