Penn State Signs Three for 2011 (Plus: Recruiting Look-back – 2004 to 2009)


Penn State’s 2011 Recruits

Two weeks ago (give or take) NCAA Women’s Volleyball teams were first able to sign 2011 high school seniors to a National Letter of Intent (which the NCAA defines as “the document a prospective student-athlete signs when he or she agrees to attend the designated college or university for one academic year.”)

Three high school seniors signed with Penn State: Aiyana Whitney, a 6-5 Opp/MH from Old Tappan, New Jersey, 6-3 MH/OH Nia Grant, from Howland High School, Warren Ohio, and 5-5 L/DS Dominique Gonzalez, from Sandra Day O’Connor High School, Helotes, Texas.

  • Aiyana Whitney, 6-5 Opp/MH from Old Tappan, New Jersey

Whitney, a 2010 Top-20 Prep Volleyball Senior Ace, led Old Tappan to 25 straight wins over New Jersey opponents this season, which was capped off by Old Tappan’s first-ever state championship when it won the finals of the Tournament of Champions.  For the season, Whitney totaled 381 kills (7.3 kps), 46 aces (.9 aps), and 121 digs (her matches were best-two-of-three).  She was selected for the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Training Team in 2009. 

In a September 29th interview in, Whitney told  Andy Vasquez that her serve is one of the weaker parts of her game.  She then proceeded to serve up seven aces to lead Old Tappan to a 25-17, 28-26 win over rival Ramapo.  As Old Tappan coach Melissa Landeck told Vasquez:

Everyone sees [Whitney’s] hitting and the blocking.  But her serving … you just can’t say enough about that part of her game. 

In an interview by Gordon Brunskill in the Centre Daily Times after Whitney signed, Penn State Head Coach Russ Rose focused on her skill level: 

Aiyana’s a skilled net player, but she has good ball-handling skills, a nice serve, she blocks well. . . . We’ve had her in camp and she’s a good prospect with a big frame.

  • Nia Grant, 6-3 MH/OH, Howland High School, Warren Ohio

Nia Grant, who earned All State honors in 2009 and 2010, signed her letter of intent on Thursday, November 11th, at her high school.  According to an article in by Tim Cleveland in the Tribune Chronicle online , Grant chose Penn State “over programs “such as Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Stanford, Notre Dame and Xavier. . . .” 

What sold Grant on Penn State?  In the Tribune Chronicle online article, she cited the atmosphere (“everybody there is like one big family,”) and Penn State’s nursing program, a career she wants to pursue.  And the lure of the four-time NCAA champions clearly was important:

Of course, they have the top volleyball program, which helps.

Her coach at Howland, Jose Jimenez, gives Grant high marks and high praise.  In the Tribune Chronicle online article, he described her as “top-rated, ” and “extremely dedicated and hard working.” Grant also played for the Pittsburgh Renaissance Volleyball Club (the same club team as Penn State’s 6-5 Sr. Opp. Blair Brown and assistant coach Kaleena Walters).  In his interview with Gordon Brunskill, Coach Rose described Grant, who reportedly can touch 10-6, as “very athletic.” 

She plays high. I think she can play middle or outside.

  • Dominique Gonzalez, 5-5 L/DS, Sandra Day O’Connor High School, Heliotes, Texas

In 2009, Gonzalez totaled 556 digs and 38 aces for Sandra Day O’Connor High School and was named to the San Antonio Express Area Super Team and the TGCA Class 5A All-State team, and in 2010 was one of 11 Texans named by as a 2010 Defensive Dandy “Dandy Lion.”  And we think she’ll be just that.  According to the Centre Daily Times, Gonzalez is Penn State’s first women’s volleyball recruit from Texas since Mishka Levy, a member of the 1999- 2002 teams (who averaged 3.66 kps on .303 hitting in 2002).  Coach Rose describes Gonzalez as “a very skilled backrow player with the ability to both set as well as compete for the libero position” and says she has “a good nose for the ball and plays the game hard.”

