To build an elite program, coach Russ Rose had to first establish a culture.
Furthermore, he wanted his players to live by the pillars upon which that culture was built. Four decades and hundreds of student athletes later, Penn State women’s volleyball has blossomed into one of the sport’s most consistent programs.
“It is what do you do everyday when you do not feel like getting up to go work out, getting your rest, watching your diet and doing the things you have to do to give yourself a chance to be successful,” Rose said. “It is what you do when no one is watching.”
With the team going into its first road matches of the season playing in the Cyclone Invitational, the unexpected is what is expected. Rose is aware of Iowa State and LSU’s history of playing programs similar to Penn State’s, and is preparing as much as one can.
“Anything can happen,” Rose said. “Our team is aware that we are going on the road. Both teams are accustomed to playing teams that are ranked nationally.”
Even with the talented roster and coming off a season which ended in a loss to Stanford in the NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament, Rose thinks his team’s No. 6 ranking may not reflect the current squad.
“I do not think our ranking is justified,” Rose said. “I am sure our ranking over the course of this season will be on our performance and not of our history.”
The Nittany Lions will now strive to make their own history while remembering the foundation of what the Penn State program has established in years past: the physical display of putting in hours to achieve greatness.
Rose takes this into consideration when recruiting to build a roster of women who will succeed in Penn State’s culture.
“Every coach wants to coach certain types of players. Each coach wants to have a certain culture in their gym all the time. I like players that are tough, value the opportunity to compete and represent the school,” Rose said.
When recruiting sophomore Serena Gray, Rose not only saw the talent Gray had yet saw the type of person she was beyond the court. Aside from the strong arm and physicality Gray brought in her freshman year, the person she is outside the gym holds just as much value as when she is training.
“Certainly off the court, one of Serena’s great attributes is she is an incredibly strong student. I think she is an independent thinker, and those things serve her really well,” Rose said.
After one season under Gray’s belt, one of the biggest lessons that she learned was the payoff of taking chances and increasing the difficulty of certain attacks. As the 2019 season begins to get underway, both Gray and setter Gabby Blossom carry with them the lessons and words they live by into each practice and match.
“That it is okay to fail knowing that you are getting better. You cannot expect to be good without taking risks,” Gray said.
When preparing each week for a new opponent, the team does not settle for anything less than what they know what they are capable of. Blossom mentions a mantra the team preaches throughout practice and matches.
“In the gym, it is definitely go hard,” Blossom said. “That is just a Penn State volleyball thing is just we go hard every single day, no matter what we are doing.”