Jen Halterman was practicing volleyball with a friend on campus this summer when Russ Rose walked over and struck up a conversation.
The winningest coach in women’s college volleyball history has developed scores of All-Americans in the South Gym at Rec Hall, but it was a chance encounter in the IM Building that allowed Halterman’s dream to come true.
The senior horticulture major had transferred to main campus the year prior after playing two seasons as a setter on the Penn State Mont Alto team, but hadn’t given any thought to continuing her career. She simply wanted to have some fun “peppering” the ball back and forth that day.
Rose was in the middle of running a sports camp, but something compelled him to stay and watch. He asked first if she was a graduate student, then if she was on the club team. Halterman said no to both. Then, after a few minutes, Rose asked, “Would you like to come practice with us tomorrow?”
Halterman paused for a moment, pondering if his offer could really be true.
“I went to one practice. He invited me to the next one. He was just like, ‘I’ll invite you to preseason, see what you’ve got, and if I like you you’ll stick around.’ So now I’m here,” Halterman said.
“I just like her energy. She’s a happy kid and I like the story,” Rose said. “I think she’s really appreciative and excited about it.”
Though it certainly took some time to adjust to the rigors and scheduling demands of Big Ten volleyball, Halterman immediately found a home in the locker room with her new teammates.
“For everything they would complain about, she’d be happy about it. I think that’s one of the joys,” Rose said.
Halterman, who started playing volleyball in seventh grade, transitioned to defensive specialist for the Nittany Lions during training camp. She made her Division I debut in the season opener against UT-Martin at the West Virginia Tournament and has logged action in four other matches.
“The team atmosphere here is more than I could ever think of. Here, everybody’s close,” Halterman said. “There’s no clique-ish kind of thing. Everybody’s excited for you. Everybody’s happy for you. They’ll push you to do your best and that’s amazing.”
On a national roster that features highly recruited players from 13 different states and one from Canada, the Dillsburg native became only the second Pennsylvanian on the team, joining sophomore Kristin Krause of Allentown.
Halterman is taking a heavy schedule of classes this semester on top of daily practices and frequent travel to away events. The preparation that goes into suiting up on Friday and Saturday nights in Rec Hall is sometimes hard to fathom for her peers.
“For me, this time commitment is so much. When they say being a student-athlete is a full-time job, it really is,” she said.
“During preseason, I kind of had a little meltdown,” Halterman said. “I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t worked out. I [spoke]to Salima [Rockwell] and she set up a meeting for me with coach. He was just like, ‘Are you a quitter? How many things have you ever quit in your life?’ I’m like, ‘Well, there’s organic chemistry.’ He said, ‘I don’t see you as a quitter. I’m not letting you quit.'”
Rose’s message was all it took for Halterman to change her mindset and make the most of her opportunity.
“When I heard that, it was a major confidence boost. Okay, yeah, somebody actually believes I can do this, and of all people it’s coach Rose who believes I can.”
Halterman beamed when discussing the positive impact teammates like Ali Frantti, Simone Lee, and Haleigh Washington have had on her.
“She’s just really kind about everything. She’s interested in your life,” Halterman said of Frantti.
She said Washington was the first person to accept her into the team, going out of her way to share words of encouragement and a few laughs across the net during practice.
“Simone’s been awesome,” Halterman said. “Whenever we go on away trips, I’m her hotel roommate. I could say something good about every person and what they’ve done.”
Her teammates are just as complimentary of what she brings to the team.
“Jen’s the greatest. She’s just a girl who works hard. She’s a classic Russ Rose story,” Washington said. “This is not an easy program to get through, so the fact that she’s still here…and still comes to everything is just really, really cool.”
Lee has been equally as impressed with Halterman’s ability to learn on the fly and adapt to the Penn State volleyball culture.
“We love Jen. She’s super cool, always willing to work hard, always cheering everyone on,” Lee said. “She’s one of those kind of gals who you can always go to for a high-five, a slap on the butt, whatever you need. She’s awesome. We’re really happy she’s here, for sure.”
Frantti smiled before summing up Halterman’s addition to this year’s championship run — one that will culminate in Kansas City Dec. 16 if the Nittany Lions have anything to say about it.
“She’s honestly just a great teammate,” Frantti said. “She cares about the team, the program, and she brings such a great positive energy and light to our practice. We all love her.”