Recruiting Look-back: 2004 to 2009

Whitney, Grant and Gonzalez represent Penn State’s future, and it certainly looks bright — at least potentially. But potential is just that — it takes hard work, perserverence, good coaching, and a bit of luck for potential to translate into on-the-court success. 

Which got us thinking about past recruiting at Penn State and other elite programs.  So we decided to take a look at some past recruiting classes — specifically, the classes from 2004 to 2009 that were signed by Florida, Nebraska, Penn State, Stanford, Texas, and USC. 

We chose those programs because they are all counted among the premier programs in the country, year-in and year-out, and chose that time frame because it allowed us to look at at least four classes for each of the 2007, 2008, and 2009 seasons — which, not coincidentally, are the seasons in which Penn State won its three consecutive NCAA Championships.  

We limited the pool of recruits to players who were ranked in the top 20 of their respective classes by (as reported by the schools themselves or other publicly available sources).  We broke this down into “Top-5,” “6-10,” and “10-20” groupings, which were  based primarily on the rankings, modified on one occasion by other accolades the player received during their junior and senior years.  We’ve also listed other accolades and international competition experience.

What did we learn?  Nothing earth shattering.  But we think the tables below dispel the notion that Penn State’s success was all about recruiting.  Certainly, the Nittany Lions signed their share of players who were viewed as future stars — whether viewed in hindsight or from the perspective of their junior and senior years in high school, Nicole Fawcett, Christa Harmotto, Megan Hodge, Alisha Glass, Arielle Wilson, Blair Brown, and Darcy Dorton all were elite recruits.  

But, as the charts below illustrate, several schools recruited just as well or better (based on the perceptions at the time, not hindsight).  Other factors obviously played an important role.  At USC, for example, injuries took a heavy toll.  Other schools had injuries too, and transfers out (and in).   The role of good coaching — the ability to meld strong-willed, individual stars into a cohesive team that plays together and makes individual sacrifices for the good of the team — can’t be underestimated (and this isn’t a knock on the coaches of any of these six schools — they’re all great coaches).  And then there’s luck — a bad (or lucky) bounce here, a near miss (or just in bounds) hit there. 

The point is, it’s not all about recruiting — or at least, not about the subjective ratings of high school players who have not yet played a single minute for a college team.  

So take a look at the tables below and reach your own conclusions.  As we said, there’s nothing earth shaking here.  But we found it interesting.  

Top-5 Recruits - 2004-2009 (Summary)

Florida2 100104
Penn State0110013

Top 6-10 Recruits - 2004-2009 (Summary)

Penn State0021014

Top 11-20 Recruits - 2004-2009 (Summary)

Penn State02*00002*

Total Top-20 Recruits - 2004-2009 (Summary)

Penn State03*31029*

Florida Top-20 Recruits: 2004 to 2009

Florida McGinnis, Angie; 5-11S; #2 ranking,; Michigan Gatorade POY (2002 and 2003); Best Setter - 2004 NORCECA Championships (U.S. won Gold Medal); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 Bowers, Kelsey; 6-2 MB; #5 ranking,; 2005 Volleyball Magazine 1st Team All-American; 2004 Class 4A Florida POYNone Rivers, Callie; 5-11 OH; #13 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; 2006 Gatorade Florida POY; 2006 Mizuno/Volleyball Magazine 2nd-team AAMurphy, Kelly; 6-2 S/OH; #1 ranking,; 2007 Gatorade NPOY; 2008 Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; Best Server, 2007 FIVB Junior World Championships (along with Colleen Ward, one of only two players with remaining high school eligibility on the team) None
Florida Hampton, Marcie; 6-2 OH; #4 ranking,; USA Junior National Team in 2001, 2002 and 2004; Captain - Gold Medal USA Youth National team in 2002; Best Attacker - NORCECA tournament; Florida Gatorade POY - 2002; Top three finalist for Gatorade NPOY - 2002; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 Ward, Colleen; 6-2 OH; #7 ranking,; Mizuno/Volleyball Magazine AA - 2006 and 2007; Volleyball Mag Fab 50; U.S. Junior National Team - 2006 and 2007; 2006 US NORCECA Championships (Gold Medal); (Transfer to Illinois for 2010)
Florida Anderson, Cassandra; 6-1 MB; #17 ranking,; Volleyball Mag Fab 50

