When Paulina Prieto was being recruited to Penn State, she was always thrilled when Nittany Lions assistant coach Dennis Hohenshelt came to one of her matches.
“I like having a father-type relationship with my coaches and Dennis is like that,” Prieto said. “He’s intense, but he also can make me laugh. I feel like I can tell him anything.”
Those conversations will now have to be long distance. Hohenshelt left Penn State recently to become the head coach at the University of Virginia.
“When he told us he was leaving I [cried],” she said. He was a big part of my recruitment because he was always honest. I grew to love him. [But] I’m happy for him. He reached his dream of becoming a head coach.”
Penn State coach Russ Rose replaced Hohenshelt with Steve Aird, and Prieto has quickly bonded with the Nittany Lions’ new assistant. Prieto said Aird has provided much-needed “refreshment” to the Penn State program, bringing new ideas, energy, and creative approaches to the table.
“He knows how to push us but also how to be positive,” she said. “Certain coaches can’t find a happy medium between being tough and also having a relationship with [their] players. But Coach Aird knows what he’s doing. He’s very vocal at practice, and you can tell Coach Rose really trusts him.”
Prieto said Rose is less relationship-driven and is all about winning, which she knew going into the recruiting process and wanted that in a head coach.
“At our practices, nobody works harder than us,” Prieto said. “For the four hours we are at practice, it’s go time.”
Prieto said the coaches have been talking about how the team had trouble with its passing last year.
“We’ve been working on that, making sure that when passes weren’t perfect, make it tricky but get it over,” Prieto said. “It’s incredible how many errors we’ve minimized just by doing that.”
Prieto said her “volleyball toolbox” has increased since coming to Penn State. In high school she could easily hit over the block, but now she has also created a variety of shots to beat defenses. She also sees the entire court more clearly.
The drills Penn State players must run were tough for her to learn at first, but now that she has them down, it’s all about competing.
Off the court, Prieto is slowing adjusting to life at Penn State. The early-enrollee is now several months into her freshman experience and has bonded with a couple of the volleyball players and has also made friends outside the program.
Recently, while getting her work done in the weight room, Prieto overheard people speaking Spanish. As it turns out, two volunteer assistant coaches on the Penn State wrestling team are natives of Puerto Rico – just like Prieto.
“We made an instant connection,” Prieto said of her new-found friendship with Franklin Gomez and Jaime Yusepp. “We’ve gone to Bible study together and gotten to hang out. It’s good to have positive people around you, and it’s nice that they share my culture and values.”
This is the third of four “diary” installments chronicling Paulina Prieto’s freshman season at Penn State.
Originally published in September/October 2012