As a new semester begins, so does a fresh volleyball season. After Penn State fell short against No. 1 Stanford in the quarterfinals of last year’s NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship, this season is about growth.
“Fifteen of the 20 players are freshmen and sophomores. So I would say it is a really young group,” coach Russ Rose said of this season’s roster. “It has been interesting, challenging and invigorating. I look forward to seeing certain things.”
Amid the excitement of the first serve being less than 48 hours away, Penn State’s six new freshmen are prepared for any opponent to walk through Rec Hall. Sophomores Kaitlyn Hord and Jonni Parker are ready to see how their skills stack up against everyone else.
“I know we are very excited just to step back on the court and do something that we all love,” Hord said. “We are pretty confident, and are really excited to see how we are going to stack up against other teams. We want to see some new competition, and we are really ready.”
The Nittany Lions enter this year as the country’s No. 8 team — the same spot in which they finished last season. With multiple key players who contributed to the team’s success this past season returning to the court, the offseason and preseason has been nothing but nonstop work.
“Kendall White has spent some time this past summer with USA Volleyball. Our setter Gabby Blossom will be in a full-time role that she did not have last year,” Rose said.
Hofstra will be the first away team to travel to Penn State in 2019 and finished last season at of 25-8, albeit in a significantly less competitive conference that the Big Ten. The team from Hempstead, New York, faced Nebraska in the first round of last year’s NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship and fell short in a quick three-set match.
The Nittany Lions will have their season opener on Friday night and will continue their preparation with two matches against Holy Cross and Wichita State on Saturday. Neither team has an extensive history playing teams from the Big Ten.
However, although all three teams did not make as far of a run as Penn State made in the NCAA Championship the previous year, this year’s team is focusing on the fight each player brings to the court. Every new season means new faces, strengths and an unreliable foundation of what to expect from opponents.
“It is not always a matter of skill. Sometimes it is a matter of will. There are some teams that we have had that have been the most skillful teams, and this team may have to compete with some more will than skill,” Rose said.
With a long road ahead, the team progressively will continue to grow stronger — mentally and physically — to take each match and opponent with a level of integrity and heart Rose admires about his players. Yet, the goal for what the team strives to achieve remains constant despite the relative youth and inexperience.
“A national championship,” Parker said.