Nebraska Top-20 Recruits: 2004 to 2009

NebraskaPavan, Sarah; 6-5 RS; #1 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; considered the top recruit in the 2004 classLarson, Jordan; 6-2 OH; #2 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; 2004 U.S. Junior National Team (Gold Medal) MVP, Best Receiver, All-Tournament - 2004 NORCECA Continental Junior ChampionshipsCooper, Kori; 6-2 MB; #12 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; Co-captain, U.S. Youth National Team (4th-place, 2005 Under-18 World Championships, Macau, China and 1st-place, 2004 NORCECA Girls’ Youth Championships) Licht, Lindsey; 6-5 RS; #11 ranking,; Mizuno/Volleyball Magazine AA; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50McNeal, Allison; 6-3 MB/OH; #4 ranking,; Volleyball Mag Fab 50; Starting MB, U.S. Youth National Team, 2007 FIVB Girls’ Youth World Championship, Mexicali, Mexico Werth, Hannah; 6-1 OH; #4 ranking,; Volleyball Mag Fab 50; 1st-team AA, Volleyball Magazine and the AVCA; 2008 Gatorade Illinois POY; U.S. Junior National Team (Gold Medal, 2008 NORCECA Continental Women’s Junior Championships)
NebraskaBartek, Brooke; 6-2 MB; #13 ranking,, (Transferred to Kentucky for 2007 Season; Saw action in nine matches at Nebraska in 2006 as a back-up OH)Mueller, Tara; 6-0 OH;#12 ranking,; 2nd-team Mizuno/Volleyball Magazine AA; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; 2006 U.S. Junior National Team (injured)James, Kaitlynn; 5-11 OH; #13 ranking,; 1st-team AA - Mizuno/Volleyball Magazine, 2006 and 2007; Kentucky Gatorade POYMancuso, Gina; 6-0 OH; #20 ranking,; 2008 Gatorade National Player of the Year; 2008 U.S. Junior National Team; led Team USA with nine kills and 13 points in gold medal match at the 2008 NORCECA Continental Women’s Junior Championships
NebraskaHaverly, Jordan; 6-1 OH; #20 ranking,; (committed to Nebraska elected to sit out the 2008 season and transfer to Indiana)
Anderson, Sydney; 6-0 S.; #10 ranking, 2006; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; (Transferred to Nebraska from Utah following the 2006 Season; sat out one year)

