Key transfers will give Penn State a different look this season

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Penn State women's volleyball 8/23/2021-Penn State volleyball-Kaitlyn Hord
Penn State's Kaitlyn Hord hitting against Cincinnati at Stanford in the 2019 NCAA Tournament/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

This will certainly be a Penn State women’s volleyball team with a different look.

Half the starting lineup will likely be transfers for a team, that if it hits on all cylinders, will be in the national-championship discussion.

“It’s a little different because the landscape has changed,” said Penn State coach Russ Rose, who is starting his 43rd season in State College. “For a while, recruiting was a certain way and some people have been able to tap into the foreign international talent. 

Russ Rose during a Penn State timeout when the Nittany Lions played Texas in the NCAA Tournament last spring/NCAA Photos

“This year there were more opportunities to look at kids who have graduated from other schools and have one year left because of the COVID rule.”

In Penn State’s case, that includes outside hitters Adanna Rollins and Erika Pritchard.

Rollins, a 6-footer who played three seasons at Minnesota, averaged 2.84 kills/set last spring for the Gophers to go with 41 blocks. The product of Carrollton, Texas, made the all-Big Ten second team. She has two seasons of eligibility.

Pritchard, a 6-3 graduate student who played four seasons at Maryland, was a Big Ten first-teamer after leading the Terps last spring in kills with 285 (3.48/set). The product of Middletown, Maryland, hit just .176, led Maryland with 27 aces, was second in digs (2.01/set), and had 50 blocks.

Both of last year’s outsides return.

Sophomore Annie Cate Fitzpatrick, a 5-11 product of Ocala, Florida, had a strong freshman season. She was second on the team with 156 kills (2.60/set), had a team-high 20 aces, and averaged 2.18 digs. 

Annie Cate Fitzpatrick hits against NC A&T during the first round of the 2021 spring NCAA Tournament/NCAA Photos

Rose said he appreciates “The energy she lives her life with. She is what she looks like, she’s just a happy kid who plays hard and wants to be good and if you tell her to work on something she works on it to get better. I’m really pleased with Annie Cate as a player and person.”

Anastasiya Kudryashova, a Russian who played her first two years at Rutgers, had 140 kills (2.33/set) and 27 blocks. 

Penn State finished 10-6 last spring, a season in which COVID wreaked havoc with the schedule. The Nittany Lions went 9-5 in the Big Ten after four different weekends were canceled, then beat NC A&T in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Texas in four.

“Obviously when we lost to Texas we lost because our left sides couldn’t score over their setter,” Rose said. “That was a combination of a), their defense was good in the back row, and b), our hitters weren’t good enough to score against their defense when they got it past the block. 

“I think Rollins and Pritchard have demonstrated in their careers, and in matches they’ve played against us, they’re both very good and well-trained at their previous schools and have the potential to really help.”

Penn State’s Jonni Parker led the Nittany Lions in kills last spring/Craig Houtz photo

The lineup also includes two VolleyballMag.com honorable-mention All-Americans in right side Jonni Parker and setter Gabby Blossom.

Parker, the 6-footer from Casstown, Ohio, led Penn State with 194 kills (3.23/set) and was second to Hord with 53 blocks.

Blossom (one of our interview subjects for Emily Ehman’s B1G Thursdays this summer) is a senior from St. Louis who averaged 10.47 sets and 2.71 digs to go with 13 aces. 

“I’ve spent more time in the gym with Gabbie Blossom than any other setter in my previous 40 years,” Rose said. “She plays hard and cares about the team and that’s what you want to have in your leader.”

There will also be a different look at middle. While VolleyballMag.com second-team All-American Kaitlyn Hord returns for her senior year, the other middle, Serena Gray, transferred to Pittsburgh after graduating after three years at Penn State. Gray averaged 2.09 kills and had 44 blocks, 10 solo.

Hord has established herself as one of the top middles in the country. The 6-4 senior from Lexington, Kentucky, hit .421 last spring with 147 kills (2.45/set) and led in blocks with 79, seven solo.

The other middle will be either TCU transfer Katie Clark or sophomore Allie Holland.

Clark, a 6-3 product of Arlington, Texas, played three seasons for the Horned Frogs and made the all-Big 12 second team last spring after averaging 2.59 kills to go with 56 blocks, second on the team. She has two years of eligibility. Holland, a 6-3 product of Hilliard, Ohio, played sparingly last spring.

Jenna Hampton returns as libero. The 5-7 junior from Tampa led Penn State with 175 digs (3.43/set) and had 12 aces.

Rose said that freshman outside Angelina Starck and freshman DS Cassie Kuerschen have had strong starts and will see the court.

In addition to Gray, outside Lauren Clark transferred to Florida Gulf Coast after her sophomore year after playing in just nine sets in the spring. She had 44 kills and 14 blocks the year before as a freshman.

“How the other people will step in and contribute and do what they did, we’ll have to wait and see,” Rose said.

Penn State opens its season Friday in Orlando when it plays Georgia Tech of the ACC and St. John’s of the Big East before playing the home team, UCF of the American Athletic Conference, on Friday.

“I look forward to the return of college volleyball action and am optimistic that as the newcomers blend in with the returning players that we expect to develop accordingly,” Rose said.

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