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Whitney Leads Lions Past Howard in NCAA Tournament Opener

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By Sam DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- Penn State advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament after a 3-0 victory over Howard on Friday night. The Nittany Lions are back in action on Saturday, in the second round, to face the Dayton Flyers.

Penn State faced Dayton last year in the second round of the tournament, as well, defeating the Flyers by a score of 3-0.

Leading the team on Friday night was senior Aiyana Whitney. She notched 10 kills on a .588 hitting percentage and tallied two blocks. In last year's first round match against Siena, she had eight kills on a .312 percentage and two blocks. Head coach Russ Rose was pleased with Whitney's performance on Friday.

"She hit really well. And that's not a shock," Rose said. "She's our best attacker, [she] has been our best attacker and at times, is one of the best attackers in the country."

There is more on the line during the tournament because you win or go home, but Whitney said this match was similar to the regular season matches because she treats every opponent the same.

"[It felt different because] it's more of a neutral site and it's definitely a different routine for us and a little bit of a different atmosphere, but ultimately [we are] treating every team the same and going out about our preparation the same," Whitney said.

Whitney said playing this first match in Rec Hall, on their home court, helped the Nittany Lions.

"It's definitely an advantage to play in your own gym and have your fans here," Whitney said. "It's always great to play at home, it's always an advantage."

With the win, the Nittany Lions will play on their home court for the final time this season.  The first serve in Saturday's second-round match against Dayton is slated for 7:30 p.m.

Whitney's goal for the match against Dayton? To be victorious.

"I just want to win," Whitney said. "I want to get to Iowa."

2015 NCAA Volleyball Tournament Preview Content Central

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w_volleyball_blog.jpgUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the 26th consecutive season, Penn State will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament. The two-time defending NCAA champion Nittany Lions (26-5) open the tournament against MEAC champ Howard (18-13) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Rec Hall.

The winner of the Penn State-Howard match will move on to face either Dayton (26-5) or Villanova (25-8) on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Dayton and Villanova will meet in Rec Hall on Friday at 5 p.m.

For the Nittany Lions, they enter the tournament having gone 11-3 down the stretch. Seniors Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney, along with sophomore Haleigh Washington, were each named to the All-Big Ten team this week.

The Nittany Lions are one of nine Big Ten teams in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Minnesota is the No. 2 seed, while Nebraska is the No 4 seed, Wisconsin is the No. 6 seed, Penn State is the No. 7 seed and Ohio State is the No. 12 seed. Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue received at-large bids into the tournament.

Now, it is win or go home for all 64 teams on the bracket. The 2015 NCAA Tournament begins on Friday inside Rec Hall. Take an inside look Penn State and the NCAA Tournament.

VIDEO: NCAA Tournament Preview

First Round Statistical Rundown
NCAA Tournament_Round I_Howard.jpg

Feature Story Corner

Lions Shift Focus to 2015 NCAA Tournament
By Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is one of the only two collegiate volleyball programs in the country to have been selected to participate in all 35 NCAA postseason tournaments since its inception in 1981. The women's volleyball team holds a 90-27 record in the postseason and has won seven national championships.

11533168.jpegOn Sunday, the back-to-back defending NCAA national champions earned the No. 7 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

"It's always exciting, this time of year, and there is always that unknown about how your team is going to play and how the other team is going to play, but that's why you play the game," said head coach Russ Rose.

Penn State finished the regular season with a 26-5 overall record, with a 15-5 record in Big Ten conference play.

"There were a number of years we were the top-seed, so there's different pressures and expectations," said coach Rose. "Our last ten matches certainly removed that expectation, but there's some players on the team that have had great experience in the NCAA tournament, and the hope is that they all play well and they enhance the play around them."

A Look Into the Tournament
The Big Ten conference led all other leagues in selections to compete in the NCAA Tournament.

In the 64-team field, where the top-16 teams are seeded, Penn State is joined by eight other Big Ten squads: No. 2 Minnesota, No. 4 Nebraska, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 12 Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and Illinois.

"I think the Big Ten will do well," said coach Rose. "Early in the year when we played Minnesota, I thought Minnesota was the best team we had played. Even though we had lost the next week to Nebraska, I thought Minnesota was the best team we've played. Right now, I would say that Minnesota is still the best team that we've played, but from watching Wisconsin, I think Wisconsin is playing the best of all the teams in the conference right now, so I look forward to a lot of teams playing well. Purdue is playing especially well, so the conference should do well. We want to do the best we can, but we also want the other teams to have success."