Penn State Top 20 Recruits: 2004 to 2009

Penn StateFawcett, Nicole ; 6-3 OH; #3 ranking,; USA Junior National Team - 2003, 2004 (2004 squad won the NORCECA gold medal in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada); 2004 Ohio Gatorade POY; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 Hodge, Megan; 6-3 OH; #1 ranking,; 2006 Gatorade NPOY; Gatorade North Carolina OY (2005 & 2006); Volleyball Magazine NPOY; 1st-team Mizuno Volleyball AA; 2006 National High School Senior Athlete of the Year, National High School Coaches Association; 2006 USA Junior National Team and the 2004 and 2005 USA Youth National teams; Most Valuable Player and "Best Attacker" at the 2004 NORCECA Championships in Cataño, Puerto Rico Wilson, Arielle ; 6-3 MH; #7 ranking,; Mizuno's Best Middle Blocker, 2006 Dorton, Darcy ; 6-2 OH; #2 ranking,; 2008 NPOY; Captain - 2008 Junior National Team NORCECA Champion; 2008 Gatorade Indiana POY
Penn StateHarmotto, Christa ; 6-2 MH; #14 ranking,; Gatorade Pennsylvania POY; 2004 USA Women's Junior National Team (Gold Medal - NORCECA Championship in Winnipeg, Canada); Mizuno 1st-Team AAGlass, Alisha ; 6-0 S; #6 ranking,;Gatorade Michigan POY; 2004 USA Youth National Team (won Gold Medal in Puerto Rico at the NORCECA Games, Glass named "Best Server"); holds National and State High School records for season aces (296), career aces (937) and career kills (3,584) Carpenter, Kristin; 5-6 L/S; #8 ranking,; AVCA Under Armour AA; Gatorade Virginia POY; Volleyball Mag Fab 50; starting setter, USA Youth National Team in 2006, starting libero in 2007
Penn StateHolloway, Laura; 6-0 OH; #16 ranking,; Gatorade Illinois POY (played two seasons at Penn State - 29 matches over 70 games in 2005, averaged 1.26 kills, 0.90 digs and 0.39 blocks per game, hit .227; transferred to UCLA following the 2006 season)Brown, Blair; 6-5 Opp.; #7 ranking,; Gatorade Virginia POY (2004 and 2005); 2004 USA Youth National Team (won NORCECA Championships in Puerto Rico); holds Virginia State record for career kills (1,463) and solo blocks (307); (Redshirt in 2006)

Stanford Top 20 Recruits: 2004 to 2009

StanfordKehoe, Bryn; 5-10 S; #10 ranking,; 2003 NPOY; finalist, Prepvolleyball's 2002 NPOY; 2004 Junior National Team (1st at NORCECA) Barboza, Cynthia; 6-0 OH; #1 ranking,; Gatorade NPOY - 2004 and 2005; Volleyball Magazine High School POY 2005; youngest member of U.S. Women's National Training Team, 2003 Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic (Bronze Medal) Okogbaa, Janet; 6-3 OH; #2 ranking,; 2004 Junior Olympic National Championship MVP; PrepVolleyball's 2003 NFOY; Gatorade Florida POY; 2004 and 2005 U.S. Junior National teams Klineman, Alix; 6-4 OH; #1 ranking,;'s 2006 Senior POY; 2006 Gatorade NPOY; 2006 U.S. Women's Junior National Team - Gold Medal at the NORCECA Continental Women's Junior Championship (led team with 4.88 pts/gm and 3.88 k/gm); Best Scorer, 2005 U-18 World Championships, Macau, China Walker, Jessica; 6-1 MB; #10 ranking, PrepVolleyball.comSpelman, Hayley; 6-6 RS; #3 ranking,; 2008 Gatorade NPOY finalist; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; 2008 USA Junior Team (Gold Medal NORCECA Championships, Saltillo, Mexico)
StanfordAkinradewo, Foluke; 6-3 MB; #4 ranking,; Gatorade Florida POY; 2004 USA Junior National Team at NORCECA (Gold Medal) Browne, Stephanie; 6-4 MB; #16 ranking,; USA Youth and Junior National Team, 2004 to 2006 (led Gold Medal winning 2004 USA Team in blocking at NORCECA in Puerto Rico)Brown, Charlotte; 6-5 MB; #19 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 (Redshirt 2009)
StanfordLichtman, Cassidy; 6-1 S/OH; #20 ranking,; National Junior of the Year finalist; Volleyball Magazine AA

