Suzanne Horner loves volleyball.
She loves it so much, she’s willing to move thousands of miles to a country where she doesn’t speak the language.
Horner is headed to Finland to play professionally.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing professional volleyball,” the 2013 State College graduate said. “That was always kind of a goal in the back of my mind. When the opportunity came, I knew I was ready for it and it was something that I wanted and … it hasn’t quite hit me yet. I haven’t been super scared or nervous about it.”
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Horner is frantically packing up her life before leaving Tuesday, getting in some final goodbyes around State College. She signed with Mestaruusliiga Suomi LiigaPloki in late July, playing in a European pro league.
Her agency, Elite Volley, helped her find a team. Since then she has been working on a new language — “slowly,” she says — but is not overly concerned about communicating. It may have a few extra stumbling blocks for a setter — volleyball’s quarterback — with teammates asking for sets in certain spots, calling out blocks and making adjustments, but Horner feels the sport has a universal language and hand signals that can help the transition.
The team will have four international players from outside Finland, including two other Americans. The season starts in September.
Graduating this year from Iowa State with a kinesiology degree, she averaged 6.13 assists per set in a two-setter offense, and led the Cyclones with 23 aces. She also had 160 digs last season and 410 for her career along with 51 career aces over three seasons. She played her freshman season at Mississippi State.
Horner was a three-time All-State selection by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, a four-year starter and was a finalist for the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year during her senior season.
With her life revolving around volleyball for so long, she can’t imagine not continuing to play.
“You get a big kill, a big block and the team comes in and you cheer,” Horner said. “There’s just no feeling like it, that kind of energy and intensity that volleyball brings. It brings me so much joy just to go out and compete, and just to have fun.”
Hit the beach
Another volleyball player has taken a slightly different pro path. Spencer Sauter, an outside hitter at Penn State through the 2016 season, is playing on the AVP Tour’s sand courts.
Sauter and playing partner Raffe Paulis recently tied for 15th at the Hermosa Beach Open in late July, and they are planning to play at the tour’s next stop at Manhattan Beach, the center of the American beach volleyball universe, next week. Paulis, who did not play college volleyball, and Sauter earned $500 for their efforts, losing 2-0 in the second round of the main draw to eventual champions Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb.
Sauter, a product of Woodridge, Ill., has played in five AVP tournaments this year, with $1,250 in winnings. He averaged 2.24 kills per set with 41 blocks during his senior season with the Nittany Lions.
Another former State College standout is picking up more accolades with the NCAA season just two weeks away. Taylor Leath was named preseason All-ACC this week, and North Carolina was the unanimous choice of conference coaches as the season favorite. The Tar Heels are No. 11 on the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.
Leath was the 2016 ACC Player of the Year and a second-team All-American in helping the Heels to the NCAA sweet 16. The redshirt junior and team captain helped State College to the District 6 Class AAA title in 2013, on her way to being named the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year.
Big Ten soccer tournament move
The Big Ten announced Thursday evening the women’s soccer tournament’s semifinals and finals will be played at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. The tournament had been played on campus, mostly rotating through schools in the conference and more recently holding the finals at the highest remaining seed.
The quarterfinal matches will still be played on campus fields of the top four seeds Oct. 29, then head to the sports complex in the northern suburbs of Indianapolis for semifinals Nov. 3 and finals Nov. 5. The site hosted the men’s tournament title match last season, and will again this fall.