After making three-straight national semifinal appearances, senior Megan Courtney understands the pressure coming from the Big Ten conference and how it prepared the Lions for the postseason.

"The Big Ten is really competitive, so on any given night, anyone can win, and I think the same thing can be said about the tournament," said Courtney. "It's do or die. If you win, you advance. If you don't, you go home thinking, 'What could have I done better?'...I think any team and every team has that mindset of saying, 'I want to win. I don't want to go home,' and I think it's the same way in the Big Ten. I think it's really competitive."

The top four seeded teams alongside No. 2 Minnesota and No.4 Nebraska are No. 1 Southern California and No. 3 Texas. Outside of the Big Ten teams, there are two teams Penn State faced during the regular season - Villanova and No. 8 Stanford.

"What you've done doesn't really impact what you're going to do," said coach Rose. "You need to be ready to play because there's another team on the other side with uniforms, hope and dreams that are going to play, and do the things they do well, and that's always the excitement of the championship."

In the Bracket
The journey to the national championship is not an easy task. It takes six perfect matches to get there, and each match gets tougher with every round.

The No. 7 Penn State women's volleyball team is joined by No. 2 Minnesota, No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 15 Louisville as the seeded teams in the Des Moines Regional bracket. If the Nittany Lions find their way to the regional semifinals and finals, they will be held in Des Moines, Iowa. The national semifinals and final match will be played at Century Link Center in Omaha, Neb. Take an inside look at the other seeded teams in Penn State's quarter of the bracket.

No. 2 Minnesota (26-4)
The Gophers were on a 15-match winning streak until Purdue ended their streak in five sets. They won their last two matches against Ohio State and Indiana.

Penn State and Minnesota split their matches from this season. Back in September, then-No.1 Penn State outlasted then-No. 21 Minnesota in five sets (25-22, 25-16, 19-25, 20-25, 15-12) at Rec Hall. Later in the season, in November, Minnesota cruised past Penn State in three straight sets to give the Nittany Lions their third loss of the season.

Penn State owns a 45-9 advantage in the all-time series against Minnesota.

No. 10 Texas A&M (23-6)
If Penn State makes to the third round, a potential opponent is 10th-seeded Texas A&M.

SEC champion Texas A&M is coming off its most successful regular season in school history with help from SEC player of the year Stephanie Aiple and conference coach of the year Laurie Corbelli. The Aggies have won their past 14 matches.

No. 15 Louisville (24-6)
Louisville dropped its final match of the season to Syracuse in three sets, but the Cardinals enter the tournament as the ACC regular season champion.

Round One
The seventh-seeded Lions will start the quest for a three-peat on Friday against MEAC conference champion Howard (18-13) at 7:30 p.m. at Rec Hall. The last time the Nittany Lions and the Bison met was on Sept. 28, 1979, with Penn State claiming a 2-0 win.

"They're an enthusiastic team, very athletic, and there's a lot of ways to play," said coach Rose. "There's a lot of different combinations that can give teams opportunities, whether it's a team that's seeded or a team that's making the tournament for the first time. We'll have to play well. That's how it is."

This is the Bison's first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but Howard is entering the tournament on a 13-match winning streak.

"It's always nice [to host the first and second rounds]," said senior Megan Courtney. "It's nice not having Senior Night be the last game we play at Rec, but it's considered an advantage, but I think any team can beat any team on any given floor. I think Rec Hall is a great place to play, but just because we're playing at Rec Hall, we're not guaranteed to win. We showed that this season with a couple of losses at home, so it's more about how we play instead of who we play or where we play. It's about how our team is playing at that given moment."

The Final Tournament for Senior Class
By Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- It's the final go-around for the seniors of the Penn State women's volleyball team. The first round of the NCAA Tournament begins this weekend and these seniors are no strangers to the tournament. This group has made it to the national semifinals three times and won two national championships together.

11533171.jpeg"They've always cared and had to work hard," Head Coach Russ Rose said. "You can't have the success we've had in the past without the seniors."

The regular season has come to a close, but this senior squad knows that there is still a lot more work to be done. And they are not looking back on years past. This team is focused on this season and the upcoming match against Howard on Friday.

