No. 7 Penn State has no shortage of young talent across all positions.
However, the most important players on its roster are the ones that have already gone through a lot to get to where they are today.
A prime example of this is the career trajectory of outside hitter Nia Reed.
The redshirt senior barely played any meaningful volleyball at the collegiate level until this season.
This was in large part because she was playing behind Simone Lee and Ali Frantti , two All-Americans and in the case of the former, one of the best players in the nation.
“Nia’s story is an interesting one because she’s had to play behind All-American outside hitters in the past few years,” coach Russ Rose said. “I think that she’s always had great patience in how she has conducted herself in waiting for her opportunity to play, and there have been real flashes of brilliance from her this season.”
Much like her teammate, Bryanna Weiskircher has spent the majority of her career playing behind an All-American.
After redshirting in her freshman season, Weiskircher had a breakout season in 2015, before having to play behind Abby Detering for two consecutive seasons as Penn State’s backup setter.
Despite all of this, she remained an integral part of Penn State’s core throughout the years and has embraced the leadership role that was thrust upon her at the start of this season.
“Bryanna has been here for over four years now, and I think she’s had matches this year where she has made great decisions and passed really well” Rose said. “Her career has been an up-and-down ride, but most of the time, she has a handle on what helps us win.”
In her first year at Penn State, graduate transfer Taylor Leath has been an integral member of a Nittany Lions’ team that has benefited from a veteran presence in the locker room.
A former ACC Player of the Year, Leath transferred to Penn State after four years at North Carolina.
Her experience and leadership that she has brought to the team are two qualities that Rose and her teammates value just as much as her ability to perform on the court.
“I’ve known Taylor for a long time, probably since we played together when I was 14,” Reed said. “Her experience and leadership abilities have been great for us, and to get the chance to graduate with one of my best friends means the world to me. I wouldn’t want to go out any other way.”
The last few weeks of the season also present an opportunity to give recognition to the older players that don’t see the court very often, but are just as important to the team as its starters.
One such player is Bayleigh Hoffman , a Pennsylvania native who played for Louisiana-Monroe, before eventually transferring to Penn State and spending her final year of collegiate eligibility as a member of the Nittany Lions.
The defensive specialist hasn’t played in many matches this season, but she has done enough to garner praise from her coach.
“Bayleigh hasn’t had as many opportunities to play as the other seniors, but she’s worked really hard in her time here and has earned her spot on the team,” Rose said. “She’s a more mature player, and I think we need that.”
Nittany Lions welcome Michigan and Northwestern to Rec Hall
The last time that Penn State played No. 19 Michigan, it turned in one of its best performances of the season in a pivotal road victory back on September 30.
Nearly two months later, the Nittany Lions are once again in need of a victory.
The blue and white will play host to the Wolverines on Wednesday, before Northwestern comes to Happy Valley for senior night on Saturday.
Penn State has dropped three of its last five matches, with all three losses coming in five sets against ranked opponents.
In fact, the Nittany Lions have not beaten a ranked team since their five-set triumph over Nebraska on October 13.
While they have beaten Michigan once already this season, Rose and his players are well aware that the Wolverines are a side that will make the NCAA tournament and can present a serious challenge to anyone they face.
“I think Michigan has one of the best outside hitters in the conference in [Carly] Skjodt,” Rose said. “She and [Paige] Jones are a great tandem on the outside, and they’ve had some great wins this year. We’re going to have to play a lot better than we have in recent matches if we want to leave with a victory.”
A staunch believer in taking things one game at a time, Rose is not overlooking this weekend’s matchup against the Wildcats, even as next week’s slate of Minnesota and Wisconsin looms large in the distance.
“I’m not looking ahead, that’s something I never do,” Rose said. “I know that Northwestern will do its best to come in here and try to reverse the result from last weekend, and we need to be ready for that challenge.”