Karis Willow Talks Penn State Volleyball Commitment

Karis Willow, a 6-foot-3 pin hitter from Arlington, Ohio, has been verbally committed to Penn State women’s volleyball for nearly 10 months, and is currently the only member of the program’s 2023 recruiting class.

Willow, who has already won two Ohio Division III state championships with Liberty-Benton High School, leading the Eagles to a 30-0 record as a junior, picked the Nittany Lions on September 8, 2021. She also finished fifth in the high jump at the OHSAA state track and field meet this spring.

Willow, an Impact Volleyball Club standout, recently participated in Penn State’s 7 Star Camp to kick off the summer, showcasing her skills in front of her future coaches while getting to know other top prospects from around the country, including 2024 Penn State commit Ava Falduto, a libero from Elmhurst, Illinois.

Willow discussed her commitment to the Nittany Lions, her experience at camp, what she’s focusing on improving heading into her senior season, and a host of other topics in an exclusive interview with DigNittanyVolleyball. The full transcript can be found below.

What were the main factors in your decision to commit to Penn State?

“I absolutely loved everything about Penn State. The coaches were real with me, and the players acted as a family and were very welcoming. I felt an instant connection with the campus. Penn State has always been my dream, and in my recruiting process, I kept comparing all the schools to Penn State, so I knew that PSU was the place for me. I also loved the game day atmosphere, especially for football and volleyball. There is nothing like walking downtown during a football game and seeing everyone watching and hearing fans cheer in all directions. There is so much support and fans for all athletics, and it motivates you to play for them as well. You don’t find that many places.”

What do you like most about campus and the facilities?

 “I love the small feel of campus. It has a hometown feeling with beautiful scenery. There are so many useful options for student-athletes, and you can tell that many people care about you as a person, player, and student.”

What’s your relationship like with Penn State’s coaching staff?

“I really look up to my coaches. They are very laid back and show that they truly care about how you are doing. They are funny and just great to be around, but most of all, I trust them. They were real with me during recruiting, and they are real with me now. They know what it takes to win a national championship. I respect them so much.”

What were the highlights of your experience at the 7 Star Camp a few weeks ago?

“I always enjoy just being on campus with the team. This year, I was able to talk to a lot of the recruits and get to know them. I had an absolute blast playing the sport I love, in a place that is special to me, while playing along with new friends and some of the best upcoming players in the nation.”

What are some of the strengths of your game? What would you like to improve before arriving at Penn State?

“Hitting has always been one of my strengths, as well as blocking. My coaches and I have been working hard to improve my defense and serving game. I hope to improve my off-speed shots, blocking, and defense.”

How has your participation in the high jump helped you as a volleyball player?

“High jump has helped me in so many more ways than one could ever come up with. You have to be flexible, jump well, trust yourself, trust your coaches, and be extremely mentally strong in order to do well, but most of all, it helps you not let others or yourself into your head. High jump is a lot of pressure when it’s a do-or-die situation and you are on the third attempt, so it definitely has [made me] mentally and physically stronger and more prepared for high-pressure volleyball situations.”

How close are you with Penn State’s current players and commits? Are you familiar with fellow Ohioans Allie Holland and Maddy Bilinovic?

“I am still getting to know the current players better. We haven’t had much time to talk, but from the time I have spent with them, they are all very funny and very welcoming. I am good friends with some of the 2024s, and I know the 2022s pretty well. I know Maddy and Allie, and they are both very nice. At first, it was a little awkward with Maddy since we played each other in the state championship in 2019, but now we just laugh about it and everything is chill.”

[Here’s a link to the boxscore from that state championship match: https://ohsaaweb.blob.core.windows.net/files/Sports/Volleyball/Tournament-Results/2019/D3Final.htm]

How would you describe the feeling of winning two state championships so far? What are you most looking forward to about your senior season?

“It is really hard to describe the feeling of winning it once, much less twice. There is so much emotion and so much relief in the moment that you win, it makes all the hard work, sweat, floor burns, tears, blood, hard workouts, early morning lifts, early morning practices, and all the not-so-fun moments worth it. There is nothing like that feeling. We just have to remember that last year’s team won, and we have a lot of work to do. I fully believe that we are capable of winning it all again, and my job is to get everyone on board with that mission. It will take everyone giving it their all, but if I have learned anything, it’s that nothing is impossible. I am most looking forward to leading and having fun with my girls for one more year. This team will always have a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait for one more season.”

How were you introduced to volleyball? Who have some of your biggest mentors been?

“My sisters have been playing volleyball for as long as I can remember. They started teaching me the game when I was 3. My sister, Hannah, showed me this game that she liked to play where we would serve the ball up onto the roof, it would roll down, and you would pepper to yourself. I did that drill religiously for years, and I’m certain that it had a major part of how I play today. One of my most influential coaches was Sarah Parker. She was my club coach my 14s year. She gave me confidence and showed me many of the skills and tips I use today. She helped me a lot in my recruiting process and was like a big sister to me.”

What do you love most about playing volleyball?

“I love everything about the game. The strong kills, big blocks, diving saves, strong aces, and the occasional assist. I love cheering on my teammates and helping them reach their potential. I love the environment of the fans, parents, teammates, and coaches cheering you on. It’s all just so amazing, and I love this sport with all my heart.”