Although the seniors are focused on the present, having experience will help them during the tournament.

"We have the most national championship experience on our staff, on our team and in our gym. That, especially with a young team full of sophomores and freshmen playing big roles, is comforting," senior Megan Courtney said. "But it doesn't necessarily guarantee anything."

Courtney said that when times get tough during tournament matches, the team is able to realize they have been in this position before and still came out on top. They take what they did in the past situations and apply it to the current situations.

Having experience as veterans also gives the seniors the opportunity to help younger players who have never played in tournament before. Senior Kendall Pierce said that she hopes to lead the younger players the same way she was led years ago.

From being taken under the wing of older players, to being the senior guiding the young ones, it has all come full circle for Pierce. And as her time in Blue and White comes to a close, she said she's not sad, she's "ready to go."

"I can't look at it as a countdown anymore. We did for a time. We said, 'We have 30 more days of volleyball left,' but the countdown is surreal and it's not something we want to focus on," Pierce said. "[It's] one game at a time and what you can do be the best you can in that game."

One game at a time - that is instilled in the minds of all of the players. They are focused. They are prepared. And more than they want to win, they don't want to lose.

"Our biggest motivation is that we don't want to feel emotion of losing again. Winning the National Championship is great, but it's the losing that really stings," Courtney said.

Controlling your emotions and coming together as a team is also key in this tournament.

"I hope we can treat every game as equal and we don't get too hype about something, but also aren't afraid to go after and see what we can do," Pierce said. "If we can really focus in and get our freshmen, sophomores, juniors and our senior class just feeling good and as one team going into this tournament, I think we'll be all set."

Pierce and the Nittany Lions will face Howard in Rec Hall on Friday night. Having the first round of tournament on your home court is exciting, but Courtney says it's anyone's game.

"It's considered an advantage, but I think any team can beat any team on any given floor. Rec Hall is a great place to play, but that doesn't mean just because we're playing at Rec [Hall] were guaranteed a win," Courtney said. "It's about how we play, instead of who we play or where we play. It's about how our team is playing at that given moment."

Catch the game in Rec Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m. If the Nittany Lions defeat Howard, they will square off against the winner of the Dayton-Villanova match on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Happy Thanksgiving from Penn State Athletics

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 'Tis the season for giving thanks, and the Penn State Athletics would like to take an opportunity to say thank you to the loyal fans on Thanksgiving.

As you sit down with family and friends to eat your traditional meal while the Lions and Cowboys host their annual Thanksgiving day home games, Penn State Athletics would like to thank you, the fans, for the unwavering support you give every team on campus.  Penn State's teams would not be the same without the greatest fans in college sports.

As a token of their appreciation, several student-athletes from teams on campus would like to say thank you and Happy Thanksgiving for the support you give them throughout the athletic season.

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Kendall Pierce (11/25/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - talks with senior defensive specialist Kendall Pierce in advance of Penn State's final two matches of the regular season, including Wednesday's Senior Night contest against Northwestern.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Laura Broerman Moves from the Volleyball Court to Press Row

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11499418.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Junior defensive specialist Laura Broerman has not made an appearance on the volleyball court this season due to an injury, but that has not stopped her from continuing to be an important component of the women's volleyball team.

11499416.jpegThis season, Broerman has relocated from the volleyball court to press row to do the color commentary and analysis for every match, home and away, for the team's radio broadcasts on

"It's a really cool experience," said Broerman. "You get to see the game in a different way. I get to display my volleyball knowledge to anyone who's listening. Maybe give them a better view of what's exactly going on, what we're doing wrong, what we're doing right and things we can improve on from the insider's perspective."

After Broerman discovered that she was injured and would be out for the season, head coach Russ Rose asked her if she wanted to announce for the radio, which would still allow her to travel with the team and be a part of the program.

"I was really appreciative that Penn State requested she be allowed to travel as the announcer for the matches, and it was approved by the conference because I think it's tough enough being her, but it's even tougher not being able to travel," said coach Rose. "She's not allowed to play or practice, but she's allowed to continue with her personality, her role with the group and being able to interact with the team. I think it's one of the good things in college athletics when it's about the players and the participation, and it's not on winning or losing."

