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Sam Tortorello - All In The Family
by Joanna Comfort
Penn State Sports Information Student Writer
In her first year at Penn State, Sam Tortorello accomplished more as a freshman setter than most collegiate players could ever hope to achieve throughout their four years of eligibility.
Upon her arrival in Happy Valley via Shorewood, Ill., Tortorello's impressive performances lit up the Rec Hall court and almost instantly turned the heads of teammates and coaches alike. As the weeks wore on, the 5-11 setter only got better, starting in 30 of the team's 33 matches and leading the Penn State offense with 12.5 assists and 0.35 service aces per game.
Her sensational freshman season reached its peak when Tortorello was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, becoming only the second Nittany Lion to earn Freshman of the Year honors in the program's 27-year history (Bonnie Bremner was the first in 1996). The talented rookie was also named to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and earned AVCA Honorable Mention All-Mideast Region and Honorable Mention All-Big Ten honors.
"I think there are a number of contributing factors as to why Sam is so good," said head coach Russ Rose. "She was exposed to volleyball at a very young age because of her two sisters and she also played for an exceptional club program [Sports Performance in Chicago] that focuses on developing their setters. Besides that, she is very competitive, plays hard and has a very good feel for the game."
It's true that the volleyball phenom has been playing the game for quite some time, as anyone can tell if they try asking her about the first time she ever played the sport.
"I can't even remember the first time I picked up a volleyball. I was probably still in diapers," Tortorello, the youngest of three sisters and two brothers, said. "I grew up in a gym watching my older sisters play. I just remember being a little girl and peppering with them in the backyard."
Tortorello's sister Liz played at the University of Wisconsin from 1988 to 1992, while Katie played for Boston College from 1995 to 1999. Liz was a member of the history-making Badger team that captured its first ever Big Ten Conference Championship in volleyball in 1990. She also played on the U.S. Olympic Festival Team, was twice named to the All-Big Ten team and ranks second at Wisconsin in all-time assists. Katie, meanwhile, was considered one of the Eagles' top offensive leaders and was honored as the team's MVP her junior season after her team-high 836 assists that year.
"I just wanted to be like them, so I started to play," said Tortorello. "I looked up to all of my sisters. Even at the age of four, I remember saying 'I want to play volleyball in college like Lizzy.'"
So, after years of watching Liz and Katie take the stage in their own volleyball matches, Sam followed in their footsteps, eager to shine in the collegiate spotlight just as her sisters had. And of course they were both there to cheer her on, even if one did so from the other side of the court.
Liz, as it turns out, is in her seventh year of head coaching for the Ramblers of Loyola University in Chicago, a team that Tortorello and the rest of the Nittany Lions defeated in three games this past spring.
"We both loved it," Tortorello said. "Liz obviously wanted to beat us bad just because it was me on the other side of the net, but I think if she wanted any other team to do well other then her own, it would be Penn State."
Now a year older, Tortorello has already added several noteworthy accomplishments to her impressive resume.
During this past summer, she was a member of the Exterminator's team that won the USA Volleyball National Championship. On a team that featured several former professional and national team members, Tortorello earned the starting role for much of the tournament, including directing the offense in the national championship match against the U.S. Women's National Training Team. Tortorello's current Penn State teammate Cara Smith was also a member of that team.
In addition, Tortorello was named a 2003 preseason All-Big Ten pick, along with Smith, also garnering all-tournament accolades at the Maine "Sea Sun" Invitational, the BYU Mizuno Classic and the Penn State Classic so far this season.
But according to Tortorello, she's just getting started. "My freshman year is over and that was an exciting year, but now I'm a sophomore with different goals and expectations," she said. "I still have a lot of things to improve on skill-wise and I'm working on being more of a leader on the court. But my ultimate goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and to make it to the National Championship."