Texas Top 20 Recruits: 2004 to 2009

TexasChristian, Jen; 6-3 OH; #8 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; Gatorade Arizona POY; Paoloni, Lauren ; 6-5 MB;
#7 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; Mizuno HS AA; Gatorade Michigan POY
Engle, Ashley ; 6-4 S/RS; #3 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; 2005 U.S. Youth National Team (4th at FIVA Youth U-18 World Championships in Macau, China, July 2006, totaled 15 points in the bronze-medal match)Faucette, Juliann; 6-2 OH; #2 ranking,; 2006 USA Women's Junior National Team (Gold Medal, NORCECA Continental Women's Junior Championships in Monterrey, Mexico -- 2nd-highest scorer on the team that summer); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; All-California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), 2005 and 2006 Adams, Rachael; 6-2 MB; #3 ranking,; AVCA High School AA; 2006 and 2007 U.S. Youth National Teams; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; All-Ohio First Team; Webster, Bailey; 6-3 OH;#1 ranking,; Mizuno/Volleyball, AVCA, UnderArmour High School and MaxPreps AA; 2008 U.S. Women's Junior National Team (Gold Medal at the NORCECA Women's Continental Championship in Saltillo, Mexico); Gatorade Maryland Volleyball POY (2007 and 2008); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50
TexasHooker, Destinee; 6-4 OH; #8 ranking,; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; 2005 Track and Field News High Jump AA; Doris, Jennifer ; 6-5, MB; #3 ranking,; 2006 USA Women's Junior National Team (Gold Medal, NORCECA Continental Women's Junior Championships in Monterrey, Mexico); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; All-Texas First Team, 2005 and 2006McNeal, Sha’Dare, 6-1 MB/OH; #5 ranking,; UnderArmour High School AA; 2008 U.S. Women's Junior National Team (Gold Medal at the NORCECA Women's Continental Championship in Saltillo, Mexico); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50;

USC Top 20 Recruits: 2004 to 2009

USCBishop, Katelyn; 6-2 MB; #11 ranking,; three-year member, USA Volleyball Girls Youth National Team (NORCECA Gold Medal in 2002; 4th-place in World Championships in Poland in 2003); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; Gatorade Indiana Gatorade POY Tennant, Kelli; 6-2 MB; #6 ranking,;

(Tennant played only two seasons for USC. She was sidelined for the entire 2007 season after being diagnosed with having fibromyalgia, and retired from collegiate volleyball after that season.)
Carico, Taylor; 5-11 S; #5 ranking,; 2005 Andi Collins Award (Top Senior Setter,; three years on the United States Youth National Team; (Transfer to Minnesota for 2009 Season)Roleder, Kimmee; 6-2 OH; #6 ranking,; 2007 U.S. Junior National Team (4th in Thailand, Roleder was listed as the 5th best spiker for the tournament, hitting .389 and finishing 7th in scoring with 76 points);

(Roleder suffered a knee injury and will miss the entire 2010 season, but will serve as a team co-captain.)
Jupiter, Alex; 6-3 OH; #11 ranking,; Jupiter did not play high school volleyball, but played four seasons of club volleyball for Sunshine. She was named most valuable player at the 2008 Las Vegas Classic.

Fuller, Katie; 6-1 RS/OH;#9 ranking,; Mizuno, MaxPreps, and Under Armour AA; named to the 2007 U.S. Junior Olympic 16 Open Division all-tournament team; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50
USCGysin, Jessica; 6-1 OH; #5 ranking,; Student Sports National Junior of the Year;Volleyball Magazine's 2001 NPOY and Student Sports National Sophomore of the Year; Gatorade California POY; Volleyball Magazine Fab 50.

(Gysin severely sprained her left ankle in the first week of training camp in 2004 and played in only one match; in 2005 she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee and missed the entire season)
Garrett, Zoe; 6-2 MB; #8 ranking,; 2007 Junior National Team (4th in Junior World Championship in Thailand, where she was 2nd overall in blocking); 2006 U.S. Junior National Team (Gold Medal, NORCECA Championship in Mexico); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50
USCFlorian, Sarah; 6-0 OH; #7 ranking,; member, USA Volleyball Girls Youth National Team in 2002 and 2003 (4th-place finish, 2003 World Championships in Poland); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50; Ohio Magazine's Woman of the Year
USCCopenhagen, Diane; 6-2 MB; #15 ranking,; three-year member, USA Volleyball Girls Youth National Team (NORCECA Gold Medal in 2002; 4th-place in World Championships in Poland in 2003); Volleyball Magazine Fab 50