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Following Month-Long Break, Penn State Women’s Volleyball Gears Up For NCAA Tournament

When contending for a national title, the last thing any team wants is to come in cold.

Unfortunately for Penn State women’s volleyball, the Nittany Lions haven’t stepped onto the court since March 20. COVID-19 issues within the program canceled its final regular-season series against Wisconsin and Nebraska, providing Penn State with an unexpected month-long break.

Although virus-related schedule changes are almost never good, Penn State’s taken the extra time to fine-tune its game before opening the NCAA Tournament Thursday night.

Right side hitter Jonni Parker said additional practices have provided the Nittany Lions with opportunities to revisit plays and drills that wouldn’t normally get touched on through a traditional training regimen.

“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 last week. “We’re trying to take care of what we can do best and kind of tweak and spend time on the things that we sometimes don’t have time to work on. Right now, we’re going to fine-tune some things and see what else we can do.”

Head coach Russ Rose said the unexpected program-wide pause’s timing was especially difficult. After Penn State experienced a few bumps in the road throughout the regular season, Rose felt the team was playing at its highest level when its series against Wisconsin was canceled.

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

Coming off a month of rest won’t be the only challenge Penn State faces throughout the NCAA Tournament. On top of pandemic-related restrictions, the entire postseason will take place in Omaha, Nebraska. Traditionally, top seeds like Penn State would host regional rounds before heading to a single location later in the bracket.

Still, Parker feels the unfamiliar territory will create a level playing field across college volleyball.

“Everybody is kind of in those shoes,” she said. “We’ll just see what we can bring to the floor.”

Parker spoke at length about the tournament and the high-pressure environment it inherently creates. She credited the single-elimination format as a significant motivator for the team as Penn State chases its eighth national title.

“With that one-and-done part of the tournament, you’ve got to play every point like it’s the last. Every point matters. You’ve got to play with that mentality,” Parker said. “Every game should be treated like a championship match, and that’s what it’s going to be. I’m actually really excited to see the tournament and what it brings this year.”

Penn State’s upcoming tournament certainly won’t be its first. In fact, the Nittany Lions are now the only program to appear in every NCAA Tournament dating back to the very first in 1981.

That significance isn’t lost on Penn State and its players and coaches. In fact, it’s serving as arguably the biggest drive behind their postseason push.

“The legacy that Penn State volleyball has is unbelievable. That gives so much credit to the alumnae and everybody who came before us,” Parker said. “Now, we just have that job to continue it.”

Penn State’s chance to build on its legacy will come Thursday night when it faces North Carolina A&T to open the NCAA Tournament. The No. 13-seeded Nittany Lions received a first-round bye, while the Aggies moved on due to COVID-19 issues for Rice, its previously scheduled first-round opponent.

Penn State’s match won’t begin until 10:30 p.m. But if the Nittany Lions’ resilient attitude is any indication, some late-night volleyball shouldn’t keep their spirits down once they finally take the court.

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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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