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Penn State Women’s Volleyball Reflects On Latest Postseason Milestone

Over the weekend, Penn State women’s volleyball made history by becoming the only program to appear in every NCAA Tournament.

Stanford and Penn State previously shared that title, but the Cardinal will watch the tournament from home following an all-around disappointing 2-8 season. Now, the Nittany Lions are the only team that can say they’ve competed in every postseason bracket since the NCAA’s first in 1981.

Over that 40-year span, Penn State’s compiled quite the resume. The Nittany Lions own a 104-32 NCAA Tournament record and have captured seven national titles — the second-most in the country behind Stanford’s nine.

Although they weren’t around for more than half of Penn State women’s volleyball’s expansive dynasty, the team’s current players and staff didn’t shy away from acknowledging how significant the Nittany Lions’ postseason qualifications appear on paper.

‘The legacy that Penn State volleyball has is unbelievable,” right side hitter Jonni Parker said Tuesday. “That gives so much credit to the alumnae and everybody who came before us.”

Parker noted that the team is more than prepared to contend for postseason glory in this year’s tournament. Although it hasn’t played since March 20 due to COVID-19 issues, Penn State racked up a 9-5 regular-season record en route to a No. 13 national seed and a first-round bye.

“Now, we just have that job to continue it,” Parker said. “It’s a great opportunity, and it’s something that we’re blessed to be able to do as a Penn State volleyball player is to continue that legacy and tradition of this program. I think that’s really cool to be able to say I’m a part of.”

While Parker’s youth is obvious, head coach Russ Rose has led the Nittany Lions in all 39 (and soon to be 40) NCAA Tournament appearances. Humble as ever, he shied away from bragging and credited the men and women who’ve built and supported the program over the years.

“There’s been a lot of individuals through all of those years who have made great contributions to the program,” Rose said Tuesday. “It’s been a lot of talented players, a lot of staff members who have worked to help shape and guide the program, a lot of administrators who have allowed us to work with the program.”

Rose said that his early 1980s teams began NCAA Tournament play while funded at “about 50%” of what other teams were. The longtime head coach gave Penn State credit for supporting the program over the years, noting “it’s impossible to sustain” success without the university’s support.

Rose offers advice to freshman hitter Annie Cate Fitzpatrick during a match against Rutgers on March 12.

He also attributed Penn State’s early prosperity to the strong players who helped build the program into the powerhouse we’ve come to know over the years.

“I maybe am a common denominator because I’ve been here, but I haven’t served a ball in competition,” Rose said. “I think I’ve had an impact, but I would like to pass it off to all the players who have played and all the people who have contributed in so many other ways, and hope that they take great pride in all the success of the program. I’m more interested in building the program and competing for the national championships. Getting into the tournament is always wonderful. That gives you a chance.”

Penn State’s chance will come on Thursday, April 15, when it faces the winner of Rice (16-5) and North Carolina A&T (11-1) in the 48-team bracket’s second round. With more than a week to train and prepare, the Nittany Lions are taking the time to make adjustments and ramp up to compete after a few weeks off.

“Yeah, it will be a while [since Penn State last played]. But right now we’re focusing on us and what we can take care of on our side of the net, which is really important in our game, whether it’s mentally or physically,” Parker said.

She also suggested the team’s unexpected hiatus provided the Nittany Lions with extra time to “tweak,” make adjustments, and “fine-tune” their games in ways they couldn’t before.

Parker said the single-elimination tournament is particularly exciting because “it’s anybody’s game.” The junior right side hitter suggested that pressure gets the Nittany Lions all the more excited to show off on the national stage.

“With that one-and-done part of the tournament, you’ve got to play every point like it’s the last. Every point matters,” Parker said. “You’ve got to play with that mentality. I think that’s the cool thing about the tournament is you see these teams that you don’t normally see, but their grind and their effort is also taken to another level once you get into the tournament. Every game should be treated like a championship match, and that’s what it’s going to be.”

Although he’s not on the court per se, Rose said he’s excited to get Penn State back in the swing of things, too. The program’s been on pause since March 20 due to a few COVID-19 cases among an undisclosed number of players and at least one staff member.

“I thought we were playing really well heading into the Wisconsin weekend [on March 26], then with the COVID…that certainly jammed us up,” Rose said, noting the matches’ cancellations were ultimately the right decision from a safety standpoint. “We’re just kind of restarting trying to practice again as a group to get back to where we were. There’s no flipping a switch.”

“I thought we were just starting to play well heading into Wisconsin, which was the last two weeks of the year,” Rose continued. “That’s how long it took. It took nine weekends for us to kind of feel like we were getting better.”

Luckily, Penn State’s got more than a week to rest up before heading to Omaha, Nebraska to begin its postseason run. And although the tournament might not resemble its ancestors exactly, a chance to compete for a national title is certainly nothing to scoff at.

“We’re excited to get after it next week,” Parker said. “It’s a great opportunity for us to show what we can do.”

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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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