By Anita Nham, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When redshirt senior
Aiyana Whitney was in middle school, she decided to follow her sister Anissa
Whitney's footsteps of playing volleyball after she saw her on the court. Her
sister mentored and taught Aiyana numerous volleyball skills as best as she
could throughout the rest of middle school and into high school.
Nearly seven years later, in 2011, Whitney
played in her first collegiate match at Penn State.
Today, Whitney is leading the way in helping a
young Penn State team grow.
After the Penn State Classic, Whitney was
named to the All-Tournament team. In the season opener against Buffalo, Whitney
led Penn State's offense with a match-high of 11 kills on .400 hitting. Her skills
continued to shine as she recorded five blocks and six kills against Stony
Brook, and 14 kills and two digs against Villanova in the two matches on Saturday.
"This offseason, I worked to get my
volleyball IQ up, studying the game as much as possible, working on my blocking
and trying to be a bigger presence at the net," said Whitney.
Whitney's impact at net and on offense is nothing
out of the ordinary, but as a senior, Whitney knew that it was her time to
truly lead the Nittany Lions to success.
"[There's] more responsibility [as a senior],
which at this point in my career, and I would speak for the rest of the seniors,
we can embrace because we try to set the tone in practice, and try to set an
example for the younger girls," said Whitney. "[Being a senior] is about taking
on more responsibility, doing as much as we can, doing more and helping out the
rest of the team in that."
Nonetheless, it was not an easy ride for
Whitney to get to this point in her career. During her sophomore year, she
redshirted. However, she wouldn't change anything about that year.
"Absolutely [that redshirt season] made a
difference," said Whitney. "At the time, I was playing with incredible
upperclassmen and they pushed me every day in practice. I learned so much from
them, so I really cherished that year in terms of development and learning the
Whitney's growing talent is evident. Last
season, during her redshirt junior year, she started every match, recorded 15
double-digit kill performances and led the team in kills on over 10 occasions -
once with 10 kills against then-No. 1 Stanford in the NCAA national semifinals,
and once with 11 kills in the national championship win against BYU.
Furthermore, she received second team
American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-America honors and was
honored as Big Ten Player of the Week (11/17) last year.
None of this would have been possible without
the guidance from head coach Russ Rose and the other coaches.
"[The coaches] are super awesome. They help
me get my game airtight, help me see the bigger pictures and seeing the game
more and helping me take on more," said Whitney.
Her success continued this past summer as
Whitney participated in the inaugural Big Ten Volleyball Foreign Tour. Big Ten
volleyball student-athletes from all 14 schools traveled to Slovenia, Croatia
and Italy to compete against some of the best athletes in the world as well as
participate in community services initiatives.
Even with all these accomplishments, Whitney
believes that she has room for improvement.
"I am definitely tired of getting tooled on
the blocks, so it's definitely something I need to work on in the gym," said
Whitney. "I need to work on my hands, getting the ball over and taking up more
space. Just seeing the court more, attacking and making sure I'm playing
Whitney has already made a huge mark on the
Penn State women's volleyball program, but this is Whitney's final year, and
she is more than ready to contend as the season wears on.
"Overall, I just hope that we can build to be
a better team, build to play better together and work on getting back on the
big stage," said Whitney.