Even though Broerman hasn't physically played volleyball this season, her volleyball IQ and mental skills have greatly improved throughout the matches this year.

"It's completely outsider once I'm up in that booth with the headphones on, so I can see exactly what the other team is doing, and I can focus more on our team's mistakes," said Broerman. "Normally, when they're on the bench, you may be a little partial to what's going on or that move a person's made, but now I can take a step back and see exactly what they were supposed to do, and what could have helped them in this situation or that situation."

Coach Rose agrees that having the ability to see a match from a different point of view is always a valuable experience.

"I believe it would assist her by seeing the game differently on the sidelines and watching and recognizing how she might have done it differently if she was playing," said coach Rose. "Those things are advantageous to players; some players are visual learners. I think it certainly gives her a different angle to see things, and I think that's a good thing."

Before announcing each match, Broerman prepares for each opponent the same way she would as if she would be playing the match.

"I go into [each match] a lot similar as how I would go into it as if I was not injured this year because I still go through the scouting report," said Broerman. "We have video we watch, so I get a feel for the team, like their tendencies, what kind of hitter they are, who's their better passer, so kind of the same way, but I also have to go with a more outsider's perspective rather than so intimate."

Broerman began playing volleyball at a very young age after watching her two older sisters, Sarah and Rachel, play the sport. She was always by her sisters' sides during their practices. When a club volleyball facility opened up right down the street from Broerman's neighborhood, she knew she had to sign up.

"My sisters set a great path for me," said Broerman. "They're such great examples to give me something to compete against every day."

Sarah and Rachel have constantly supported and guided Broerman throughout her life in volleyball. But the three of them share a something else in common - all three have sustained the same injuries. This creates a bond that only the Broerman sisters can understand.

"It's just, unfortunately, a really bad trend in our family, this type of injury, so we kind of know how each other are feeling and what body capabilities we're able to do or not able to do at certain time frames," said Broerman. "We're really good at being able to sympathize and also push each other in rehab. They make sure I'm doing my rehab every day, and to making sure I measure how far back I am and really pushing myself to get back [on the court]."

In addition to pushing Broerman to get back on the volleyball court, Sarah and Rachel have supported her in what she is doing this season. Her sisters have listened to almost every single one of the radio broadcasts for the volleyball matches this season.

"They've been begging me to give them a shout out, but I haven't really yet," said Broerman. "There hasn't been the right opportunity, but they said a lot of the times, they would mute the TV or BTN, and turn on my radio version, so it's cool that they support in something even where I'm not playing."

Nonetheless, Broerman, a biology major, does not have plans to switch to the broadcast journalism major anytime soon.

"I'm definitely a math and sciences kind of person," said Broerman. "Broadcast has been completely out of my dimension...It's nothing that I had ever seen me doing, anything like that in the future, but it's cool. It could be a hobby in the future, we'll see."

Broadcast journalism might not be something that Broerman is interested in, but after doing color commentary and learning more about the Penn State women's volleyball team and other collegiate volleyball teams, she envisions a future in coaching.

"I actually didn't want to go into coaching until a little bit ago, and being up [in press row], I can definitely see a little more coaching ability in me," said Broerman. "I see the game. I can communicate what they can do to change it, and it's kind of made me want to be a coach a little more."

Even with the constant support and encouragement, it can be difficult to not have a personal connection with everything that happens on the court.

"It's definitely really hard to separate my emotions on the radio," said Broerman. "There are times where I watch myself wanting to yell a curse word or two, and having to hold it back and trying to be impartial. You see me antsy up there, or I'll be shaking my fist. I'll be happy when someone does something well and upset when something doesn't go our way, so it's definitely really hard to separate those emotions. I think the biggest thing that helps me is Jack (Milewski), who does the [play-by-play] with me. He's really good about knowing when I'm a little too close to a play, and he'll take the lead from there."

There are times when Broerman wishes she was on the court to be there for her teammates, but the group has a connection that can't be avoided.

"My favorite part is that a few people on our team, every single game, will give us a few code words or words to say on the radio, like a funny word, like aglet or some catchphrase or something like that," said Broerman. "It's really cool to watch, and also have key words that I can incorporate into it."

