Penn State, which will enter the 2017 NCAA women’s volleyball season in the top 10, took 12-day mid-May trip to Brazil.

There was volleyball, but not all volleyball. Veteran coach Russ Rose talked about it as only Rose can.

“It wasn’t the greatest volleyball trip we’ve been on. We’ve gone to Cuba and three or four trips to Europe (including in 2009) and two times to Brazil. I think every trip has its challenges. We’ve never gone on one when everything was perfect,” Rose said.

“But this was fine. I don’t get too caught up in the things I can’t control. The girls had a good experience and I had the same number of people with me on the way back as I did on the way out.”

The Nittany Lions, who finished last season 24-10 (13-8 in the Big Ten) and ranked No. 10 in the final AVCA poll. Their season ended in a 3-2 defeat to Nebraska on the Huskers’ home floor in the regional semifinals.

The travel party, Rose said, was about 40, which included the current roster coaches, a handful of boosters and even three senior defensive specialists from last year’s team, Laura Broerman, Taylor Krause and Carley Mueller.

What’s even better for Penn State is those are the only players who don’t return. The 2017 Nittany Lions include middles Haleigh Washington and Heidi Thelen, outsides Nia Reed, Simone Lee and Ali Frantti, setters Abby Detring and Bryanna Weiskircher.

“We have a good number of experienced players coming back,” said Rose, who will start his 39th season in Happy Valley. “So much of the expectations revolve around kids being healthy and being a little bit better and the coaches being a little bit better. We were like 1-5 or 1-6 last year in five-game matches. You can’t have achieve the good heights with that sort of performance in five-game matches.

“I’d like to think we’ll have a group that should have a little more fire about ending career, the senior class (Lee, Thelen, Washington, Frantti, Detering) was on the team when we won our last national championship four years ago. They know that.”

Penn State, which has seven NCAA titles to its credit, will have three new players, including 6-foot-2 right-side Kathyrn Cather, who transferred from Ole Miss, and incoming freshman outside Michaela Putnicki from Castle Rock, Colo. Putnicki originally signed with Virginia, but when coach Dennis Hohenshelt was fired, she changed her mind and got a release.

Cami May, a 6-3 middle from Katy, Texas, came in for the spring semester and went on the Brazil trip.

The Penn State team in Rio/Penn State photo

Which was, Rose said, “a good cultural experience. It’s part of the package that happens in programs that are trying to provide the kid with the full experience. Every four years they’re going to go on a foreign trip.

“There are some years when you have a lot of young kids it’s a good time to get 10 days of training.

“”But our trip came at a very quirky time. We went right after finals, so we were not allowed to practice for 10 days. You’re not allowed to practice during study week and finals, so the NCAA rules kind of jammed us up. But we have kind of an older roster and it was fine. I think the kids had a real nice time and that’s one of the things you’d like to happen when you’re in college.”

The Nittany Lions went to Sao Paulo, where they played some matches.

“They didn’t have all their best players,” Rose said. “The Brazilian league is one of the top teams in the world. The top two teams in Brazil were playing in the world club championship in Japan. We got to see a lot of matches on TV, that’s for sure.”

Then they went to the beach town Buzios, east of Rio. While in Buzios, Penn State played and trained in Saquarema, which was nearly two hours drive.

“We spent a lot of time in the bus driving back and forth,” Rose said. “

Russ Rose and his team during a match in Brazil/Penn State photo

Rose said the Brazilian junior national team, in Saquarema, was in the midst of a 75-day training cycle where they practice for 15 days and then take three days off.

“We were there at the beginning of the onset of their training cycle and they had 18 players and scrimmaged them a couple of days. We would have scrimmaged them a third day, but a couple of our kids got dinged up. So we weren’t really at full health.”

Rose said it was nothing serious.

They didn’t practice or play some of the days, Rose said, and the team finished up with some great sightseeing in Rio.

“The girls had educational programs, they went to museums and they went to parks and things like that,” Rose said. “I didn’t go on all the social activities. I like to read and do things that I like to do.”

Which begged the question, what did Rose, a noted cigar smoker, think of the Brazilan stogies?

“I brought my own cigars,” he said. “I didn’t think that having Brazilian cigars was that important. I really didn’t have much opportunity to smoke cigars, but I had one or two while I was out reading books.”

The Penn State players blogged from Brazil. To read their installments, click here.

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