Penn State coach Russ Rose has set the gold standard for the sport of women’s college volleyball along with attaining elite status in Penn State athletics history.
Under Rose’s guidance for the past 38 years, Penn State has won seven national championships along with 17 Big Ten championships. Rose has coached more than 1,200 victories in his Hall of Fame career. Penn State recorded a 109-match winning streak spanning 2007 to 2010, which is mentioned in the same breath as UCLA’s men’s basketball 88-game winning streak in the 1970s and Connecticut’s women’s basketball more recent 111-game streak.
Look through Penn State sports history. Only fencing and men’s gymnastics have more national championships, but it’s clear the women’s volleyball program is in an elite class at PSU. His programs have produced USA Olympians and the USA national team rosters are sprinkled with PSU players. The All-American list continues to grow with Haleigh Washington and Simone Lee on the first team, Kendall White on the second team, and Ali Frantti, Heidi Thelen and Abby Detering named honorable mention.
Rec Hall crowd averages for the fifth highest in the nation, including more than 3,500 in the regional championship match against Michigan State.
The women’s volleyball team embodies the “success with honor” platform evident by senior Haleigh Washington earning Academic All-American status for third straight just to mention one example. Washington and fellow All-American Simone Lee were 2017 Senior Class Award winners for excellence in classroom, community, character, and competition.
But for all of the success has achieved, Penn State women’s volleyball fans are spoiled by the accomplishments and expectations that come along with that success. The volleyball team finishes third in the nation with a 33-2 record and it opens the door for sports fans like Les Hart of Duncansville to write letters to the Altoona Mirror Sports Mailbag saying Penn State “has fallen big-time” and “Coach Russ Rose should hang it up.”
I applaud Hart for following and appreciating Penn State women’s volleyball, but he would be in the very, small minority that Rose should retire. The legendary coach has earned the right to select his retirement date. For the sport to grow its fan base, it’s just can’t be volleyball players.
The other thing that gets lost in discussion is what I call “the Penn State effect.” Because of Altoona’s proximity to Penn State, local volleyball players aspire to be the next Christa Harmotta, Alisha Glass, Micha Hancock, Simone Lee, and Haleigh Washington. Local coaches and fans benefit from Coach Rose being the guest speaker at the Altoona Mirror Athlete of the Year Banquet along with the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Annual Coaches Clinic being hosted in the State College with a definite Penn State flavor.
And thanks to programs like Penn State, girls’ volleyball has become the most popular team sport in the United States by participation, edging out basketball for the honor. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would see 700 to 1,000 fans at the Altoona Area Fieldhouse to watch Bishop Guilfoyle play in the District 6 championship match in 2011, 2013 and 2016.
The Penn State effect is also evident with club volleyball in this area. Close to 200 girls, ages 12 through 18, tried out for the Horseshoe Volleyball Club based out of Blair County. In five years, Western Pa. AAU has grown from 75 members to 700 plus members. Club programs have tripled in that span.
This success has to be traced back to the speed of the leader – Coach Rose and the Penn State women’s volleyball team - and volleyball locally and nationally is forever indebted.