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Former Penn State women's volleyball standouts and Olympic gold medalists among fans back at Rec Hall

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Women's Volleyball, Missouri, Haleigh Washington

Penn State's Haleigh Washington (15) spikes the ball during the game against Missouri in the NCAA regional round at Rec Hall on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017.

Along with several thousand passionate fans, a couple of familiar faces were in attendance at Penn State’s home opener.

Nittany Lion alums, and Olympic gold medalists, Micha Hancock and Haleigh Washington were recognized after the second set of Penn State’s victory over Iowa State Friday night at Rec Hall.

Hancock and Washington made history in Tokyo in August as members of the first United States national women’s volleyball team to win gold at the Olympics.

A Rec Hall crowd of over 4,000 rose to its feet when the duo was introduced, one of many times the fans made themselves a factor during the match.

Senior right-side hitter Jonni Parker delivered praise to the Nittany Lion faithful for their energy throughout Penn State’s three-set win.

“Being in Rec Hall is an unbelievable experience,” Parker said. “It’s nice to be in front of these guys again, playing for them.”

Russ Rose echoed that sentiment, as his squad played its first home match in front of fans since 2019.

“I thought it was a great first match at home,” Russ Rose said. “The energy of the band and the student section was outstanding.”

Ahead of their standing ovation between sets, Hancock and Washington stopped by the Penn State locker room to share wisdom gained from experience at the game’s highest level.

The duo delivered pre-match words of encouragement to the Nittany Lions — a message that resonated with senior setter Gabby Blossom.

“Their message is ‘you play hard every day. You go hard every day,’,” Blossom said. “That’s just what Penn State volleyball is.”

Hancock and Washington both embodied that relentless mentality during their time in State College, with six AVCA All-American first-team selections and three national championships between them.

Blossom was grateful that Penn State can count such accomplished players among its alumni.

“We’re lucky that they’re alums here, and they can come back and talk to us and share the knowledge they’ve learned over their careers,” Blossom said. “[The fact] that they won gold is just the coolest thing in the world.”

MORE VOLLEYBALL COVERAGE

Rose has seen his fair share of talent in his four-plus decades in Happy Valley — the two Olympians among them.

“It was great for the people here tonight to have a chance to see Haleigh and Micha,” Rose said. “They mean so much to the program.”

Hancock and Washington’s appearance elicited enormous applause from Nittany Lion fans, but Blossom noted that the crowd’s reaction was equaled by that of the players.

“I think we were fangirling almost as much as the crowd,” Blossom said.

The impact the duo made on the Penn State program is still felt on the current roster, as Blossom said the two gold medalists’ days in the blue and white were a big part of her decision to don the colors herself.

“Those are players I grew up watching, and [they’re] part of the reason we wanted to come to Penn State,” she said.

Along with fans’ return to Rec Hall, the recognition of Hancock and Washington made Penn State’s home opener one to remember and one Blossom won’t forget anytime soon.

“Having them here is incredible,” she said. “[I’m] still at a loss of words.”

MORE VOLLEYBALL COVERAGE

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