Check out the transcript from Tuesday’s Penn State women’s volleyball media availability featuring quotes from Russ Rose, Nia Reed, Taylor Leath, and Jonni Parker.
The Nittany Lions (25-7) will face Washington Friday at 6 p.m. ET at Maples Pavilion with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line.
Coach Rose on the Sweet 16:
“It’s a short week for sure in preparation for traveling across the country when you have this time of the year with the kids academically with so many other things going on in their lives. We’ll probably have a better opportunity to practice when we get out to California as far as everybody in practice and on task.”
Coach Rose on Penn State’s freshmen:
“I think we’ve had flashes throughout the year where we’ve had two or three of the freshmen who are on the floor play well one night, and maybe the next night somebody else stepped up and somebody else stepped back. I think that’s part of what you get with younger players in a really competitive conference is they don’t have a good handle on that back-to-back mentality. Certainly I would say that Jonni [Parker] has had to carry a heavier load because we set her so much more than we maybe set Serena [Gray] or Kaitlyn [Hord] or Allyson [Cathey] in the role that she’s been playing as of late. All of them have had a significant part of the success that the team has had to date.”
Coach Rose on the Pac-12:
“I don’t have a good handicap system for the Pac-12 teams. I don’t really have a barometer. We play Stanford every year and we played Oregon earlier in the year. We played Washington a few years back in the national championship. The last time I saw Washington, both of us were at the Nebraska regional. I watched the film of their matches last weekend. They were similar to us in the fact that they hit significantly better last weekend than their statistics were for the year — the difference being they beat a really good Creighton team at Creighton and we played two matches at home. Certainly both teams had to feel better about their offensive production compared to the statistics for the season.”
Coach Rose on traveling to Stanford:
“Well, I wouldn’t say it’s an advantage. I just look at it as, ‘It is what it is.’ I’m not going to spend any time worrying about the things that we can’t control. We’re going to go to Stanford and we’re going to play Washington on Friday and hopefully we’ll play well and have an opportunity to play again on Saturday.”
Coach Rose on Penn State’s bench:
“Jenna [Hampton] plays all the time. I would say Jenna’s played every game this year, so she’s been a real valuable person off the bench. She’ll have to play well because I think some of the matches that we played really well – I thought against Nebraska at home and Minnesota – I thought Jenna played well and Gabby [Blossom] came off the bench and played well. We need the players coming in to have some production, so if it’s back-row players we need them to be able to come in and serve tough and play well defensively.
“For players who are going in the front row, they need to either score some points or get some good touches or give somebody a breather who’s tiring out in the front. There’s not a real mystery to what substitutes are supposed to do, but certainly we have been playing more than six or seven people. I watched the Connecticut women’s basketball team a couple days ago and they won by 19 against Notre Dame, the No. 1 team in the country, and Geno [Auriemma] played six players.”
Coach Rose on what stands out about Washington:
“[Samantha] Drechsel is a player who we’re familiar with because she played at Maryland last year and was a player who attended our camp when she was a little bit younger. She’s been a real key player for them, and their other outside hitter [Kara] Bajema is a player who’s got close to 1,200 swings and has been good. Washington’s been good for a long time and they have a certain style of play and system they play in. They play it very well.
“I think they’ll be the best serving team we’ve played. I think they’re an exceptionally disciplined and good blocking team and their outside hitters are good. I think all the teams that advance at this time of the season are playing well and have some specific things that their teams do that enable them to find success in the tournament, because there are teams that have had better seasons that aren’t playing this weekend. That’s just the nature of a one-and-done scenario.”
Coach Rose on Stanford:
“We beat Oregon and lost to Stanford. When we played Oregon, I think we caught them. They were really high because they had beaten Minnesota the day before when Minnesota was the No. 1 team in the country. They might have been celebrating still from the day before. Stanford’s just really strong at every position. They have last year’s player of the year in [Kathryn] Plummer and I would say the answer is nobody else does. She’s one player who has the ability to score all the time. They have good balance.
“I don’t know as much about Washington State, the other team that’s there, but I’m certainly familiar with the season that Stanford’s had. They only lost the one match to BYU. The fact that the Pac-12 had more teams in the tournament than the Big Ten is an indication that the conference is very healthy and strong. There will be three teams in that regional when we get out there. They’ll all be familiar with where to go eat and stay. They’re more familiar with the facility, but we’ve played there earlier in the year, so we’ve been there before.”
Coach Rose on fan support at Maples Pavilion:
“I think we’ll have some support. I know we have fans coming from here and the players’ parents are always going to come. There’s always a good following from the Penn State [alumni] club of Northern California that will be there. Certainly it won’t be the size that Stanford had, but when we played there earlier in the year we had a real good turnout.”
Jonni Parker on the first weekend of the NCAA tournament:
“The first time being in the tournament has definitely been a whirlwind and an exciting experience. I couldn’t imagine doing it with anybody else. My role this year has evolved so much, especially changing roles from my past. I think my teammates have helped me become a better player and all around in every area.”
Jonni Parker on the pressure of the tournament:
“Every game has to mean something or else you wouldn’t be where you are today. Every game has the same meaning as one at the beginning of the season. You want to win. You want to get that much further in each step. There might be more pressure added to each game, but you’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable in certain situations. That’s what this game teaches you.”
Nia Reed on the freshman class:
“I think what’s impressed me the most is they came in and they learned fast. We always talk about the freshmen, the freshmen, the freshmen, but Jonni here plays like a vet. She might be young but she has a lot of experience under her belt playing in six rotations.”
