Gabby Blossom has been a revelation for Penn State women’s volleyball this season, taking the starting setter job and running with it full speed.
Blossom, a sophomore from St. Louis, Missouri, recently earned second team All-Big Ten recognition and is playing excellent volleyball heading into tonight’s Sweet 16 showdown against Cincinnati in Palo Alto.
She’s currently 14 assists away from surpassing Bryanna Weiskircher’s 2018 total of 1,258, which would be the most by a Penn State setter since Micha Hancock dished out 1,475 while leading the Nittany Lions to their most recent national championship in 2014.
“Gabby competes hard,” head coach Russ Rose said. “That’s really one of her main characteristics. I thought that was one of the things that Micha did really well as well when she was here. I thought she was a great competitor. Gabby came in with much more setting experience than Micha. Micha came in with an incredible serve and a great competitive spirit. I’ve been pleased with Gabby.”
While Blossom may not be the most physical blocker among Big Ten setters, she’s showcased an incredible ability to make plays in almost all facets of the game. She covers a huge amount of space on the court, often sliding to her knees to put up a perfect set for her hitters.
Blossom is second the team with 258 digs prior to NCAA regionals, while adding 47 kills, 34 blocks, and 24 aces. Blossom, who has been a setter since she was 10 years old, leads the Nittany Lions with 11 double-doubles so far this season. Her mother, Julie, was also a setter during her college days at Central Missouri.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Gabby and I think she’s made great progress in a lot of areas,” Rose said. “I think she has to continue to set the ball high enough for the middles to be able to do what they do well. That’s one of our strengths. She needs to distribute the ball well.”
Blossom discussed the performances of Penn State’s talented middle blockers, Serena Gray and Kaitlyn Hord, following the team’s sweep of Princeton in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Rec Hall last Friday.
“They are two players who are always really good for us,” Blossom said. “Serena and Kaitlyn, both of them are really good in the middle and they hold a lot of blocks and allow our pins some great opportunities to score, so I thought that they were great and they were big reasons why we won tonight.”
Hord is currently second in the nation and tops in the Big Ten with a .445 hitting percentage. Only Western Kentucky’s Lauren Matthews has a better clip (.448) at the moment, but Hord could overtake her with a strong showing against Cincinnati since the Hilltoppers lost to Louisville in the second round.
Both Blossom and Hord were named to the AVCA All-Northeast Region team alongside Jonni Parker and Kendall White earlier this week. Gray was an honorable mention selection and is second among Nittany Lions with a .368 hitting percentage.
“I think Gabby’s playing really well right now,” assistant coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley said. “She’s playing defense, she’s serving aggressive, she’s moving the ball around, and I think really starting to connect with the middles and put up a great ball for the outside hitters.”
Like New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter and many other great athletes, Blossom always chews gum while she plays, saying she prefers Trident mint over other options. Blossom has an infectious energy on the court and will likely take over for White as the team’s primary fiery persona next season.
“The tournament is the most fun time of the year,” Blossom said. “This is why you play college volleyball. This is what you dream of as a little kid. Our team, we have very good team chemistry, so it’s easier for us because we’re such good friends.
“In the locker room, we’re dancing and singing and having a good time before games. Then you definitely get focused and ready before the game.”
Blossom, who was one of the most highly sought after setters in the country in the 2018 recruiting class, committed to the Nittany Lions prior to her sophomore year of high school. She had her pick of elite Division I programs, but knew that she wanted to play for Rose.
“Penn State was my dream school,” Blossom said last season. “I never thought that it would happen. I was lucky enough where it did end up happening. As soon as they offered me, I committed.”
Blossom’s main competition for Big Ten setter of the year next season will be incumbent winner Sydney Hilley of Wisconsin, while Nebraska’s Nicklin Hames is also a formidable force in the conference after joining Hilley on the All-Big Ten first team this year.
Following a reverse sweep of the Badgers at Rec Hall, Blossom was complimentary of Hilley’s skill set and said she enjoyed the opportunity to go head-to-head with her.
“She’s really good,” Blossom said. “I have a lot of respect for her. She’s probably the best setter in the conference, so I think she’s great. I’ve seen her in club, I’ve seen her in college. She’s a really good setter. I definitely learned a lot watching her and stuff like that, so it was fun.”
If Penn State makes it to the national championship match on December 21 in Pittsburgh, there’s a good chance Blossom and the Nittany Lions would be playing against either Hilley or Hames, whose teams are both on the opposite side of the bracket.
When times get tough, as they inevitably do during a long season in the nation’s most competitive conference, Blossom digs deep and remembers why she started playing volleyball in the first place.
“We have so many goals as a team,” Blossom said. “Playing for this program, you grew up watching them win Big Ten championships and national championships. That’s why me and I know all my teammates come here is for those moments.
“You know it’s going to be hard at some points, but you have those dreams in the back of your mind and you have teammates who you want to push through for, because I know I have teammates who go hard every single day. If they’re going hard for me, I want to go hard for them.”