Editor’s note: This is the fourth in an occasional Road to Rio series on Penn State-connected athletes who are training for this summer’s Olympics.
Winning six of the last nine NCAA women’s volleyball national championships has cemented Penn State’s reputation as a top volleyball school, but its role as a source of Olympic talent didn’t come until 2012.
That’s when Megan Hodge Easy and Christa Harmotto Dietzen played in London for Team USA, which won the silver medal.
Now, for the first time, four former Nittany Lions could be a part of the U.S. women’s volleyball team at the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.
That’s in addition to three Penn State alumni who seem to be locks to make the men’s national team.
“It’s probably the finest collection of athletes in the gym that we’ve had as far back as I can remember for 40-plus years because of the depth,” Penn State women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose said. “There are so many great players.”
It’s probably the finest collection of athletes in the gym that we’ve had as far back as I can remember for 40-plus years because of the depth. Russ Rose, who could potentially see four former Nittany Lion players make the U.S. Olympic roster.
The U.S. women’s team is ranked No. 1 in the world this spring, while the men are ranked fifth.
Of the four former Lions competing for spots on the women’s team, Rose said three –– Dietzen, Nicole Fawcett and Alisha Glass ––could see significant playing time in Rio and are potential starters.
Dietzen, Team USA’s captain and middle blocker, started all eight of Team USA’s matches when it took home the silver in the 2012 games. The four-time All-American with the Nittany Lions plays professionally for the Fenerbahce Sports Club in Istanbul, Turkey, and previously played in China and Italy.
Fawcett was the starting opposite for Team USA during the NORCECA Olympic Qualification Tournament. She was selected the most valuable player and best opposite in the qualifiers. She jusr finished her season playing professionally for Novara in the Italian Serie A1, after playing in China for a short time. She previously played in the South Korean V-League, in which she has been named league Most Valuable Player twice, and in 2013 she broke the world record for points in a match with 55. She also was a four-time All-American at Penn State and National Player of the Year in 2008, and was an alternate for the 2012 Olympics after being one of the last players cut.
Glass, a setter and three-time All-American with the Nittany Lions from 2006-09, had injuries that hindered her chances of playing in the 2012 Olympics. She was named best setter of the 2014 Women’s Volleyball World Championship in Italy and appears to be on track to contribute for Team USA.
Starting in 2010, Glass has played professionally in Brazil, Poland, Italy, Turkey and, since 2014, back in Italy with Imoco Volley Conegliano.
Easy, an outside hitter, was a four-time All-American with the Nittany Lions from 2006-09, winning National Player of the Year honors as a senior. She is married to former Penn State running back Omar Easy, and she missed the entire 2014 season as the couple had their first child.
Though she was a member of Team USA, she seems to be the one athlete out of the four who is still fighting for a spot on the 2016 roster, Rose said.
During the run of four straight national championships from 2007-10, Dietzen and Fawcett won two titles while Glass and Hodge won three.
The Penn State presence on Team USA could create a sixth sense for those players, as they’ve developed an on-court chemistry from their years playing together.
“We’ve played against each other, with each other for a long time,” Dietzen said in a phone interview. “We have a deeper understanding of each other in pressure situations.”
May 2 marks the official start of international volleyball, when all the athletes return to their home countries and begin to train for the Olympics. Head coach Karch Kiraly and his staff will then whittle down the pool to a final roster of 12 by the Olympic deadline for final rosters of July 17.
Rose said the current projected Olympic roster could change significantly leading up to the games, especially if a player is injured.
“Injuries have always played a big part in the final selections of the team at that time,” Rose said. “You could be the best player in the world, but if you tweak your ankle and you’re out for two or three weeks, and those weeks are right before you go to the Olympics, you’re on the outside looking in.”
Dietzen was asked what playing in the Olympics with other Nittany Lion alumni would mean to her. “All four of us are very proud to represent Penn State on the U.S. team,” she said. “Gosh, to have that many alumni speaks volumes of volleyball at Penn State.”
Matt Martell is a Penn State journalism student.