Penn State

Penn State teams gather with ‘family’ even when away from home for Thanksgiving

A number of Penn State teams — including hockey, basketball, football, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball — will not be able to spend Thanksgiving at home. But they’re still giving thanks for being able to spend the day with their teammates, a different family of sorts.
A number of Penn State teams — including hockey, basketball, football, women’s soccer and women’s volleyball — will not be able to spend Thanksgiving at home. But they’re still giving thanks for being able to spend the day with their teammates, a different family of sorts. CDT, AP

Most college students look forward to Thanksgiving break, going home to see family and friends, eating a big meal and sleeping in their own bed.

Members of the Penn State women’s soccer team, however, will not get that opportunity — and they are just fine with that.

The Nittany Lions will spend the holiday in Palo Alto, Calif., preparing to meet Stanford in the NCAA quarterfinals Friday afternoon.

“I love being with my family, but this has been my whole life,” senior forward Frannie Crouse said. “This is what we worked toward, too, and they (family) understand that.”

The soccer team is one of seven Penn State programs that have plans for Thanksgiving, with players together instead of heading home like most of the other 46,000 students on campus.

A variety of plans are in place, whether it is a meal before traveling, a get-together at an establishment in town or even going to coaches’ homes. There are efforts to make it a special time for students separated from their families.

“This is the one holiday where you kind of expect to be with your family,” women’s volleyball sophomore Kendall White said. “This is like my second family, so that’s good in that way.”

The women’s soccer team was the only group that didn’t know they would be busy for the holiday. They had to beat West Virginia on Sunday to keep their season alive, and they also did not know until that afternoon that the week would include a trip to California.

That didn’t make things easy on head coach Erica Dambach.

“Trying to find Thanksgiving in Palo Alto on two-day’s notice is an impossible task for under $3,000,” said Dambach, who instead invited everyone to her house after practice Tuesday for a big dinner. They flew across the country Wednesday, and Thursday’s dinner would be like any other pregame meal, and not loaded with the usual Thanksgiving goodies.

“So we’re not rolling ourselves out of bed on Friday morning with a pumpkin pie hangover,” Dambach joked.

Also spending the holiday on the road is the women’s basketball team, with a rather unusual locale for Thanksgiving — Las Vegas. The Lady Lions tip off against Louisiana Tech in a tournament there Friday.

The women’s hockey team will practice Thursday morning at Pegula Ice Arena, hop on a bus for about a six-hour ride to Connecticut and have dinner in Storrs. They face off against UConn on Friday.

A trio of teams are spending the holiday week in State College.

The Nittany Lion football team will have a Thursday morning practice, then have a big afternoon feast with family members invited. Players also sometimes join some of the assistant coaches at their homes in the evenings. The team will hit the road Friday, and play at Maryland on Saturday.

The men’s basketball team has its holiday meal planned for Wednesday at the Nittany Lion Inn, as it tips off against Oral Roberts on Friday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center.

Although nine members of the men’s hockey team are not American — Thanksgiving for the six Canadians was in October — the team still plans to have a big dinner after Thursday’s practice.

“That’s what’s special — we’re going to have practice,” coach Guy Gadowsky joked, later adding it didn’t matter where anyone on the team was from. “Everybody loves Thanksgiving.”

The Nittany Lions host Michigan State on Friday and Saturday.

Missing Thanksgiving is pretty standard for the women’s volleyball team, with the regular season annually ending the weekend after the holiday.

Team members have gathered in a number of places for a big dinner over the years, including a few times going to the homes of team members. About a decade ago, with a visit to Ohio State that week, the whole team, coaches and crew trotted off their charter bus at the farm of Nicole Fawcett’s family in rural southeast Ohio.

This year, the team will get dressed up after practice and walk over to the Nittany Lion Inn, then hop a flight to Madison to face Wisconsin on Friday. The Inn is a frequent holiday spot for the team.

“We’re in a food coma by the end of it,” senior Simone Lee said. “But it’s so much fun being able to sit and relax with our teammates and coaches, kind of have a little time to be thankful and share time with our teammates.”

The schedule actually worked in Lee’s favor this year. She’s from Menomonee Falls, about 90 minutes from Madison. She didn’t know if there was anything special planned, but a big collection of extended family will be making the drive to see her.

Missing special occasions and holidays is part of the package of being a college athlete, and for some it is a sacrifice they have made many times with high school or club teams. Holiday breaks to see family may be something most college students take for granted, but for some Penn State athletes, even if they don’t get to go home, they are far from alone.

Said Lee: “We’re always going to be a family no matter what we do.”

Gordon Brunskill: 814-231-4608, @GordonCDT

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