Volleyball kicks their season off tomorrow in the second weekend of the UB Athletics year, a little behind Women's Soccer but before just about everyone else. They'll play three matches over two days at the Penn State Classic. Here's a preview of the three teams on the docket
Penn State (36-3 (18-2 Big Ten) (2014))
Friday, 28 August, 7:00 PM
State College, PA
All-time series: Penn State leads 3-0
Last Meeting: Penn State 3-0, 4 Sept 2009
2015 Common Opponents: Villanova, Stony Brook
Streams: Video: Big Ten Network 2 Go ($); Audio: Available at GoPSUSports.com
Live Stats: Penn State's Gametracker
Penn State Player to Watch: Everyone
Just enjoy the show.
I'm not sure that there's going to be much to learn from this one, other than maybe a feel for the pecking order in Blair Lipsitz's new program. There's not too much point in picking apart minutia and offering a gameplan. Penn State last year not only won its seventh national title, but in doing so dropped only two sets over the final two months of the season, both in the NCAA Tournament. The two teams shared a common 2014 opponent in Illinois-Chicago; the Nittany Lions defeated the Flames 25-18, 25-13, 25-16, while UB won 25-22, 25-17, 25-27, 25-12.
Villanova (13-20 (6-12 Big East) (2014))
Saturday, 29 August; 10:00 AM
State College, PA
All-time series: Villanova, 1-0
Last Meeting: Villanova, 3-1, 10 Sept 1999
2015 Common Opponents: Stony Brook, Penn State
Streams: I don't believe any will be available of the non-Penn State games this weekend. If I learn differently, I'll update this space.
Live Stats: These, we do have.
Villanova Player to Watch: Senior OH Lauren Carpenter
The Wildcats return 11 players from last year's team and boast seven seniors on an experienced roster, but Carpenter, who has led the group in kills each of the last three years, and was the lone Wildcat named Preseason All-BIG EAST in the conference's preseason poll earlier this month. She was not terribly efficient, hitting just .189, but seems to be Villanova's clear attacking option.
Had UB returned everyone you'd expect from 2014, I'd think this a winnable match for the Bulls against a team picked to finish seventh in the Big East. But UB will likely be looking early in the season to replace the offensive contributions of Tahleia Bishop, Skyler Day, and Sable Staller, and Villanova is an experienced and senior-heavy squad. The only common opponent from last season was Lehigh, against whom UB struggled in the season opener before finding a groove through September, while Villanova was able to face a few weekends later.
There's a lot more to learn from this game than the season opener, as Buffalo will get more of a chance to dictate their style of play and strategies. To what extent they do so will show where they are as the season begins. We'll pay special attention to the pecking order among the outside hitters as well as how Coach Lipsitz appears to work through the glut of talent among blockers and right side types.
Stony Brook (17-15 (7-5 America East) (2014))
Saturday, 29 August; 5:00 PM
State College, PA
All-time Series: Stony Brook leads, 5-4
Last Meeting: Stony Brook 3-0, 25 Aug 2007
2015 Common Opponents: Villanova, Penn State, New Hampshire
Stream: Same as above, none that I know of for the non-PSU matches
Live Stats: Once again, we will have those.
Seawolves Player to Watch: Senior MB Stephanie McFadden
McFadden isn't the leading returning attacker or blocker for the Seawolves, but is the tallest player on the roster at 6'2" and led the group in hitting percentage (.292) last year. Part of a group of four seniors on the 2015 team, she saw the court more than anyone else for Stony Brook in 2014, playing in all but a single set on the season.
Stony Brook was picked third (after New Hampshire and Albany) in the preseason America East poll, but for comparison's sake, Albany nearly won the America East last season and was swept by the Bulls late in the season. There are plenty of extenuating factors for a match scheduled after each team's respective conference tournaments, but it's a sliver of comparison.
Given both the quality of the teams in the weekend tournament and Stony Brook's schedule, which gives them just a short rest between Penn State and Buffalo, the final match of the tournament is the most winnable for UB.