When touching down in Illinois on Friday, the scene will be all too familiar for legendary Penn State women’s volleyball head coach Russ Rose.
Rose, now in his 34h season leading the Nittany Lions, graduated from William Fremd High School in Chicago while growing up on the north side of the city.
As part of the 2012 Chicago Classic college volleyball tournament this weekend, he and the No. 2 Lions (5-0) will be playing against DePaul University (3-3) and Oregon State (4-2) on Saturday, then the University of Illinois at Chicago (3-4) on Sunday.
This trip to the Prairie State, Rose said, will be one of several on the calendar in the upcoming year.
“Chicago’s a great recruiting area. I probably go there three or four times during the recruiting season, then once for [the] Big Ten coaches meeting,” said Rose, who plans on enjoying a meal at hometown favorite Portillo’s Hot Dogs and also visiting family and friends this weekend
The last time Rose led his Lions to the Chicago Classic was 2008. That year, Penn State did not lose a match the entire regular season before winning the national championship.
DePaul, a mainstay private institution in Chicago, may present the Lions’ most difficult challenge this weekend.
While the Blue Demons have a superstar of their own in Vesela Zapryanova, the appeal of the program may stem from its head coach and Penn State class of 2001 graduate, Nadia Edwards.
Also opposing Rose from the sidelines will be U.I.C. head coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley, a 2002 Penn State graduate.
“I have great relationships with a number of my former players, and those two would be two that I especially am very proud of — both how they were as college students and how they’ve transitioned to their professional careers,” Rose said.
Both players redshirted the 1997 season, when Penn State lost the national championships to Stanford.
“Both of them had great attitudes,” Rose said. “If I had it to do over again [in 1997], maybe those [girls] should’ve been on the floor. The other side is that I had the chance to have them in my life for an extra year.”
While eyeing another possible national championship in 2012, Rose’s squad is going to have to make a major adjustment this weekend.
The Lions must manage transitioning from playing in front of about 5,000 fans barking their support for the Nittany Lions to a high school gymnasium likely to cheer on the two Chicago schools.
“I definitely think it’s a big advantage to play in front of your home crowd, but at the same time, you need to have energy inside yourselves,” said Ariel Scott, whose 4.24 kills per set leads Penn State.
The Lions will also have to adjust from playing fellow top-10 teams to opponents who may be looked at as inferior.
Penn State does tower above the other three teams when it comes to team statistics, but Rose has confidence in his players to not take any match for granted.
“People that play understand the importance of it’s how you play, not who you play,” Rose said. “I don’t look at it as these teams aren’t ranked. I look at it as they’re teams. They’re teams of players with good coaches.”