Led by legendary coach Russ Rose, Penn State has built a dynasty like no other.
During his tenure at Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions won seven national championships and 17 Big Ten titles. Even more impressively, the blue and whites have qualified for 40 consecutive NCAA tournaments under the guidance of Rose.
Following Penn State’s second-round exit in 2021, the 68-year-old coach called it a career, starting a new era of Penn State volleyball in the process. This brought about a very rare need for the program: a new head coach.
For only the third time in team history, a new top dog would have to be hired.
The athletic department kept its coaching hire in-house, promoting assistant Katie Schumacher-Cawley to the job on January 10.
Schumacher-Cawley played for Rose from 1999-2002, helping lead the Nittany Lions to their first-ever national championship.
This isn’t the 42-year-old’s first rodeo either, as she held coaching positions at UIC and Penn after graduating from Penn State in 2002.
Attempting to replace the success of one of the sport’s most legendary coaches is a daunting task for anyone, but it gets even tougher when you look at the plays Penn State lost in the offseason.
Shortly after Rose’s retirement, several players registered on the transfer portal, including three impact starters.
Center blocker Kaitlyn Hord was one of the blue-and-whites’ biggest threats on the pitch, using her 6-foot-4 frame to not only smash the ball past defenders, but also wall off opposing forwards.
A four-time All-American AVCA, Hord will use his final year of eligibility to play for one of Penn State’s biggest rivals in Nebraska. His departure leaves a big hole to fill, as the senior had the most blocks and the second most wins for the team last season.
Often these kills were assisted by setter Gabby Blossom, who was the hallmark of consistency during her time at State College. The offense was channeled by Blossom, who racked up over 2,000 assists in his career.
For the first time in four years, Penn State will need a new passer, as Blossom was traded to San Diego for her final year of eligibility.
While defenders are often upstaged, it was hard to miss libero Jenna Hampton as she made jaw-dropping dives regularly to keep the rallies alive.
The Tampa, Fla. native served as a backstop for several strong Nittany Lion teams, racking up 1,077 digs in 112 total games. Hampton will return down south next season, joining South Carolina and leaving the Blue and Whites without an experienced Libero on the roster.
Two young players with great potential also came out, leaving Schumacher-Cawley and her team with even fewer options.
Junior outside hitter Annie Cate Fitzpatrick started all 16 games as a rookie, but after seeing less playing time last year, she decided she wanted a new opportunity. Fitzpatrick will return to his home state and join the Florida program.
Finally, senior setter Emily Oerther is also joining an SEC program, playing for Mississippi State next season.
It stings for the blue and white, because he could have used the services of Oerther as a passer after the departure of Blossom.
Of course, Penn State made its own moves, securing three high-impact transfers this offseason.
On February 3, the team announced the addition of outside forward Kashauna Williams from Long Beach State. Williams was a point guard during her three years in the Big West, tallying just under 1,200 eliminations during her career.
The Nittany Lions also secured a transfer from Purdue center tackle Taylor Trammell to fill the gaps up front.
Trammell is a perfect fit for a team that needs defensive help. In each of her two years with the Boilermakers, the 6-foot-2 Trammell led the team in blocks per set.
The front line is getting scarier with the inclusion of Utah transfer Zoe Weatherington, who can make teams pay with her on-the-ball skills on offense and defense, like Hord.
With these transfers, Penn State ultimately didn’t lose too much but instead reloaded with even more firepower.
Pair these newcomers with returning middle blocker Allie Holland and outside hitter Anjelina Starck, and the Nittany Lions look great offensively.
After starting 11 games as a true freshman, Starck should see even more opportunities as a young athlete brimming with potential. Holland, on the other hand, has already arrived and has a chance to be one of the team’s most notable players in her junior season.
As for their new libero, the blue and white could look to junior Maddy Bilinovic or second Cassie Kuerschen, both of whom dominated the position in high school.
The biggest question mark on the whole team is the setter, where no returning player is listed at the position on the roster.
Nonetheless, Schumacher-Cawley has no shortage of talent to work with in his first season at the helm.
It will take a long time for the new Penn State coach to get up to Rose’s level, but it looks like she’ll have the resources to start down that path.
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