For many high school athletes, attending college means the end of their sporting career. However, the women’s club volleyball team provides an opportunity for committed volleyball players to continue their athletic career on a high level, purely for the love of the sport.
Ranked No. 9 in the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation, Penn State’s team will travel to Michigan for its third tournament of the year Saturday.
Placing first in its previous two tournaments in the fall, the team has high expectations for the weekend, but will remain cautious going into a tournament. The club will match up against many teams it will later face at nationals.
Coach Lydia Hayes (graduate – sociology) does not like going into any tournament with high expectations, treating every match as an individual competition.
“We are a really good team, and I honestly think that we can win every match that we are in, and I want us to go into it with that attitude, but every match is its own thing,” she said. “I know that everyone is working so hard, so I expect them to play their best, and I think that can put us at the top of any tournament.”
The 15-player roster is made up of athletes with two to three years of high school varsity experience and at least four years of club volleyball experience, club vice-president Megan McFadden (senior – kinesiology).
McFadden, a four-year veteran on the team, said that each year the team gets more depth and experience from younger players due to a gradual change in volleyball culture and talent at the university.
“We have a strong freshman class that has really helped us. In the past we have had strong teams that have always been ranked at the beginning of the season really well, but towards the end we would lose girls and we don’t play as well,” club president Rhiannon Fiala (junior – civil engineering) said. “But I know that we could have any girl come off the bench and play well this season, and I think that has really helped.”
Hayes attributed the team’s success to hard work and unity among the players.
“This is the most positive environment I’ve ever been in with volleyball,” Hayes said. “They are not competitive with each other at all, and they really play for one another.
“I have worked with so many teams in my life, and this is by far the most cohesive team, and everyone seems to get along. We work so hard together, and I love it. Everyone seems to play for everyone else. The whole team has high skills but also, wants to work hard with everyone else.”
Senior captain Rachael Ruscitto (senior – biobehavioral health) agrees with Hayes in that cohesion is a huge asset to the team.
“We have so much talent individually, and when we get that team chemistry together, and we have a lot of fun and we hustle really hard, I think that is when no one can stop us. We have a lot of fun and we show it,” Ruscitto said.
“As a captain my role is to be there and to be a leader on the court, so I really try to create that playing atmosphere to have fun... I try to manage the chemistry as much as I can.”
The team will use that chemistry and past tournament success this weekend as they travel to Dallas, Texas, on April 4-6 for the 2013 NCVF National Tournament.