‘It’s Kind Of How Life Is’: Penn State Women’s Volleyball Staying Positive Amid Bumpy Season

To say Penn State women’s volleyball’s spring season has been unorthodox would be an understatement.

The No. 10 Nittany Lions remain confident with an early 4-3 record, but they’ve rolled with a few punches just to get to this point. Unavailable players and unexpected schedule changes have provided plenty of obstacles for head coach Russ Rose and his team.

Penn State’s season got off to a rough start when its first two scheduled series with Michigan and Ohio State were postponed due to an undisclosed number of positive COVID-19 tests within the Nittany Lions’ program. Days later, Penn State paused all team-related activities in response to the outbreak.

Just this week, the Nittany Lions’ series with Maryland got postponed as well. But this time, it wasn’t their fault.

Regardless, consistent schedule changes and plenty of “starts” and “stops” have made an already-tough season even harder for Penn State. Rose believes his team can learn a lot from each sudden challenge.

“It’s kind of how life is. It’s not always the way you want it to be,” Rose said Tuesday. “You need to find ways to battle through things. I think probably the most important thing is that there are lessons in sports. Hopefully they’ll be able to transfer some of the things that they’re learning, even though it may not be great. I tell people all the time, ‘Not all experiences are positive, but they’re all valuable.’”

Six Nittany Lions didn’t dress for Penn State’s season-opening series against Illinois back in January. Jenna Hampton, who became the team’s go-to libero this offseason, said returning to the lineup after those matchups was both a tough and compelling hurdle at first.

“[Returning] was definitely a little challenging, but it was more of excitement and just the opportunity to play because it’s been so long,” Hampton said last week. “I think that kind of put it in perspective. Things can happen randomly, so when you get a chance to play, you’ve got to give it your all.”

New protocols were another hoop the Nittany Lions needed to jump through this season. The team constantly wears masks in practice, takes daily COVID-19 tests, and carefully trains to remain in tip-top shape. Rose said his staff has placed an increased emphasis on avoiding “overtraining” following a 420-day offseason.

Setter Gabby Blossom, who also missed Penn State’s season-opening series, said new health and safety precautions helped the team grow stronger, ironically.

“I think one of the good things, if you can say, from COVID is we got a long time to bond before we go out and play a game,” Blossom said. “The ‘COVID bubble’ really makes it that we’re just together and it’s our team. I think it was really nice that we got to know people really well in a short amount of time.”

The Nittany Lions welcomed a handful of newcomers this year, including breakout freshmen like Annie Cate Fitzpatrick and transfers like Anastasiya Kudryashova. Now, middle blocker Serena Gray said she feels Penn State is slowly beginning to hit its stride following such an unusual break between seasons.

“I would say we definitely haven’t peaked yet. I would say we’re slowly on the incline,” Gray said back in February. “There’s for sure some nerves that we have to work through, as it’s a lot of people’s first time playing and starting, and playing for coach in itself will bring a lot of nerves. I think that plays a lot into where we are.”

Challenges aside, Penn State currently sits in the middle of a grueling schedule against top-notch Big Ten teams. As hard as that may be, Rose said it’s tough to get a grasp on where the Nittany Lions rank since they’ve encountered only four teams so far.

He added that the team’s postponed series with Maryland, on top of an unsteady schedule, have made it tough for some to gauge success and stay in shape.

“We thought we had made some progress in some areas and thought we had a little momentum, even though we had some injuries that we were trying to work around,” Rose said. “We, at least, felt that we were making some progress in play. It’s just hard to play and then be shut down and then try and pick it up again, so it’s been a real challenge I think for the players from that standpoint.”

Penn State will return to action Wednesday night with a rescheduled matchup against unbeaten No. 19 Ohio State. First serve from Rec Hall is set for 6 p.m. on BTN+.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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