UNIVERSITY PARK - Defending national champion Penn State is four wins away from extending its record NCAA women's volleyball title run to five.
It's a familiar script in Happy Valley every December, but this year's team features a less-experienced cast.
No. 8 seed Penn State (25-7) is much younger than its past four championship teams. Thirteen of the 17 players are freshmen or sophomores and there are no seniors in the starting lineup.
The young group will be tested this evening in an NCAA regional semifinal against ninth-seeded UCLA (26-6) at Kentucky's Memorial Coliseum.
Penn State previously relied on a formula where one or two senior leaders carried the load.
But this year freshman setter Micha Hancock has been quarterbacking the offense. Sophomores Ariel Scott and Katie Slay have stepped into leading roles.
"There were some years I thought we had the best player on the court," coach Russ Rose said. "And now that's not the case in a lot of matches and we have to focus on being the best team we can be."
Penn State cruised through the first two rounds of the tournament, sweeping Liberty and Delaware at home. But Rose hopes his team - especially the freshmen - can keep an even attitude.
"If it gave them any confidence, it's false confidence," Rose said. "The regionals are a whole different set of challenges than hosting a first round."
Scott said the team didn't have go-to players on the level of recent seasons, like standouts Blair Brown, Megan Hodge or Nicole Fawcett.
"So we have to spread the leadership around, especially the sophomores because we're considered upperclassmen now."
Said Hancock: "We're all in this together. We have to work as a team more than ever because we're so young."
Penn State's four-year reign has been called a dynasty. The Nittany Lions, along the way, strung together an NCAA record 109-match winning streak, which was snapped last season.
Even with such tradition, Rose said he has no expectations for his team this year.
Other than to compete.
"You play with who you got," Rose said. "If we lose to older kids I hope our kids understand what it takes to be successful when you become an older kid."