Forced to practice in Rec Hall after IM basketball ended or in the armory between two cannons, the club volleyball team struggled to gain respect from the athletic administration in its early years.
Forty years and 825 wins later, Penn State has established itself as one of the top volleyball programs in the country.
According to former players who returned for the annual Alumni match last weekend, Tom Tait is the reason for the program's development.
"The most important thing that Coach Tait did was he legitimized the program," 1973 graduate Jeff Keller said. "The first full time faculty coach gave legitimacy to the whole thing even before there was varsity status."
The club's early success practically forced it to find a coach. In 1972, only its second year of existence, the team won the Eastern Collegiate Championship over Springfield College, a varsity program at the time. Had Penn State been a varsity program, it would have moved on to the NCAA final four.
In the 1973 preseason meeting, the Eastern League insisted the team find a coach and begin working toward varsity status.
"Of course we're going, 'Why? We won the tournament. We don't need a coach. We don't wanna be varsity,' " 1973 graduate George Guch said. "But they said, 'This is the way it's gonna be.' And we were going, 'Who are we gonna get to coach?' "
The club approached Tait, who was a track and field coach at the time.
"My response was, 'If you want a babysitter, I'm not the guy. But if you want to get good, I'll work with you,' " Tait said.
With Tait on board, the club team had taken its biggest step in becoming a serious program.
Tait didn't have a volleyball background, so he spent the next summer going to coaches and players clinics on the volleyball-rich West Coast.
At the time, California had a reputation of having the best volleyball players and programs in the country, but Tait could imagine Penn State eventually being on the same level.
"Did we ever envision what's happened? I can tell you right now that the answer is yes," Tait said. "We were doing things better than they were doing out there."
Despite Tait's confidence, he said his players "choked" against the California teams, simply because they were California teams.
Penn State has had recent success against the West Coast teams, particularly during last year's national championship run. Current Nittany Lion coach Mark Pavlik attributes the progress to Tait and his methods.
"He looked at things and said, 'Why? Let's do it this way.' Not only did it make our program better, but also his effect on eastern volleyball is profound both on the men's and women's side," Pavlik said.
Tait, who also established the Penn State women's volleyball program, struggled to convince the athletic department of volleyball's importance as a varsity sport. Men's volleyball eventually earned varsity status in 1977.
But a few years later, Tait found a letter in his mailbox stating that scholarships would no longer be available for men's volleyball, putting the team back to club status and ruining the program.
"I sat down with my wife that evening and we made the decision that we weren't going to let this happen," Tait said.
He and the team organized a Blue-White scrimmage for the next weekend to garner support from the community. Tait convinced the basketball coaches to be out of Rec Hall in time to set up for the scrimmage. University police also agreed not to prevent the team from entering the gym, no matter what the athletic director instructed.
The team distributed programs containing information about Penn State volleyball and sent announcements to the local radio and television stations. Hundreds of people attended the event, essentially saving the program.
"Instead of losing all our scholarships, we actually ended up having an increase in scholarship money," Tait said. "The program was then on pretty solid ground."
Pavlik said Tait's struggles paved the way for the current smooth interaction with the athletic administration. Tait made sure the administration knew how good the program could become and what it needed to do to perform at an elite level, according to Pavlik.
"I don't know if [the program] survives without the sheer force of his personality throughout the 70's and 80's," Pavlik said. "He's the reason why we're all here."