Entering his 39th season in State College, Russ Rose has led Penn State an astonishing 36 straight NCAA tournament appearances.
The No. 6 Nittany Lions return six experienced seniors who have logged extensive playing time and welcome four newcomers to the roster.
Junior right side Kathryn Cather transferred from Ole Miss, while senior defensive specialist Jennifer Halterman played so well at Penn State Mont Alto last year she earned a spot on the varsity team. Rose signed just two freshmen this cycle, but both could see significant action. Katy, Texas, right side Cami May enrolled last spring and outside hitter Michaela Putnicki was named Colorado Gatorade State Player of the Year before arriving this summer.
Rose and senior leaders Haleigh Washington and Ali Frantti broke down the team’s expectations for the coming season, which gets underway Friday on the road at 4:30 p.m. versus Tennessee-Martin at the West Virginia Tournament.
— PennStateVolleyball (@PennStateVBALL) August 24, 2017
Rose discussed the recruitment of May and Putnicki at fall sports media day at the Bryce Jordan Center Wednesday.
“We had Cami in camp for a number of years, so we had a little better handle on her. She has a great frame for the game and I thought she was mature beyond her years,” Rose said. “She came in mid-year and had good grades and really responded well to a challenging situation.”
Putnicki originally signed a national letter of intent to play for Virginia, but when Cavaliers head coach Dennis Hohenshelt resigned in January for a volunteer assistant job with the Nittany Lions, she was permitted to follow him to Happy Valley under NCAA rules. Hohenshelt already has a combined 16 years of experience coaching the men’s and women’s volleyball teams at Penn State.
“Putnicki was somebody that became available with the coaching change at her previous institution,” Rose said. “We got involved in the conversation, I went and saw her play a couple days later and thought that she would be able to make a good contribution to our program.”
Big Ten coaches voted Penn State as the preseason favorite to win the conference, but Rose knows all too well just how demanding a 14-week season can be. The Nittany Lions came a point away from sweeping No. 1 seed Nebraska last December, but fell to the Huskers 3-2 for their second consecutive loss in the Sweet 16.
“It’s a long race. We start early and always hope to go late, so that’s the plan,” Rose said.
“It’s about now,” Washington said. “Given the ending of last season, even though it was a hard hit and it’s still something that makes your stomach curdle, you work just as hard win or lose.”
Last year, Stanford tied Penn State for the most national championships in the history of the sport with seven. While the Nittany Lions unveiled their first major uniform overhaul in nearly a decade a few weeks ago, Rose has been more focused on preparing his players for an early September stretch that features two matches versus the No. 2 Cardinal in eight days.
Soon 🏐🏐💯💯 pic.twitter.com/ILs8E8Qznq
— PennStateVolleyball (@PennStateVBALL) August 18, 2017
“That’s the big question I think. ‘Do you wanna push your team really hard at the risk of beating them up a little bit and making them tougher, or do you wanna just have a nice recreational thing and make sure that everybody’s happy and healthy and ready to start the season; and can’t wait to get all their uniforms and new apparel.'”
“Obviously you know which way I lean,” Rose said. “Hopefully we’ll be healthy by mid-October, and we’ll get after it then.”
Washington, who earned AVCA All-American honors alongside outside hitter Simone Lee as a junior, mentioned it felt much different being on the floor as a freshman when Penn State won the national title in 2015. This fall, she and her senior classmates will make the gears turn out there. They know the system inside out.
“Now we have that different responsibility,” Washington said. “There are times you have to score points, there are times you have to make a play, there are times when someone’s not doing their job and you need to do your job even more efficiently. It’s more than just playing senior year.”
Frantti captured AVCA Freshman of the Year when the Nittany Lions won their last national championship in a sweep of BYU in Oklahoma City. She’ll put her more aggressive serve, which the Spring Grove, Ill., native spent hours practicing this offseason, to the test against the Skyhawks Friday. Here’s a link to the live stream.
“It’s an incredible experience and a memory you won’t forget,” Frantti said of winning a championship, “so that’s what we’re pushing for — leaving the program better than when we came in.”