Setter Taylor Hammond is a redshirt freshman, and not many redshirt freshman expect to have leadership roles.
However, the California native has already taken someone under his wing — fellow setter and true freshman Zack Parik.
Parik is the only freshman who has seen playing time this season. Even though Parik and Hammond both have the same eligibility, Parik looks up to Hammond for guidance.
“We will watch video together a lot,” said Parik, who is 6-foot-4.. “We can learn from each other’s mistakes… so I know what I need to do in case I ever need to step in for him.”
Parik has been action in 27 sets this season — more than six elder teammates have seen all year.
While Parik doesn’t have the statistics to show it, the Illinois native has been pushing his mentor, Hammond, in practices. Coach Mark Pavlik feels that this is a strong point for the Nittany Lions.
“Everybody looks at the starting setter, but really the success of this program, historically, has been on the strength of the guy that’s running the team opposite the starting setter,” Pavlik said. “If he can make that side of the net go, challenge the starting setter, we’ve got good things happening.”
Parik is following the footsteps of the EIVA’s assist leader. Hammond has 496 assists this season, 112 more than St. Francis’ Michael Krepp.
“Zack being here has made me a lot better, because it makes me be at my best everyday,” Hammond said. “It’s really cool that he looks up to me, and I would never think he looks up to me, because I’m really not that much older than him.”
The relationship between Parik and Hammond has also helped the freshman understand the importance of distributing the ball evenly and consistently through Penn State’s offense.
“We know we both have the same goal,” Parik said of the bond with Hammond. “We need to get the hitters the ball when they need it, and we both need to be on the same tempo in terms of speed of our offense. Like we always just need to make sure we are on the same page.”
Hammond added that he feels the same way.
“I think it’s our job for both of us to be at our best every day,” Hammond said. “It’s a lot of pressure. I think it’s a common bond. It’s the same pressure on the both of us.”
Along with being the only freshman to travel, Parik has also stepped into serving situations. Parik admits it’s scary when he is called on for set point.
However, Pavlik isn’t concerned for the future of the freshman because of the mentor he has.
“Zack is a competitive guy,” Pavlik said. “He’s from a good club program. He’s used to winning. Volleyball is important to him. I think between him and Taylor, for the next two or three years, our setting position is in very capable hands.”