German Pia Timmer making most of American volleyball experience at surging Washington State

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Pia Timmer hitting against Washington/WSU Athletics

Washington State (8-4 overall, 2-0 Pac-12) plays host to USC (5-6, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Pacific Friday.

Maybe there is no longer an east or west, north or south in the volleyball world anymore.

If you can play, they’ll find you. Even from the rolling hills of wheat in eastern Washington, where the Palouse is as much a lifestyle as it is a region.

Jen Greeny, in her 11th season as the head coach at Washington State, has taken advantage of exploring the horizons for players who have never heard of the Cougars or what a university could offer. Three years ago, Greeny found one intriguing prospect.

“We just were kind of missing out on some recruits in the U.S. and my associate head coach, my husband, Burdette, we just decided to go east and he did a lot of research of some junior national teams and we were able to get over and spend some recruiting days over in Europe and found a few players,” Greeny said.

Maybe it takes someone who grows up in a small town to be attracted to a small town like Pullman, Washington. Fortune has appeared to shine on both the Cougs and 6-foot-2 junior outside Pia Timmer.

From the small town of Elchheim, Germany, Timmer was a star for the national under-18 team. All the Greeny family had to do was convince the 6-foot-2 outside hitter to spend her next four years in a country that she had never visited.

So they did the logical thing. They tag-teamed her, with the coach laying out the nuts and bolts of what to expect in the program, then turning it over to the finisher, Burdette, whose title of recruiting coordinator seems to vastly underrate his abilities.

Still, how did a young German kid get convinced to not only play in the U.S. but to perform in an outpost like this?

“That is a really good question,” Timmer said with a laugh. “I actually come from a small town. In Germany we qualified for the European championships with our under-18 team. Afterwards coach Burdette texted me and asked me if I was interested in playing college volleyball in the U.S. At that time I didn’t know what I was going to do in my future. 

“So at some point I started thinking about it and trying to get knowledge about what it’s like to play college volleyball and in general I always wanted to go to the U.S. at some point in my life. So I thought that would be a great opportunity to gain more experiences and get to know some different cultures, different countries.

“It went back and forth and he came to see my family and see how I live, and how he presented the program just really intrigued me. It sounded really good to me and I committed. It was kind of crazy, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into but I love it so it’s a lot of fun.”

Talking about fun, how about Washington State off to an 8-4 start, but more important 2-0 in the Pac-12? Last week, the Cougars first upset No. 24 Colorado, sweeping the visiting Buffs as Timmer had nine kills, an assist, two aces, and seven digs. But that was nothing compared to what happened two days later when Washington State beat visiting then-No. 6 Washington 25-14, 23-25, 26-16, 44-46, 15-11.

All Timmer did in that one was have the match of her career with 31 kills — 11 in the fourth set alone — while hitting .303 to go with four aces, 21 digs, and seven blocks, one solo.

Pia Timmer digs against Washington/WSU Athletics

You get notch a lot of stats from a match like that. Washington State, 26th in this week’s AVCA Top 25 Poll, tied a 13-year NCAA record for points in a match, but few can fill up a scoresheet the way Timmer did. She was named the AVCA national player of the week.

“It was kind of funny, actually,” Timmer said. “I’m not from here and you have to get used to people getting awards every week, getting honors or whatever. You don’t have that in Germany.

“When I heard I got national player of the week, I was like ‘Oh, that’s cool, that’s great.’ And then (Burdette) texted me, ‘That is so cool. Do you even know what that means?’ It sounds really cool and he said there’s only one other Coug who’s made that. I was like, wow, I did not know that. That’s really crazy.”

Like any college student, the first years of university life can be challenging. Coming from a foreign country certainly doesn’t make it any easier, but Timmer had the advantage of having teammates like junior middle Magda Jehlarova from Czech Republic and sophomore outside Weronika Wojdyla from Poland.

“It helped a lot in the beginning to know someone who knows the European ways, someone who goes through the same stuff you do,” Timmer said. “It’s really helpful, you always have someone who understands what you’re going through. We all became such great friends.

“It was a great adjustment I had to make. It’s just so different. It’s also my first time going to college, it’s so different, a new language so it’s just a lot of new stuff but I love trying new stuff, getting as many experiences as I could and I love all the new challenges that I had.”

So consumed with her college life, Timmer barely thinks about the future. She wants to continue play, probably in Europe — her parents still have not been able to visit to see her in person — but there’s also her interest in kinesiology and psychology as she works her way through the classroom.

“She’s great,” Jen Greeny said. “She’s a little bit on the quiet side but really intense on the court. A super-nice human being. She loves the outdoors and exploring, loves to hang out with her friends but she’s not one of our talkative extroverts. She likes to get in and get her work done but she’s pretty intense on the court.”

The future?

“That is a really good question. I actually try not to think about that too much because it stresses me out,” Timmer says with a laugh. “After I get my degree here I want to go pro back in Europe, maybe go back to Germany at some point because of family, I really miss them.”

And living in another small town? Apparently it doesn’t matter if you live on the border of The Netherlands or the border of Idaho.

“Everything has been really positive,” Timmer said. “All these people who live here are welcoming, really supportive of the Cougs. You can feel that everybody loves being here. It’s a great atmosphere when fans to come to the games it’s just so much fun.”

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