Taylor Leath’s Homecoming Proving Huge For Penn State Volleyball

Taylor Leath is the only graduate transfer to have ever been accepted into Russ Rose’s program during his 40 years as head coach of Penn State women’s volleyball.

The outside hitter earned her undergraduate degree in political science from North Carolina before reaching out to Rose to see if there would be an opportunity for her to come home to Rec Hall.

Leath was born in Gainesville, FL but moved to the State College area in fourth grade, starring for State High just down the road from campus.

Rose didn’t have enough scholarships in his 2014 recruiting class to extend an offer to Leath out of high school, as Simone Lee, Ali Frantti, and Nia Reed had already been committed to Penn State for quite some time. However, he jumped at the chance to bring Leath onboard this offseason.

“When she graduated and reached out about coming here, we were very interested in that opportunity,” Rose said. “It came at a great time for us. We needed somebody with the experience she has and how calm she is as a player.”

Leath’s infectious smile is recognizable from a mile away.

Leath immediately provided a veteran presence for the Nittany Lions, who have eight true freshmen on their roster this season. Rose has routinely praised Leath’s passing and blocking skills, calling it a “seamless transition” incorporating her into the starting lineup.

She led North Carolina to a 3-2 victory over the Nittany Lions during opening weekend of the 2016 season, tallying 18 kills and 16 digs in front of friends and family at Rec Hall. She went on to claim ACC player of the year and a second-team AVCA All-American nod that season.

Leath’s parents used to drop her and her older sister, Randi, off at Rec Hall to practice their skills when they were still in middle school. Rose would occasionally spot the self-proclaimed “gym rats” having fun down on the court and offer a few pointers.

“It’s such a surreal experience,” Leath said of playing for the Nittany Lions. “I grew up with Penn State volleyball. I grew up watching players like Megan Hodge and Deja McClendon.”

Leath is the first State High product to play for Penn State since Maggie Harding, a defensive specialist who graduated in 2013. Leath is currently researching the connection between athletes and social issues in the College of Communications.

Leath’s deft touch as a passer helps the team stay in system.

Leath surpassed 1,000 career kills in a 3-1 win over American last weekend in Washington, D.C. She’s started all 11 matches for the Nittany Lions this season and leads the team in kills with 88.

“Taylor’s great at communicating back there when we’re in serve-receive,” junior libero Kendall White said. “She’s a very experienced player, so having her IQ on the court is awesome — passing, hitting, no matter where it is on the court. That’s why she’s one of our captains.”

Leath said her experience at North Carolina helped prepare her for the role she’s assumed this season, playing under the spotlight every night in the Big Ten. Understanding different leadership styles and how to be consistent were two of her biggest takeaways from her time in Chapel Hill.

Another benefit of transferring to Penn State for graduate school was the opportunity to reunite with her long-time friend Nia Reed. The high-flying duo has caused plenty of headaches for opposing defenses this season.

“I’ve known Nia forever,” Leath said. “You can’t help but always remember why you love volleyball, why you’re happy to play, and why you’re happy to just live life when you’re with her.”

Reed and Leath watch Tori Gorrell swing away against Temple.

Bryanna Weiskircher, who’s in charge of finding them with perfect passes as the team’s setter, said Leath has the same business-like mentality as her on the court.

“Whenever she gets a kill or something, she’ll look you dead in the eye and her eyes get really wide,” Weiskircher said. “It’s super cool because I have that same kind of intensity where I’m not always jumping around screaming, but it’s more of a ‘Hell yeah, let’s get this thing done’ kind of thing.”

Rose said he thinks Leath’s potential stretches far beyond her achievements on the court. 

“She’s a really mature young woman,” he said. “I think she has a lot more to offer the university community than just thinking we’re going to have her hidden away in athletics. I think she can be a spokesperson for a number of issues and groups on campus.”

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected].

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