The Penn State women’s volleyball team got to experience one of the benefits of being a part of a top college program with a helpful booster club.
The Nittany Lions recently returned from a 10-day tour of Europe, not only seeing the sights as tourists but also facing some pretty sound volleyball competition.
“To me, it’s still a work trip,” head coach Russ Rose said. “I want the girls to work hard and compete and do the things you need to do to be a better volleyball team.”
The work included matches against professional teams, and the Czech and Italian national teams.
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The play included stops in Milan, Venice, Vienna and Prague.
Athletes got to experience playing against professionals making close to $500,000 a year, and caught a glimpse of volleyball life beyond Penn State.
“We saw some good things,” Rose said. “We had a couple players play well. I thought Ariel Scott was the most dominant hitter of all the teams (we played). … Her eyes should have been opened to the bright lights of the future.”
Rose said he toyed with the lineup occasionally. With injuries to many players during the spring – he counted 10 of them visiting the trainers at the end of spring practices — there was plenty of movement. Middle blockers Katie Slay, who had foot surgery, along with Erica Denney and Maddie Martin left Aiyana Whitney playing as a middle.
“We had a tough spring with all the injuries,” Rose said. “We had so many kids out we were unable to practice as a group.”
He also had Megan Courtney, who played strictly as an outside hitter last season, putting in a little work at setter.
It was certainly educational for many, with a lot of help for the program’s booster club, which paid for the trip.
The Nittany Lions have announced their schedule for the fall.
Among the highlights is the season-opening Penn State Invitational with Syracuse visiting Aug. 30 to open the season, and top-15 program Louisville the following night. Also part of the tournament is the Polish national team.
“We had a difficult time finding teams to play,” Rose said. “Moreso than any other year. The hardest year ever.”
The following weekend is the fourth and final installment of the Nike Big Four Tournament in Texas. The Nittany Lions will meet the host and defending national champion Longhorns on Sept. 7 and then face Florida on Sept. 8.
The tournament will be replaced with a new event the following four years with Stanford, UCLA and Illinois all meeting in a form of a Big Ten-Pac 12 showdown. The Nittany Lions and Illini will not meet each other in the event.
A tournament at Florida Gulf Coast comes the next weekend, then the Penn State Classic with NCAA teams Albany and Yale, coached by former Penn State assistant Erin Appleman, among the participants.
The Big Ten slate opens Sept. 27-28 with Michigan State and Michigan, Minnesota visits Oct. 11, and the Nittany Lions only face Nebraska once this year – on the road Nov. 30 to close the regular season.
“It’s a disappointment because it’s a big match,” Rose said. “Not just for both of our programs, but it’s a national match. For the last couple of years it’s been on TV.”
Feel the chill
Crews have begun installing air conditioning in the main gym of Rec Hall.
All entrances into the gym were boarded up after the men’s team played its final home match at the end of April, and everything should be done in time for the start of the women’s season. The project is only for the main gym, and does not include the south gym, where both teams usually practice.
“It will be a welcome thing for the fans in early-season matches,” Rose said. “We don’t practice in there very much. It’s going to benefit the fans more than it’s going to work with us.”
While Penn State has for years hosted summer camps for high school-age athletes, Rose is starting a new camp this year for a younger set: Volley Tots.
The day camp for ages 8 and up, held on campus, will run July 11-13.