Taylor Leath on the freshmen:
“I think they’ve learned a lot since their first day stepping onto campus. They also help us learn and grow and better develop as older players as well. To me, the most impressive thing about them is how sponge-like they are. Whenever someone is trying to give them pointers or just any kind of feedback, it’s much more like a sponge.
“It’s not some kind of bear that you’re trying to fight against where they have these preconceived notions. They’re all really willing and open to work and also learn. That doesn’t happen all the time with athletes, especially when people are fighting for positions. There’s a lot of competition. They’re constantly willing to learn. It also helps the veterans and the other people in the same positions to grow as well.”
Taylor Leath on playing for Penn State:
“It’s a great opportunity and experience being here period. Just going through each game and being able to represent and wear the Penn State name and jersey has been such a privilege and such a great opportunity for me. I want to continue to be able to represent that name well. Coach and all of the women who have come before us have built and established a culture and a legacy here at Penn State. It’s only my intention to continue to add to that legacy. It’s been such a great experience to be playing with these women as well as being able to meet some of the previous women who have played for Coach to try to leave some kind of mark on it as well.”
Jonni Parker on being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year:
“It’s definitely a huge compliment and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my friends, family, coaches, teammates, and the fans here at Penn State. I think it just means that much more that they’re all there right beside me, because they got the award just as much as I did. I wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Nia Reed on Tori Gorrell’s performance over the weekend:
“It’s like every day in practice. She goes hard every day and I didn’t expect anything less. She’s a gamer and she stepped up to the role. She’s the main reason we won against Syracuse.”
Nia Reed on how her role evolved:
“My last four years here, Coach has always said, ‘Be ready.’ I’ve just always been ready no matter what game it was, because you never know when you’re going to go in. Kind of like Tori in the Syracuse match. She was ready and that’s what we’re taught here at Penn State. You don’t have time to be moping on the sidelines, because when your opportunity comes knocking you have to be ready to answer it. I think that was my role before this year.
“I think just the competition at this level and all the recruits who come here, we have such a deep bench. Especially last year, our bench was deep. Even though I was on the bench, I was always ready. I think that having that winning mentality prepares you.”
Taylor Leath on how she’s helped Jenna Hampton develop:
“I just work with Jenna mostly on communication. Whenever we’re passing or things like that, especially in serve-receive Jenna oftentimes is next to me whenever we’re in three passers, if she tends to be quiet I just kind of try to help her work with communicating. Coach talks about the importance of communication in the game of volleyball just overall in terms of communicating before, during, and after the play.
“It can be a learning curve of how important it is for you to communicate and open your mouth. I don’t know if it’s as much working on it with her as kind of being like, ‘I need you to talk to me. I’ll be a better communicator with you.’ That’s been the biggest thing that I’ve tried to work with her on and hoping that from this team to the next team to however long she chooses to play the sport that she’ll be able to take that away. Coach makes that a very significant theme of the way volleyball is played and the way Penn State volleyball is played.”
Taylor Leath on the challenge of traveling to California:
“I think that there are a lot of challenges in going across the country. The other teams that are in that regional are West Coast teams. They don’t have to face a significant time difference, whereas we will. We have the privilege of being able to charter out there, so it’s a more comfortable trip for us, but it’s still a really long trip to be up in the air. You can get stiff and things like that just being on the plane for such a long period of time. Either way, we have to be ready to play. That’s the mentality that we have to take into the weekend overall.”
Nia Reed on the rigors of Big Ten volleyball:
“Every weekend, we say it’s like playing in an Elite Eight. I think this whole Big Ten season, it was kind of like playing in a regional. I think it’s prepared us both mentally and physically for games like this coming up.”
Taylor Leath on representing the Big Ten this weekend:
“We understand that playing in the Big Ten has done a lot for preparing us for having to perform night after night, especially back-to-back nights with competition that is of the caliber of some of the top teams in the nation. You represent the Big Ten, but you also represent Penn State. We represent [Coach Rose] and we represent the women who are to our left and our right.”
Taylor Leath on the level of competition ratcheting up:
“Every team that is in the NCAA tournament has earned the opportunity. There’s talent across the board at every level. As Coach says, it’s not necessarily about who you’re playing, it’s about how you’re playing. Upsets happen. It’s about how you are prepared and how you showed up to play and the way that you’re taking care of your business that day. Yeah, we’re going to face really good teams this weekend, but overall it’s not even about who we’re playing. It’s about how we’re preparing to play and the mindset that we’re coming into the weekend with.”
Taylor Leath on the importance of bench contributions:
“At North Carolina, we ran a 6-2 system, so we had to have people coming off the bench. The bench is always important. I think in volleyball and really every team sport, one of the important things is understanding that everyone has a role and every single role is equally as important. Everyone contributes to something. I do think we have depth.
“We have people who can come in and help out in the middle. We have people who can come in and help out at the pin. We have people who can come in and help out as a serving specialist or a defensive specialist. We also have a bench that is full of energy. We call that ‘benergy’ here. That’s equally as important to have a bench that is able to bring a lot of energy, especially going to a place where we don’t have that home-court advantage. Being able to bring that energy along with us really helps us.”
Jonni Parker on the team’s different roles:
“I’ve had a setting role in the past and that’s different that I haven’t necessarily had to worry about that, but it also helps me because I can talk to our setters and tell them what I see from a different perspective. I can communicate with other hitters and let them know what I see.
“I think roles are very important on this team, especially with what Taylor said about the energy coming off the bench. For a sub to bring that energy to the court is sometimes what we need if we’re in a rut. We need somebody to come in who’s going to bring that energy to pick us up if we can’t seem to find it on the court and I think we’ve done a really good job of that this year.”