Penn State Women’s Volleyball’s Tori Gorrell Stepping Up As Leader For Young Team
Entering the 2019 season, Penn State women’s volleyball head coach Russ Rose knew that leadership would be an issue with this year’s squad.
Fifteen of the team’s 20 players are either freshmen or sophomores, leaving the Nittany Lions with one redshirt senior, three true seniors, and one redshirt junior.
Despite possessing an overwhelmingly young locker room, the team has received a major boost in recent weeks thanks to Tori Gorrell. The redshirt senior has stepped up and used her veteran experience to guide the team through the early parts of Big Ten play, which is certainly no easy task.
A former middle blocker-turned right side, Gorrell has been used in a variety of ways to address the team’s shortcomings so far this year. She’s had many opportunities to block and hit at the net, which has greatly boosted her confidence and given her more playing time this season.
“[Tori’s] also an ex-middle [blocker] and she helps teach these young girls little things that, even though she’s a smaller middle, she has to learn how to give shots,” libero Kendall White said. “[She has been] helping them learn new shots, too. She’s a good teacher when it comes to things that they don’t know and they haven’t learned yet.”
Gorrell’s leadership has certainly helped sophomore middle blockers Kaitlyn Hord and Serena Gray build upon their successful rookie campaigns. Hord and Gray, who both ranked in the top 10 in hitting percentage in the NCAA entering last weekend, have quickly blossomed into one of the best middle duos in the nation.
“Kaitlyn and Serena are just such great hitters and blockers that they’re unable to be matched in any other conference, so that’s really awesome,” Gorrell said. “I love watching them.”
Gorrell’s continued success is even more impressive considering she saw little playing time in 2018 until the back half of the season when she played an instrumental role in helping the Nittany Lions reach the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. Before then, she started for two years as a middle blocker before being relegated to a backup role.
While Russ Rose generally views Penn State’s youth as a weakness, Gorrell believes it gives the team a distinct edge compared to other squads.
“I think an advantage is we have a lot of really young players and we’ve got quite a bit of depth,” Gorrell said. “We can just have girls come in off the bench and add so much to the team. For me, being a senior, I feel like I get to teach the younger kids and that’s a really good opportunity for both sides to learn.”
Aside from stepping up and leading the team to an impressive 12-3 record, Gorrell has been turning heads with her play as well. The middle blocker has recorded 78 kills so far this season — four more than she had all of last year. She’s also totaled 30.0 total blocks, good for third-most on the team.
“I think Tori’s one of our key blockers, too,” outside hitter Jonni Parker said. “She’s been working on her out-of-system swings and she improved a lot these last couple weeks with that.”
Gorrell noted at a recent media availability that one of the best parts of being a student-athlete at Penn State is the support stemming from fans. So, it’s no surprise she enjoyed representing the Nittany Lions across the pond a few years back.
“When I got to go to Europe a couple years ago and represent the Big Ten, I got to represent Penn State volleyball and that was a really amazing experience,” Gorrell said. “Just being able to represent Penn State volleyball on a bigger scale is one of the most amazing feelings.”
Her time abroad even helped to inspire her to continue playing volleyball once she leaves Penn State in the coming months. Gorrell noted that playing professional volleyball has been a dream of her’s since she was 12, and she chose the Nittany Lions because their program would give her the best opportunity to play professionally once she graduates.
Still, despite being the most experienced player in Penn State’s locker room, Gorrell knows there’s always room to improve and grow as a player and leader. Hopefully, Gorrell’s drive and determination will rub off on her younger teammates.
“Every day you get to come into the gym and get better,” she said. “Every game is an opportunity to prove that you are doing those things in practice. I need to work on everything because every day you can get better.”
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