Nittany Lions Looking Ahead Following Michigan Match

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11499385.jpegBy Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Sophomore Haleigh Washington shined for the Nittany Lions, but the team fell short, falling in four sets to the Michigan Wolverines on Wednesday night in Rec Hall. Penn State won the first set handily, 25-14 but then dropped the next three sets by a score of 25-22.

Washington led the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions with a superb effort while accumulating 12 kills .714 hitting. Washington only took 14 attempts on the match, but made the most of her opportunities committing only one error. The sophomore middle is statistically one of the best middle's in the nation and leads Penn State by a large margin in hitting percentage. Between the two matches played against Michigan this season - Penn State won a five setter earlier on this year in Ann Arbor - Washington totaled 29 kills on a hitting percentage over .500.

"Haleigh hit very well," said Head coach Russ Rose. "The main problem was that we couldn't get the ball to her enough tonight."

As a team, the Nittany Lions fell short Wednesday night, dropping their second match to a Big Ten opponent in a row. Coach Rose simply said that the Nittany Lions needed to play better volleyball if they want to achieve the success they aspire to down the stretch.

"We need to play better," said Rose. "I didn't think we played very well at Minnesota and we definitely played poorly tonight."

Speaking of coming down the stretch, this part of the season, in all sports, is usually the toughest time for athletes. It's when the playoff push really begins, but it is also the time when the players are the most tired and Rose also seemed to indicate that this was the case for a Penn State team who has only lost four matches all season, but the two most recently.

"I think that the kids are really tired," said Rose. "Some of them are just gassed and I didn't do a great job trying to rest them."

The Nittany Lions also had one of the most challenging slates in the Big Ten this season, playing seven of their last eight matches on the road. According to Rose, no other team in the conference had that alignment and an extended time away from home can certainly have an effect on a team.

"We had a really challenging schedule with seven of eight on the road," said Rose. "You know it's really taking its toll on a couple of kids who we call on to do a lot of things."

However, the stretch also presents another challenge for coaches, how much do you rest these players? Many times a healthy, well-rested team does not always translate into a fresh team who will consistently show up; there is a fine balance that needs to be kept between rest and preparation.

"When we rest them, it doesn't seem that they are ready to play after that," said Rose. "You know it's kind of a fine balancing point and you can do it for many years and still not be able to get it right."

Penn State has three matches left in the conference, playing Maryland, Northwestern and Nebraska, two of which took them to five sets. The Nittany Lions will have to find that fine balance between preparation and relaxation as they look ahead to the final nine days of the regular season. 

Nia Reed as a Role Model

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11478107.jpegBy Anita Nham, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Redshirt freshman Nia Reed began playing volleyball in the eighth grade after her mother persuaded her to attend a DIGS clinic. Reed tried out for the volleyball club, made the team and has had an incredible amount of success since that moment.

Reed was a four-year starter at her high school, Immaculate Heart Academy (New Jersey), and led its volleyball team to four consecutive non-public state championship titles. She also earned the 2012 and 2013 Bergen Record Player of the Year and the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year from 2011-13.

But her biggest takeaway from all of those accomplishments? Being a role model to her siblings.

"I have five sisters and one brother," said Reed. "I love coming from a big family because everywhere we travel, there's always someone there supporting me...I love being the older sister because I'm the role model for all my younger sisters. I'm glad that I can set a good example for them."

Though her sisters are all under the age of 12, all but one are currently playing volleyball at a community center or for a club team, and Reed believes that they will continue to play volleyball in their future. It's even possible for them to aspire to attend to Penn State, like Reed did.

"I picked the Penn State program because of the winning tradition, Coach (Russ) Rose, the players, the coaching staff; everyone is really down to Earth here, and I love it," said Reed. "I wouldn't pick any other place to be."

Last season, Reed was able to perform due to injury, but she has been making a valuable impact on the team so far this season. She recorded a career-high of six kills and three blocks against Michigan State three weeks ago, and she's continually getting better.

"I think Nia continues to improve," said Rose. "Nia, unfortunately, had an injury that set her back, and what I thought Nia needed the most was just playing. The more playing she could do, the better she was going to get by just being comfortable on the floor. I really think that [the injury] slowed her down quite a bit, but her strength is that she's a great athlete, she's a terrific teammate, and I think she's eager to play."

Since the start of the season, Reed's biggest improvement is her mental ability and toughness of playing, hitting and getting more comfortable without her brace. Nonetheless, Reed wants to develop her leadership skills to be a role model on the court.

