Penn State has won four consecutive national titles, but that doesn’t mean the Nittany Lions couldn’t use another championship-caliber player on their roster. Outside hitter Aiyana Whitney from Old Tappan, N.J., fits the bill for a Lions squad looking to continue a tradition of excellence. The 6’5” Whitney will join a lineup that already has a number of hitters standing well above 6’, creating even more competition for a team that is already one of the most competitive in the nation.
Whitney’s numbers at the high school level are already comparable with those on the current Penn State roster. She notched 381 kills during her senior season and averaged 7.3 kills per set while leading her Golden Knights squad to the Group 4 New Jersey state championship. Behind Whitney’s big swing, Old Tappan lost just four sets all season en route to a 28-1 record.
While Whitney’s kill tallies would be enough to garner attention from almost any college program, the senior took it upon herself this season to become a more complete player. The stat sheet reflected that as Whitney notched 46 services aces, 18 total blocks and 121 digs.
Penn State lost one of its best hitters to graduation this season in Blair Brown. Whitney could be a viable option to help fill the void left by Brown.
In its 2010 recruiting class, Penn State netted Katie Slay who proved to be a force in the middle for the Lions. Slay notched the championship point for the Lions’ fourth consecutive national title back in December. The Lions may very well have found another future star in the middle in Nia Grant.
Grant, a 6’4” outside/middle hitter from Howland, Ohio, could fit in at either the outside or the middle for the Lions. She will face some stiff competition from the current players on the roster, but if Grant’s high school numbers are any indication, she will be up to the challenge.
Although hampered by a foot injury, Grant still notched 187 kills last season for Howland. She finished her four-year career at Howland with 1,091 kills and was named 2009 Player of the Year for her district. In limited action, she also posted 12 aces, 42 blocks and 88 digs.
Playing for Penn State will be a homecoming of sorts for Grant, who played her club volleyball in Pittsburgh. Grant routinely made the 90-minute drive from Howland to Pittsburgh to play club ball. That sort of dedication to the game is sure to put Grant right in the thick of things for the Lions come this fall.
At 5’5”, Dominique Gonzalez is a rather unassuming presence on the volleyball court. But the libero from Sandra Day O’Connor high school in San Antonio, Texas, is anything but unassuming.
Gonzalez will leave Texas for central Pennsylvania this fall and join four-time defending national champion Penn State. Although Gonzalez will be one of the smallest players on Penn State’s roster, she could play one of the biggest roles. With the Nittany Lions losing its starting libero from the past two seasons in Alyssa D’Errico, the team will be looking to fill a major void on and off the floor.
She will certainly have tough competition from last year’s setter Kristin Carpenter, who could make the move to libero, and a slew of 2010 recruits all vying for the spot. Gonzalez finished the 2010 season with 604 digs, 517 assists and 81 aces and is no stranger to the championship atmosphere she is sure to encounter in Happy Valley. Her O’Connor Panthers have won six consecutive district titles. The Panthers won the 2010 district title match behind 49 assists, nine digs, four aces and two kills from Gonzalez.
Gonzalez will hope to continue her championship-caliber play and help the Lions to yet another national title.
Originally published in March/April 2011