By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sophomore middle
blocker Heidi Thelen grew up in a big family that consisted of her parents, two
brothers, Jack and Nick, and two sisters, Hannah and Grace, in Edgewood, Ky.
The seven of them have an incomparable bond and connection.
But by being nearly 450 miles away from home,
maintaining that family relationship can be tough.
However, Thelen realized that the transition
was not deterrent. She was simply moving from one big family to the Penn State
"My family is really close, we tell each
other everything," said Thelen. "Coming from a big family, and then coming
here, it's also like another big family. There are 17 girls on the team. There's
so many coaches, boosters, fans; it's like coming from a big family to an even
bigger family. It was really nice because there wasn't much of a change. I came
from a big loving family to another big loving family."
Thelen was a four-year letter winner at her
high school, Notre Dame Academy, and was a two-time Best Offensive Player
selection. During her senior year, Thelen knew that she had to find a school that
had a family component to its volleyball program.
"I always knew that I wanted to come to a
competitive and good school," said Thelen. "Penn State's atmosphere is awesome.
The coaches here are incredible; they know what they're doing...Also, when I came
to visit, all the girls were so welcoming. I've known all the girls. I've been
going to camps with the girls in my grade since sophomore year of high school,
so I knew them all really well, and fell in love with this school, the coaches
Since attending Penn State, Thelen's parents
and siblings continuously supported her and in her volleyball career.
"[My family] has been up a lot," said Thelen.
"They weren't here that many times last year because my brother was a senior in
college and played basketball, so they went to more of his games, but this
year, they've come to a lot. Actually, all of my siblings have been on campus
now, which is awesome, and they love it [here], too. They come out and support
me as much as I can. I'm from Kentucky, so each away game is not far from where
I love, so they get to make it to those, as well."
During her first season in 2014, Thelen
played in six matches, including in the NCAA Tournament. This season, Thelen
has made an appearance in seven matches so far, recorded a career-high of nine
blocks, but is constantly striving to improve.
"My skills have developed more [from last
season]," said Thelen. "I feel more confident in my game. I feel more open to
talk and be loud and aggressive at practices and at the net. I'm not afraid to
say stuff to other players, and they're not afraid to say stuff to me. I've
grown in that aspect, and I try to be more of a leader, like the older girls on
team, so in the future, when they're gone, I can take their role."
Head coach Russ Rose believes that she will make
a bigger impact on the volleyball team in the future.
"She's a wonderful team player," said coach
Rose. "She has a really good frame for the game. She didn't play much last
year, and has played more this year, and I think will play more into the future
as we continue to increase her strength, endurance and awareness of what is
going on. Heidi is a wonderful young person with good skills."
Aside from volleyball being Thelen's favorite
part about Penn State, she loves the academics, too.
"It's really challenging. I'm a biobehavioral
health major, so I love it, and I like that [Penn State] is challenging
academically and athletically. The school is beautiful. I met my best friends
here, and I know we will be best friends for life now...it's just a really
comfortable home feeling here."
Even with the volleyball, Thelen is preparing
for her life after graduation.
"It would be awesome to play overseas, but if
that's not what's supposed to happen, then I would love to go to Pa. school to
be a physician's assistant. I'm working hours now, so I can enter the program,"
On Thursday nights, Thelen enjoys watching Grey's Anatomy and Scandal with her roommates, but when there are practices and
matches, she's focused on bettering the team.
"I hope to improve on my leadership
abilities, and continuing to be a good teammate and supporting my team because
it isn't about individuals, it's about the whole team. It's about Penn State
volleyball, and helping out the team in any way that I can," said Thelen.