When watching Jonni Parker and Kaitlyn Hord play a game of volleyball as freshmen last season, ‘rookie’, is the last word that comes to mind.
The Third Team All-American Parker and honorable mention Hord will put their summer preparation for the 2019 season into action this Friday against Hofstra and Saturday against Holy Cross and Wichita State.
At a minimum, these two Nittany Lions grew stronger, contributed more and stepped into leadership positions immediately after the 2018 season even though the pair are only sophomores.
“These two individuals [Hord and Parker] that are here,” coach Russ Rose said. “I thought they worked really hard and we have high expectations for what their contributions to the team should be.”
At the end of the 2018 season, Parker was named a first team All-Big Ten player and was awarded Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The American Volleyball Classic Most Valuable Player led Penn State in points with 421.5 and total kills at 35, averaging 3.00 kills per set on .260 hitting.
“She plays really hard and I know she probably wants to set up a lot more than this roster allows her to do but she plays really hard and does all the things we need her to do and I think at the end to me, that's what the most important thing is,” Rose said.
Parker was part of a freshman class that was hailed as the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Her performance last season validated this as the Ohio native tallied 18 double-digit kill performances and recorded two double-doubles, against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
It’s largely because of Parker’s performances that the Nittany Lions were successful and Rose thinks that desire to win is one of her defining traits.
“She wants to win and I'm a big fan of that sort of behavior,” Rose said.
Hord has been just as impressive as her teammate and is more confident with her skills and ability entering this season and is excited to see what her future at Penn State has to offer.
“We are pretty confident and ready to see how we will stack up against other teams. We have been playing against each other all through the summer and have got used to how everyone is doing,” Hord said. “So now it is time to see some new competition.”
The middle blocker finished the Nittany Lions’ 3-0 straight-sets victory over No. 18 Oregon with last season with 16 kills, hitting .556 for the match, as well as adding seven blocks.
Hord’s physical play and impressive statistical performances weren’t surprising, though.
"Kaitlyn is a really, really talented athlete from a really strong gene pool,” Rose said. “I think in Kaitlyn's case, the stronger she gets, the greater her contributions will be at the level we're playing at.”
As some of the youngest players on last year’s squad, Parker and Hord had to learn quickly but there wasn’t one especially teachable moment.
“I wouldn’t say there was a specific moment,” Parker said. “I would say there was definitely key points throughout the season that we took it and learned from it and we put it forth to future games.”