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Fans’ Return Boosts Penn State Women’s Volleyball Through First Homestand

For the first time in nearly two years, more than 4,000 fans packed Rec Hall’s bleachers to cheer on Penn State women’s volleyball. However, they didn’t miss a beat.

From every first serve to match point, the Nittany Lions faithful rallied behind No. 18 Penn State to the tune of three straight sweeps over Iowa State, Oregon State, and LSU — a perfect weekend at this year’s Penn State Classic tournament. It’s safe to say the team felt confident with an army of support behind it.

“Being in Rec Hall is an unbelievable experience. Our wRECking Crew, our pep band, just the fans and community here at Penn State is like no other, so it’s nice to be in front of these guys again and playing for them,” senior right-side hitter Jonni Parker said following Friday’s match. “It’s nice to be back and have that support from our community and be able to play in front of them and for them.”

It’s likely no coincidence that Parker played so well this weekend. On Friday, she broke 1,000 career kills. The senior stud racked up 35 kills and 22 digs over the three-match tournament, eventually leading to Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t lost on Penn State just four months removed from an unprecedented spring season. In fact, every fan at Rec Hall — and anyone indoors on campus — still needs to wear a mask.

But now, as fans return and the world seemingly inches closer to normalcy, home court support has an even bigger effect on the Nittany Lions.

“We always say we have the best fans in the country…I think sometimes you take it for granted. Our first couple of years, it was just what was expected. Last year, you don’t get that, and you realize how much you miss them,” senior setter Gabby Blossom said. “Games like tonight, when we were down five points [in the third set], being at home, having the crowd involved, it just brings a whole new energy to the court.”

Penn State’s “Pride of the Lions” Pep Band attends every home women’s volleyball match each season.

Head coach Russ Rose agreed, noting the fans’ support ultimately helped Penn State sweep some formidable opponents.

“I thought it was a good weekend at home. It was good to have fans again,” Rose said Saturday. “The band and the student section are two great additions to what enhances our sport and our program.”

Although veterans knew what to expect, a homecoming two years in the making was eye-opening for the newest Nittany Lions. Freshmen, sophomores, and transfers alike were blown away by Rec Hall’s raucous crowd.

“It’s such an awesome experience. All the fans and the band, it just really gets your adrenaline going,” said Maryland transfer Erika Pritchard. “Having that support network behind you is just a really good confidence boost going into a game and sustaining that through the game. It’s just a fun arena to play in.”

Adanna Rollins, who transferred to Penn State from Minnesota this offseason, agreed, noting that Rec Hall felt comforting and intimate despite its prestige.

The program’s prowess was on full display when well-decorated alumni Haleigh Washington and Micha Hancock visited this weekend. The duo brought a national title to Rec Hall in 2014. This time, though, they brought their Olympic gold medals.

Washington and Hancock traveled to Tokyo this summer and helped the U.S. claim its first-ever gold in women’s volleyball. Now on a well-deserved vacation, they spent time with the Nittany Lions this week offering some advice

“Having them here is incredible. I think we were fangirling almost as much probably as the crowd was fangirling them,” Blossom said Friday. “Those are the players we grew up watching, and [they’re] part of the reason we wanted to come to Penn State. They were the ones winning national championships before we came here.

“Their message was, ‘You play hard every day. You go hard every day.’ That’s just what Penn State volleyball is, and that’s why we came to Penn State,” Blossom added.

Penn State’s next chance to “play hard” will come when the 5-1 Nittany Lions travel to the west coast for a few dates with the Pac 12. The team faces No. 11 Oregon on Friday, September 10, and No. 14 Stanford on Saturday, September 11.

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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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