Having players appear on trading cards can be added to Penn State’s laundry list of accomplishments.
Former Nittany Lions Nia Grant and Deja McClendon are now featured in Topps’ latest card series, which features volleyball players from Athletes Unlimited, a newly formed professional women’s indoor volleyball league.
McClendon graduated from Penn State in 2013 and Grant in 2014 after each had successful four-year runs under Russ Rose.
Now, the duo has joined forces again as they once did as teammates for this groundbreaking league.
“Athletes Unlimited is so unique because they treat us as just that,” Grant said. “They were so accepting of us as individuals on and off the court — and it was incredible.”
More than 40 members comprise the league, which features teams that adjust their rosters for every match. As a result of the constant shifting, Grant and McClendon were paired together like they once were in University Park.
On a personal level, Grant was appreciative of the opportunity that was, in many ways, nostalgic.
“Playing with [McClendon] was amazing,” Grant said. “I missed her so much, and she is one of my best friends. I will always be so grateful to be able to play with her again. She’s such an amazing teammate and spirit.”
Before playing professionally, both McClendon and Grant left their marks and then some in Happy Valley.
As a freshman, McClendon was part of a national championship-winning team, while being the only first-year player to earn a spot on the AVCA All-America team. She was also the second freshman ever named the MVP of the NCAA Tournament.
During her Penn State career, McClendon recorded more than 1,500 kills. And yet, McClendon is hardly the only former Nittany Lion to have a documented track record of success under her belt to be recognized by Topps.
During Grant’s junior year, she earned her mettle, making the AVCA All-Northeast Region team, as well as being an AVCA All-America honorable mention.
The following season — her last in a blue-and-white uniform — Grant had a .458 hitting percentage that was second-best in the nation and in the Big Ten. She added another notch to her belt with her second national championship title.
While each acclaimed player is grateful to play alongside and against one another again, these former Nittany Lions have also been presented a unique opportunity by Athletes Unlimited: appearing on Topps trading cards.
The memorabilia company has a partnership with the league and elected to produce a limited number of cards featuring players from Athletes Unlimited.
McClendon said she and many of her teammates were honored to be recognized in this manner.
“I think that for most of us, we never imagined being on a card, specifically a Topps card,” McClendon said. “Being on a Topps card is so high level and being the only professional volleyball team in the states — it makes us feel legit.”
Upon learning of this Topps development, Grant had a similar reaction to McClendon’s.
“I thought that it was such a cool concept, because I never thought that I’d be on a trading card,” Grant said.
Prior to appearing on a Topps card, McClendon was featured on a Sports Illustrated card. She said her fans have been excited about adding another piece of McClendon memorabilia to their collections.
“I had a fan reach out to me, because they got my Sports Illustrated card and wanted to send it to me for me to sign,” McClendon said. “When they found out about the Topps card, they asked if they could send me that one too so they could have both of them signed.”
For McClendon, she considers her prominent Topps display to be her greatest accomplishment and potentially an impactful one outside of competition.
“We have trophies, medals and MVPs,” McClendon said. “All of those things are awesome, but being a part of a league that will hopefully be around for a long time, that gives girls the idea that they can play in the states.”
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