"I have a lot to work on, like my leadership skills and being a leader on the court because Coach Rose has always said that he's looking for a leader or more energy coming from the younger players, so I'm hoping to be more of role model and vocal leader, like bringing more energy to the team, and doing all that I can as a hitter to support the team."

Aside from volleyball, Reed loves to go to the movies, go shopping and do interior designing. Her favorite activity though is movie nights with her roommates every Sunday.

"[My favorite movie] is Love, Rosie," said Reed. "My roommates and I randomly picked this movie, and it ended up being a great film. We're obsessed with it."

But even with the slight road block due to injury Reed's journey, she couldn't imagine doing anything else besides volleyball.

"My favorite part about volleyball is the connections and friendships I've made playing over the year, playing volleyball in college and getting the opportunity to represent something as big as a program as this," said Reed.

A Journey Unlike Most Freshmen

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11473342.jpegBy Samantha DelRosso, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Jelena Novakovic stepped on United States soil for the first time less than five months ago. The Belgrade, Serbia, native dropped life as she knew it to come to America to pursue her dream.

11473329.jpegHer dream was to come to the U.S. to get a quality education, while also playing volleyball. Penn State gave her the opportunity to do just that.

"I heard that players that come here have a chance to finish university and to play volleyball at a really high level," Novakovic said. "So that's the reason [I came]. I could have both education and volleyball here."

In Serbia, things are much different young athletes. They either choose volleyball or college; it is rare to do both simultaneously. Many volleyball players in Serbia go on to play professionally instead of attending college, but that wasn't the desired path for Novakovic.

She grew up in an athletic family, with a father who played professional handball and two brothers who played basketball and soccer. Novakovic tried tennis, swimming and ballet before she found her sport - volleyball.

She began playing volleyball at age 11. She played on club teams and the Serbia Junior National Team. When it was time to think about leaving Serbia to play volleyball in the United States, Novakovic sent her volleyball video to Penn State, among other schools, hoping she would get the opportunity to play in America.

"She was willing to take the jump and come to school in the United States to enhance both her volleyball and her academic future," head coach Russ Rose said.

Novakovic said she chose Penn State so she could play volleyball, study and be a part of the best volleyball program.

Before she knew it, it was time to leave home and start her journey in the United States. While it was a nerve-wracking experience for the freshman business major, Novakovic was eager to see what the States had to offer.

"I was excited because I didn't know what to expect. As soon as I got here, the first couple of days were strange, but after that I felt really good," Novakovic said. "I really fell in love with this place."

Going to college isn't easy for most freshmen, even those who live only a few hours away. Imagine being more than 4,500 miles from home. That's how far Novakovic is from Belgrade. Leaving her family and hometown behind was a challenge for her, but she said the more time she spends here, the easier it gets.

"It's like I chose to have a new life, a different life with a lot of opportunities," Novakovic said. "And I feel really good now.

Novakovic said her teammates also help make the transition easier.

"All of my teammates are there for me. They know that my parents can't come very often to watch me or be here," Novakovic said. "My teammates and all of my coaches are really good at helping me with that. They understand that sometimes it's hard, but it's really worth it."

With the season in full swing and the semester more than halfway done, Novakovic is adjusting well to her new surroundings.

"She's bright, she's very mature and she has good time management. Even though English isn't her first language, she's handling the academic load well," Rose said. "She's made a great and smooth transition."

Novakovic's favorite thing about being a part of the Penn State women's volleyball program is playing in Rec Hall. Thousands of screaming fans is something she's not used to after playing in Serbia.

"I've never experienced so many people who come to support the volleyball team. It's just amazing. Everything. The band, the Wrecking Crew, the whole atmosphere," Novakovic said. "It's something special."

Novakovic and the first-ranked Nittany Lions will continue their series of road matches on Wednesday against Iowa at 8 p.m. and on Saturday against No. 4 Minnesota at 8 p.m.

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Update - Heidi Thelen (11/10/15)

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - talks with sophomore middle blocker Heidi Thelen in advance of Penn State's trips to Iowa and No. 4 Minnesota. Penn State has six regular season matches to play.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Heidi Thelen's Home Away from Home

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11458368.jpegBy Anita Nham, 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 family.

"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 and players."

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'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," Thelen said.

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.