By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When redshirt freshman Tori Gorrell was in sixth grade, she already knew that after high school she was going to attend Penn State. How did she know that she wanted to attend Penn State?
A Google search.
"When I was younger, I knew that I wanted to play volleyball at the top level, so I jokingly went to my dad and asked him who the best team was," Gorrell said. "He Googled it because he had no idea about volleyball, and it said 'Penn State.' The young me said, 'I'm going to go there.' When I got older, I looked into it more and talked to Coach Rose and the other coaches. Then, I came for a visit, and it was nothing I had ever seen before. It's a beautiful campus, Rec Hall is beautiful, the coaches were amazing, the girls were amazing, and that's why I chose Penn State."
Hailing from Ontario, Canada, Gorrell has a longer trip home than the typical Penn State student, while requiring a passport along the way. Her father, Miles Gorrell, is a former all-star offensive lineman who played in the Canadian Football League, but now works as a talent acquisition specialist for the CFL's Ottawa RedBacks. Despite his busy schedule, he organizes his commitments so he and Tori's mother can attend every match in Rec Hall.
"My dad and my mom both attend every home game as long as he's not working," Gorrell said. "It's like a five-hour drive, so it's not that far and they both have weekends off. My dad still works for a professional football team and unless he's at games, he's at every one of my games."
Even though Gorrell's father doesn't know too much about actually playing volleyball, he is always by her side giving sharing advice.
"He knew nothing about volleyball so he just had the athlete's perspective," Gorrell said. "He always comes up with these cheesy inspirational quotes for me and that's all we've gone off of, like last week, he said, 'Play every game like it's your last.' I always try to follow that."
Before playing for the Nittany Lions, Gorrell helped her high school, Abbey Park, win the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association AAA volleyball championship, the Halton Tier I and Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference AAA titles. She also led the team to an undefeated season.
Gorrell thought all of these accomplishments would allow her to play during her freshman year at Penn State, but she went on a different path and redshirted for the season instead.
"I think the [redshirt season] helped me tremendously," Gorrell said. "At first I was on the fence about it, but then I talked to other girls who were redshirted and they said it really helped them. So I just watched every other girl and learned and I think that gave me a better sense of what I can do to help the team and how to make the team more complete. I think doing the redshirt season was really valuable to me so I could become a better player and be a better teammate for these girls."
Gorrell adjusted to her unexpected position for the season by finding a role model on the team. Junior middle blocker Haleigh Washington soon became the teammate that Gorrell could rely on to help her feel more comfortable during that stage.
"My role model this past year would be Haleigh. She's a little crazy, a little funky, so Haleigh is definitely someone I look up to," Gorrell said.
Washington has been by Gorrell's side since she came to Penn State and can notably see how the middle blocker has improved. Her connection and timing with her teammates, especially Abby Detering, has gotten stronger as well as her steps on offense. But more importantly, Washington is happy to finally see Gorrell play in front of the fans at Rec Hall.
"She's a goon. She's so excited when she's on the court," Washington said. "When she does something big, she turns around and does a set move where her mouth gets really big and she's smiley and hyped. It's awesome watching her play. She comes off the court with her head in the game and determined. She's competitive and wants to win, so she's awesome to play with."
Gorrell helped the Blue and White open up the 2016 season in the match against West Virginia. In her collegiate debut, she tailed six kills on nine errorless swings (.667), recorded two solo stuffs and led the team in blocks alongside Washington with three blocks each.
"Playing at Rec Hall for the first time was an amazing experience," Gorrell said. "I have been coming here for quite a few years and watching all of the girls on the court and just saying 'Wow, this is amazing.' Talking to girls like 'Yeah, playing at Rec is one of the greatest feelings you will ever have,' and stuff like that. I was excited to experience it. But then my first time happened and it's like nothing you could ever imagine...All the fans surround you and they're cheering for Penn State volleyball and the band is playing, the coach is talking, the other team is there and it's just super intense. It's a really amazing experience."
Though the environment been surreal at first, Gorrell is planning to leave her own mark on Rec Hall in the years to come."I would like to be the middle that the other team has to worry about. I don't want the other team to just send two blockers on another player. I want them to focus on me and not automatically think, 'Okay, the ball is going to the outside or the inside or the center.' No, they have to be worried about me getting the ball and not leaving me right away when I get the ball. That's really what I want to focus on - being a threat to the other team."