‘A Dream Come True’: Katie Schumacher-Cawley Comes Full Circle With Penn State Women’s Volleyball

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Katie Schumacher-Cawley called Rec Hall home as a two-time All-American for Penn State women’s volleyball. Now, she’s officially poised to lead the program into a new era for the first time in more than four decades.

On Tuesday, Penn State formally introduced Schumacher-Cawley as the third head coach in Penn State women’s volleyball history. She’ll succeed longtime coach and mentor Russ Rose, who led the team for 43 years while compiling a Division I-record 1,330 wins and seven national titles.

So, is she nervous?

“Oh, gosh. Yeah,” Schumacher-Cawley said on Tuesday. “There’s never going to be another Coach Rose…I’m excited about it, though. It doesn’t scare me, and it doesn’t scare this group. We’re ready to get to work and take all the lessons that I have learned from him as a player, as a coach, and as a mentor.”

Schumacher-Cawley takes the reins of a program that looks far different than it did back in the late 1970s when Rose arrived in Happy Valley. Expectations are high for the Nittany Lions, especially considering they’ve never missed an NCAA Tournament and haven’t posted a losing season since debuting in 1976. Penn State has won at least 20 games in every season since 1977, minus the pandemic-modified spring 2021 campaign that included only 16 regular-season matches.

The expectations are undoubtedly high for Schumacher-Cawley, who served as an assistant coach alongside Rose starting in 2018. Moving forward, she’s focused on raising that already-high bar to maintain Penn State’s standard for excellence.

“Of course, my main goal is to win,” Schumacher-Cawley said. “I think if we start attacking every day to get better, then the wins are going to come.”

In her first true task as head coach, Schumacher-Cawley will work to replenish a Penn State lineup that’s already lost a handful of key pieces this offseason.

A number of upperclassmen have already found new homes through the transfer portal — Annie Cate Fitzpatrick to Florida, Jenna Hampton to South Carolina, Gabby Blossom to San Diego, and Emily Oerther to Mississippi State. Star middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord is reportedly in the transfer portal, but she hasn’t announced a new destination or even confirmed she’d play for a fifth year. Right-side hitter Jonni Parker hasn’t opened up about her future yet, but she greeted Penn State’s team in street clothes on Tuesday before hugging some Nittany Lions and smiling for a few photos.

Outside hitter Adanna Rollins, who starred for Penn State last season after transferring from Minnesota, will play one more season for the Nittany Lions next fall. Erika Pritchard, who similarly transferred from Maryland, is instead heading overseas to play professionally in France.

Schumacher-Cawley has a good chunk of recruiting experience at Penn State after serving as Rose’s recruiting coordinator since 2018. Moving forward, Schumacher-Cawley’s staff will explore the transfer portal to bring some new Nittany Lions to Rec Hall.

“I think the first thing is that we always want players who want to be here at Penn State,” Schumacher-Cawley said. “We’re looking for players who are committed to what we’re trying to do, and it’s getting better every day. It’s being a great teammate, it’s being helpful within the athletic department and the community. We want players who are going to compete every day.”

If anyone can sell someone on Penn State, it’s Schumacher-Cawley. She came to Happy Valley as a dual-sport student-athlete — becoming a two-time All-American and national champion with the women’s volleyball program and even dabbling in basketball with the Lady Lions. Now, she’s bringing her journey full circle by leading the team that gave her a home like no other.

“Coming back here was a dream come true,” Schumacher-Cawley said. “I think that this has always been home to me, and to have the opportunity to even go through the interview process was something special. I’m overjoyed at this.”

“I never came back here saying, ‘Oh, I’m going to be the next head coach. I’m going to be this,’” she continued. “I wanted to give my best effort for these players and for coach, to have the same experience that I had here as a student-athlete, one with playing and community, and just being a part of this university.”

As she spoke to her players, the media, and dozens of program boosters on Tuesday, Schumacher-Cawley routinely reiterated how significant the Penn State community was to her program’s success.

“Beyond playing here, I think that we’re surrounded by a community within this athletic department and the neighboring people in town that want to see these women be so successful — not just women’s volleyball, but Penn State athletics as a whole,” Schumacher-Cawley said. “I’m lucky to be a part of it, and I know that these players are.”

It’s already evidently clear that Schumacher-Cawley isn’t backing down from the significant challenge presented before her. After all, succeeding perhaps the most accomplished volleyball coach of all time is no easy task.

However, with years of mentorship from Rose both as a student-athlete and as a coach, Schumacher-Cawley says she’s feeling more than prepared to heed the call.

“I think I learned something every day from [Rose] in our daily conversations,” she said. “I think that, from a player, from him being a mentor, he was someone I always kept in contact with when I was done playing, but…he always reminded me to be myself and to always stay true to who I was. Besides the Xs and the Os — we could talk volleyball forever — I think it’s more so for me to be myself and to always stay true to who I am.”

One key phrase stuck out from Schumacher-Cawley’s press conference on Tuesday: “Success with honor.” No, not necessarily that famed Paterno-era mantra, though. She and her staff say they’ll consistently make an effort to honor Penn State’s storied past while cultivating a new era of successes in Rec Hall.

“We will always honor the things that [Rose] has done,” Schumacher-Cawley said. “I think, with this new coaching staff, we’ll have new ideas in the gym, new ideas for the strength training and conditioning. I think we’re always trying to change a couple things here and there, but as far as the work ethic of this team, that will never waver. I think that that’s something that the alums and the past has provided for the future.”

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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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