Penn State women’s volleyball will soon welcome three talented freshmen to campus as part of its 2020 recruiting class.
Annie Cate Fitzpatrick, Macy Van Den Elzen, and Maddy Bilinovic are scheduled to arrive at University Park this summer after successful high school and club careers that saw them compete at the highest level around the country.
Fitzpatrick and Van Den Elzen represented the Nittany Lions at the 14th annual Under Armour All-America Volleyball Match on December 31 in Orlando, Florida, where they helped Team Pressure sweep Team Savage. The prestigious showcase brings together 24 of the nation’s best high school volleyball players for a few days of friendly competition.
Fitzpatrick finished with nine kills, six digs, an ace, and a block while playing six rotations for much of the match. Van Den Elzen had two kills, three digs, and the only solo block of the night. They were later named Gatorade State Player of the Year for Florida and Pennsylvania, respectively.
Fitzpatrick, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from Trinity Catholic in Ocala, also earned 2019 Florida Dairy Farmers Miss Volleyball honors. She and Bilinovic were each ranked within VolleyballMag.com’s Girls Fab 50, which was compiled thanks to a panel of NCAA coaches. Fitzpatrick is considered a top 10 prospect nationally this recruiting cycle, according to the publication.
Van Den Elzen, a 6-foot-4 outside hitter from Emmaus, Pennsylvania, was named Girls Volleyball Player of the Year by The Morning Call, a news publication based in the Lehigh Valley. She will be the only player from Pennsylvania on Penn State’s 2020 roster following the graduation of Kristin Krause, an Allentown standout who played defensive specialist for the Nittany Lions. Krause was the Gatorade State Player of the Year in 2015 at volleyball powerhouse Parkland High School.
Bilinovic, a 5-foot-5 defensive specialist from Independence, Ohio, will provide some much-needed reinforcement at the position now that Krause, Keeton Holcomb, Emily Sciorra, and legendary libero Kendall White have all moved on from their college careers. Jenna Hampton is likely to win the libero job and Macall Peed and Molly Russell are rising sophomores, but there is plenty of playing time up for grabs at defensive specialist this offseason.
Fitzpatrick, who was also an excellent basketball player early in high school, starred on the club volleyball circuit for Ocala Power, while Van Den Elzen played for East Coast Power and Bilinovic represented Academy Cleveland.
Fitzpatrick, Van Den Elzen, and Bilinovic graciously took the time to answer a few questions on how they’ve been getting creative with their training this spring due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and why Penn State was the right fit for them, among other topics.
Bilinovic said she’s planning to wear No. 2 for the Nittany Lions, while Fitzpatrick and Van Den Elzen said they haven’t chosen their jersey numbers yet. Fitzpatrick wore No. 17 in high school and No. 18 at the Under Armour match. Junior setter Gabby Blossom already wears No. 13, so Van Den Elzen will need to pick a new number.
DigNittany: What was your experience like at the Under Armour All-America match?
Fitzpatrick: “My experience at the Under Armour All-America match was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was amazing meeting so many new people and getting to play on such a high-level team with all of them. We got a ton of awesome gear and they treated us like pro athletes for a couple days. It was a super cool thing to be a part of.”
Van Den Elzen: “It was surreal. The opportunity to play with and be among the top players in the country was so much fun. I made some new friends and I am so fortunate that I got to experience it with AC.”
DigNittany: What are your strengths as a player and what do you need to focus on improving?
Bilinovic: “My biggest strength is competing as hard as I can every time I step on the court. I pride myself on my leadership skills and work hard on my tough floater serve. I need to focus on reading the hitter’s arm more efficiently and staying disciplined on defense to help my team be the best we can be.”
DigNittany: What kind of training have you been doing to get ready for your enrollment?
Fitzpatrick: “Since all of the gyms in my town are closed, I’ve been running a lot and lifting in a makeshift gym in our garage. All of the volleyball gyms have shut down, too, so my dad put up a net and built the plywood pepper board that I’ve been using with my younger sister.”
Van Den Elzen: “Once the stay-at-home quarantine started, I have been lifting, running, and practicing my skills here at home. I have a small gym in my basement and a net outside, so it’s business as usual. I’ve also been reading some great books on mental prep. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Bilinovic: “I focus on strength and agility training as well as cardio. This consists of speed work and lifting. Most importantly, I do everything I can to get touches on the ball.”
DigNittany: What are your soon-to-be classmates like as people and what stands out to you about their playing styles?
Fitzpatrick: “They’re both awesome people and I’m super excited to get to play with them. They’re both very intense and very focused on their craft and they bring a lot of energy into the game.”
Van Den Elzen: “On and off the court, they are both supportive. AC and Maddy are fiery, loyal, and determined players. They bring a lot of positive energy to the court and that is what I love in a teammate.”
Bilinovic: “I could not ask for two better teammates than AC and Macy to have in my class. Their competitive spirits are contagious and there is no question that the number one thing on their minds is winning. They are both such fun and easygoing people and I’m excited to spend time together on and off the court.”
DigNittany: What was it about Penn State’s message that resonated with you?
Fitzpatrick: “I just really love the culture at Penn State, where team goals are greater than individual goals. Everyone wants to win and is going to give their 100 percent in order for the team to succeed.”
Van Den Elzen: “I have always aspired to be a part of the Penn State legacy. I have respect for both the university and volleyball program, as they care about you as a student, a player, and a person.”
Bilinovic: “Penn State has the best of both worlds with elite academics and one of the top volleyball programs in the country. The culture that Coach Rose and the entire coaching staff has established allows me to compete with my teammates at the highest level of collegiate volleyball. I cannot wait to be a part of the Penn State community and family.”
DigNittany: Who has been your biggest volleyball mentor to this point in your career and why?
Fitzpatrick: “I have two coaches who have been huge impacts on my life, Coach Jeff Reavis and Coach Jason Morris. Coach Jason coached me from when I started my career to the beginning of high school. He was such a great motivator in terms of leading my team and getting fired up. Coach Jeff coached me throughout high school and worked with me on perfecting the fundamentals of volleyball and the strategy of the game. I’ve made huge strides with both of them and I am so thankful that they have dedicated so much time to helping me be a better player.”
Van Den Elzen: “I have been fortunate to have learned from many mentors throughout my career. Chris Lewonka, Jeff Wismer, Mike Krause, and Chris Birch — all of them have played important roles in my development and still continue to help me.”
Bilinovic: “My biggest volleyball mentor was my high school coach, Megan Osysko. She taught me what it means to work hard and be a leader.”