September 3rd Quotes: Coach Rose, Gabby Blossom, Serena Gray, Jenna Hampton

Penn State women’s volleyball held its first Tuesday press conference of the 2019 season before practice earlier today at Rec Hall.

Head coach Russ Rose and the sophomore trio of Gabby Blossom, Serena Gray, and Jenna Hampton fielded questions from the media. Below is the transcript of their responses.

Coach Rose on Iowa State and LSU:

“Both teams and programs have a tradition of success and come from conferences that have great success. The teams and coaches are accustomed to playing top-level teams. LSU scrimmaged Texas early in the season. Iowa State’s in the same conference as Texas. Everybody recognizes you start your season and then you play matches. We started at home and then we play on the road. Next week we’re back at home. You want to do a variety of things with the talent and the team you have returning before you really get into your conference schedule. Certainly playing Iowa State and LSU will give us a much better indication of where we are. Playing on the road and then playing teams that are certainly much more physical than the teams we played last week.”

Coach Rose on not looking too far ahead and Penn State’s ranking:

“With rally score, anything can happen. It’s not a given that you’re going to win no matter who you play. I wouldn’t want it to be perceived that you look past any teams that you play, but certainly our team is aware that Iowa State — A: we’re going on the road. B: They’re always a team that’s in the top 10 in the country every year in attendance. Both teams are accustomed to playing teams that are ranked nationally. I don’t think our ranking is justified, but I’m not on the poll this year for the first time in the history of the poll. I can’t take any sort of responsibility for the ranking of the team, but certainly I know that early season rankings are normally a reflection of the past teams’ performances. I’m sure our ranking over the course of this season will be a reflection of our performance not our history.”

Coach Rose on what goes into coaching a young team:

“Every team has challenges. Our team has three quarters of the players on the roster are freshmen and sophomores. Not all of them have played and certainly they haven’t all played together. The challenges that you get when you haven’t played together are magnified when you play on the road. That’s why you play on the road. In our conference, 50 percent of your schedule is at home and 50 percent is on the road. That’s why 50 percent of our preseason schedule is at home and 50 percent is on the road, just because we want the players to get some exposure to that. Every season is different. There are some teams that are veteran teams. When you have a veteran team, you want to play much more of a veteran schedule and you’re not afraid to tee it up against the best teams in the country. When you’ve got a lot of younger players, you’re a little more sensitive to making sure that you don’t risk them getting beat up by the top teams and the veteran teams when they need to take the progress a little slower.”

Coach Rose on Kendall White training with the U.S. team this summer:

“I would think the benefit is that she was in the gym with one of the top teams in the world and she had an opportunity to see where her skill set matched with other people. I’m a big fan of how Kendall plays and yet I recognize that she’s not for everybody. I just think that every coach wants to coach certain types of players and wants to have a certain culture in their gym all the time. What I like about Kendall is that she plays hard every day. Even when she’s dinged up, I don’t have to worry about her lingering by the training room or complaining about this and that hurting. I like players who are tough and value the opportunity to compete and represent the school or their country or whatever group they’re associated with. I haven’t talked with anybody at USA Volleyball about it. I talked to them before she went there, but I haven’t talked to anybody since she went there.”

Coach Rose on Serena Gray on and off the court:

“Certainly off the court one of Serena’s great attributes is she’s an incredibly strong student. I think she’s an independent thinker. I think those things serve her really well. On the court, she’s just really a physically strong athlete. Stevie Mussie, who was a former assistant when she was here, was mostly involved in Serena’s recruitment. Serena came in and she had a really strong freshman year. Unfortunately she was unable to play in the NCAAs last year and certainly her absence hurt us in our ability to play at our best. This past weekend, I thought she played really well. Every week is different. Different match-ups always come into play. It’s kind of like yesterday with the tennis, where [Naomi] Osaka lost to a person who’s beaten her three times in a row. And if that was the case, then that person should have been the No. 1 seed but wasn’t. Sometimes it’s just different match-ups. Sometimes you’re connecting well with the setter and you’re playing really well. You might play great one day and then the next day you really struggle and the connection’s off and things like that. This past weekend, I thought both of the middles played really well.”

Coach Rose on the coming challenges this weekend:

“We’ll see how it goes this weekend. I’m sure Iowa State and LSU have the ability to look at our videos and look at our stats and they’ll have a game plan for slowing those individuals down, then we’ll have to have some other people be ready to pick up the slack. That’s what you need in a team sport is you need multiple people who are always ready to play and that’s what makes it fun. That’s why you practice every day, so that everybody’s ready for their opportunity to contribute whatever it is they can contribute. You don’t know going into a match who’s going to get the opportunity to excel, but you know that everybody has an opportunity to do that, so you hope that they’re taking advantage of their preparation time.”

Coach Rose on the type of culture he tries to establish within his program: 

“It’s what you do when no one’s watching, not what you do when people come in with a camera and set it up and you need to make sure that you have your makeup on and everything is looking good because it’s a TV game. It’s what do you do every day when you don’t feel like getting up and working out and getting your rest and watching your diet and doing the things that you have to do to give yourself a chance to be successful. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to be successful, you just have to control all the variables to give yourself the best chance to be successful. The fact that it’s a team sport — so many variables don’t really rest with just you. The best team players are the ones who don’t care who gets the accolades; they care that the team wins. I care that the team wins. I don’t care which players you guys write about. I just want you to write about them and not me.”

