Penn State women’s volleyball finally beat Nebraska for the first time since November 2014 last Saturday. The come-from-behind victory wouldn’t have been possible without the team’s signature “benergy.”
Bench energy is always a point of emphasis for Russ Rose, but it’s especially important on a team that has eight true freshmen — none of whom are redshirting.
Now in his 40th season as head coach of the Nittany Lions, Rose didn’t hesitate to give his reserves significant playing time throughout the 3-2 win over the Cornhuskers.
“We used 10 substitutions in the fifth game and I thought it was to our advantage that we were able to substitute the way we did,” Rose said. “I just felt that at that point there was a great formula for giving those guys a chance, and I thought they did a real nice job.”
Freshman setter Gabby Blossom and junior defensive specialist Emily Sciorra were on the court to start the fifth set. Blossom, a former Under Armour All-American, has done a little bit of everything for the Nittany Lions. Sciorra is a dependable server and plays with tremendous hustle, just like the rest of Penn State’s talented back row.
“Everybody has to give what they have to give,” Rose said. “There’s not opportunities for everybody to play. There’s opportunities for everybody to give. Being on a team is a privilege not a right. Just because you’re not playing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be caring.”
Jenna Hampton is always one of the first players off the bench in a given match. The freshman from Tampa is the likely successor to Kendall White at libero in 2020. Hampton’s high school and club teammate, Amanda Phegley, has filled in as the backup right side behind Jonni Parker.
A natural middle blocker, Phegley was originally supposed to redshirt this season, but Rose decided her live arm and value on slide plays was too good to pass up. Phegley finished with a career-high six kills in Penn State’s 3-1 win over Purdue.
“I think we needed a little more offense and Amanda’s kind of like instant offense,” Rose said. “She’s got a great arm. She’s certainly one of our hardest hitters.”
When Nia Reed was sidelined for a few matches with an injury, freshman outside hitter Allyson Cathey showed why she was such a high-priority target for the Nittany Lions on the recruiting trail. Cathey tallied a career-high 15 kills in a loss to Ohio State on Sept. 23.
“Over the last couple of weeks we’ve really brought it as a team on the bench,” Reed said. “When you come off the bench, it’s nice to have them cheering you on and pushing you.”
Senior walk-on Bayleigh Hoffman has carved out a sizable role for herself at defensive specialist upon transferring in from Louisiana-Monroe, often splitting rotations with Hampton and Sciorra. Freshman Brooklynn Hill is also pushing for more playing time.
After training with Penn State alumna Roberta Holehouse McGuiney, Hoffman reached out to Rose on a whim and was excited to find a place on the roster this offseason.
Rose needed another veteran presence on a team featuring so many true freshmen and only 16 players. Hoffman, who hails from York, PA, instantly fit into the culture in the locker room and has been an overwhelming success in fulfilling her role.
Similarly, Kristin Krause is a player who doesn’t garner the type of recognition she deserves for her impact on the team’s day-to-day development. Rose relies on the redshirt sophomore defensive specialist, who wants to teach first grade once she graduates, to speak up in film sessions and during matches.
“Coming from him, who’s probably like the best coach in the world, it’s really important to me hearing that and knowing that he trusts me to give input to these girls and help us become the best team we can be,” Krause said.
As the daughter of a high school volleyball coach, Krause quite literally grew up around the game. Her older sister, Taylor, played for the Nittany Lions from 2013-16, winning the national championship her first two seasons.
Penn State is starting a pair of true freshmen at middle blocker this season in Serena Gray and Kaitlyn Hord, but redshirt junior and two-year starter Tori Gorrell has made the most of her different responsibilities.
“She’s always kept a really positive attitude,” Rose said. “I think she’s really done a nice job of trying to help the team in any way she possibly can.”
The Ontario native can play all three of the front-row positions and filled in well for an injured Hord against Nebraska. Gorrell’s extensive NCAA tournament experience will be essential regardless of the spot she’s occupying in the lineup come December.
“I think our bench energy is pretty great and it helps the team a lot,” Gorrell said. “We’re cheering for them and screaming their names and I just think that gets them going.”
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