As the 2017 alumni match got started in Rec Hall this Saturday, members of the program from as early as the 1960s rushed in to greet teammates, coaches and droves of fellow Nittany Lions that continue to share the same love for volleyball that the program was founded on.
During the first-ever alumni weekend, players and alumni were invited back to the coach’s house for some chili, and “Black Water” by The Doobie Brothers began to play. Then, alumni challenged current players to a sing-off, in which alumni still brag about their wins and have continued to win every year even though the current players assure that the matter is up for debate.
The annual alumni weekend started in such a small, almost accidental, way but has evolved into such an integral part of the program. Current players and alumni said they look forward to it every year.
Alumni Scott Treser, Class of 1983, and Bob Palka, Class of 1984, said it’s about getting the chance to make new memories with some of their oldest friends, while forging new ones with the players that carry on their legacy.
“I couldn’t tell you one score of one match we played in,” Treser said. “All the bus trips and away trips and the camaraderie, that’s why we’re back here, not to play volleyball.”
When they think back to what they took away from the program, none of it came in the form of a set or a spike.
“Of the time we spent here, I think the least amount of what we learned was on the court and in the classroom,” Palka said. “It was what we learned by being a team together.”
Tor Covello, Class of 2012, was on the team when the Lions faced off with Stanford for the NCAA National Championship in 2012. Although Penn State lost, it was still one of his fondest memories due to the experience, competition and brotherhood that it fostered within an already close-knit group.
Covello wants to set this standard for future generations of athletes, as he hopes to someday coach and pave the way for new men’s volleyball programs in Pennsylvania.
Covello urged the current Lions to learn lessons whenever they could, even if it came from scrimmaging with their own team in practice.
“Their biggest competition is within their own gym,” Covello said. “Keep each other motivated, because you only have a limited time here. Push each other each day.”
For current players about to take on the alumni role like senior Matt Callaway, the weekend presents an opportunity to learn to take a step back and remember what playing volleyball is all about.
“A lot of the time when you get caught up in a Division 1 sport it becomes your job, but when you get to play with these guys it’s just like sandlot volleyball, just having fun,” Callaway said. “A bunch of guys just playing the game because they love it.”