Coach Rose on Keeton Holcomb’s return to the court:

“Keeton’s always had a really good skill set. I thought she came in and she passed well. It’s always one of the things she does well. She’s an experienced player. I’d like to think that after taking a year off that she would have good energy and would be enthused about the opportunity to get back out there and play. It helped that we had a nice crowd at home. That always makes it easier for the players to play at home. It’s a whole different set of circumstances when you’re playing on the road.”

Gabby Blossom on her mentality as the full-time starter:

“It’s definitely the same mentality [as last year]. Whether it was last year or this year, it’s always the same. You want to win every game. No matter what your role is on the team, you want to win.”

Gabby Blossom on working on her defense and blocking:

Gabby Blossom

“Defense is definitely something where when I got here Coach [Rose] was like, ‘You’re small. You’re not going to magically grow, so you’re going to need to learn to play defense.’ It’s definitely something in the spring I worked a lot on with [volunteer assistant Chris Rose]. He’s more of our defense coach. He hit a lot of balls at me, so it’s definitely something I’ve improved on for sure.”

Gabby Blossom on the team’s first road trip:

“Road trips are always pretty fun. With the new freshmen, it’ll be a little different. Every trip’s a little bit different. We’re chartering so we’re pretty lucky. It’s pretty nice. Missing a day of class is definitely not ideal, but our professors are really cool about it and we get time on the road to do homework.”

Gabby Blossom on Allyson Cathey’s development as a player:

“Allyson is definitely a person who’s going to go after it. I think sometimes last year she could be a little timid and her role was more to go in and not make errors. This year, being one of our go-to hitters, she’s definitely aggressive and she’ll take big swings at the ball. That’s awesome to see. I love Allyson. I love setting her.”

Gabby Blossom on words she tries to live by:

“In the gym, it’s definitely, ‘Go hard.’ That’s the Penn State volleyball thing is we go hard every single day no matter what we’re doing.”

Gabby Blossom on setting the middle blockers:

“We probably have two of the best middles in the country on our team. As a setter, getting to set people like that, it’s very fun. It makes my job really easy. They’re big, they’re up in the air, they’re easy targets to try to set. They’re both very different, which also makes it really fun. The way they celebrate their successes are different. I’m personally a setter who loves forcing middle. When you get to play with two of the best in the country, it makes it a lot of fun.”

Serena Gray on her connection with Gabby Blossom last weekend:

Serena Gray

“There’s definitely a lot of room for improvement. It definitely wasn’t where it needs to be, but it shows that we started at a really good starting point. We were able to keep the sets high. If it was too high, I could tip. None of the sets were too low. Me and [Kaitlyn Hord], just getting in a lot of reps in the gym paid off. We learned to rely on each other. Gabby knows I’m going to be there. I know Gabby’s going to be there. It’s kind of like that unspoken trust. I just think that’s what helped us really be cohesive in the middle last weekend.”

Serena Gray on her biggest takeaway from last season:

“That it’s okay to fail knowing that you’re getting better. You can’t expect to be good without taking risks. You need to know that the harder you’re hitting or the more risky the play you’re trying to make, the bigger the reward, but then also the lower the low could be. I think that’s an important thing to keep in mind even in practice. Knowing that you sailed a ball far out that, yeah, it really sucked and it looked awful, but one day you’re going to be able to hit that deep-corner shot really hard and it’s going to be worth it.”

Serena Gray on whether she has any pre-match superstitions:

“I wouldn’t say I’m superstitious, but I have my routines. Every time I go back to serve, I do a one-two-three bounce, spin it in my hand, pop it up a couple times. Ill breathe, stare at the point in the court, and serve it. That’s something I always do. Before games, I listen to a lot of music. People like to listen to hype music. I listen to [Canadian singer] Daniel Caesar.”

Jenna Hampton on her trip to Japan with the Big Ten this summer:

“It was really fun. The game is a lot different there. It was cool to play with other girls from the different teams. It was weird how close we all were, too. We kind of just got together and clicked instantly. It was a really good group of girls and we had a really good experience with really good competition. It really surprised me how good it was there.”

Jenna Hampton on her pre-match superstitions:

“For myself, I have to fold my left sock [down]. Only my left sock. I’m really weird about it. We get these fruit cups and I only eat the pineapple and grapes out of it. Our team, we do the ritual where we bang against the wall and then we run around the whole gym. We just have fun and get pumped for the game.”

Jenna Hampton on the season finally getting underway:

“It was awesome. The first day we had a great crowd. It was really fun to get out there and see everyone play. [Coach Rose] really got everyone involved those first couple of games, so it was cool to see how you’re standing now and how much you can get better from it.”

Jenna Hampton on how Macall Peed and Molly Russell performed in their debuts:

“Really well. I think they weren’t nervous when they went in there. They went in there and did their job. They served the ball in, they played defense. I think they did a really good job. I don’t think they had any jitters or anything, so it was good to see that.”