Penn State women’s volleyball head coach Russ Rose fielded questions Tuesday afternoon on Zoom before the Nittany Lions travel to Columbus for a Wednesday evening match against the Buckeyes.
Rose discussed his team’s performance in a pair of losses to Minnesota last weekend and touched on the difficulty of playing five Big Ten matches in eight days.
Rose’s opening statement:
“We’re coming off of two tough matches against a very fine team in Minnesota, so it was an opportunity for us to get some of our players who hadn’t played a little opportunity to play and see where they were. I thought we had some flashes where we looked pretty good and some opportunities to demonstrate some proficiency in some areas, and I also thought we had some areas that looked pretty clearly that the players aren’t at their peak — both physically and at their execution levels. The schedule tells you who you’re playing. I certainly wouldn’t be able to defend saying that one team in college sports should be playing five matches in a one-week period, but it’s what we’re supposed to do, and that’s what we’re going to try and do. We played hard and I thought we saw some good things in Minnesota. We’re going to play another one of the three undefeated teams in the conference tomorrow in Ohio State. We’ll play them and come back and have a day to try and regroup again and then play two matches against Indiana.”
Q: I have always wondered if you keep your binders. What happens to the contents of those at the end of a match or a season?
“Yeah, I have 40-plus years of those — practice ones as well as match statistic ones. We could have a really big fire.”
Q: What impressed you the most from Macall Peed’s game against Minnesota Sunday night?
“First off, she got an opportunity because I didn’t think that we were very crisp at one of the positions. I thought Macall deserved the opportunity and I thought she played really hard. I think that’s always been one of the things that I believe in. I thought she kept her focus for the entire match, played hard, made some great defensive plays, served well, passed well, and did everything that we asked her to do. I was pleased with her effort.”
Q: This past weekend, there were some bright spots. What is the next step or that hump that you guys have to get over in order to improve the next three matches you have this week?
“I’m not into moral victories, so I don’t look at it that way. There’s a whole needed group of people in the world who are about always saying the glass is half full. So you would say, ‘Hey, you guys were leading up to 20 and you have to find a way to score the last five points.’ You can make a living if you could find the answer to that. I thought we competed well against a top five team, and traditionally we have players and I do a better job coaching that we’re able to find ways to be a little more successful than we were. The positives were some people who played poorly on Saturday played a little better on Sunday. The reality of it is, they’ve only been practicing together for a few days since some of them have come back from health-related issues, and even though they’ve played before, there are some things that require playing together and timing. I think some of those things will get better with playing together and getting healthier. I can’t really put a time on when that will happen. Some injuries, you can say how long it takes for somebody to get back. I think this is something that there’s really a question mark associated with it. Every day, we have different people who are at full strength and not at full strength. I think it’s going to just take time. You’ve got to play with who you have. I’ve coached with that mindset for a long time and I don’t see any reason to change that. We have the roster we have. We can’t do tryouts and see if there’s anybody on campus who can help us. We have to do a better job coaching and that’s how I think we have to pursue the next 15, 20 matches, or whatever we have left.”
Q: What made your new director of operations Brian Toron a good fit for Penn State?
“He had good experience. He had experience as a coach and he was good with the statistical things that I think are helpful. I’m not 100 percent committed to the sabermetrics of athletics, even though I did a thesis on statistics long before sabermetrics was the go-to thing for all the Ivy Leaguers to get into pro baseball, but I certainly think that and the fact that he’s a good, detailed-oriented guy was good. Again, he had good recommendations. I think he’s done a nice job. Virginia [Pham] did a really nice job. She wanted to return to Southern California. She was a UCLA grad and had an opportunity to go back home, albeit to USC, but I guess everybody has a cross to bear.”
Q: When you’re going through the recruiting process, what do you think is an important characteristic of someone who’s able to keep up that success [of Penn State]?
“What I think is important probably isn’t as demonstrated in the recruiting process right now, because I think a lot of success in recruiting is really sales, and you have to sell them to come to your program, even if you’re not necessarily selling them the truth. The problem is, I’m an old person at this stage of the process, and I’ve never really thought that doing anything other than telling people the truth about what it’s going to take to be successful here is the important variable. Sometimes, we’ve had players who have come to Penn State because we were good and our media guide looked good and the banners looked good and they thought, ‘Boy, that would be really cool to go there because Penn State is really good’ instead of doing a better job of identifying to them that so much of that success has been built on the really hard work of a lot of players and a lot of staff and a lot of administrators who really did support the program. Sometimes, I might have been asleep at the wheel or made a bad turn on a recruit. It’s as important for recruits to really listen and to know what’s right for them in the process as it is for coaches, but for sure, it’s easier for coaches to mislead kids probably than it is for kids to mislead coaches. I’ve given a lot of recruiting responsibility to the staff, because I think that’s a really important part of what they need to do to become future head coaches. There are seven or eight schools in the Big Ten that have other people who have been a part of our program on their staffs. I think mentoring and getting people involved so that they’re comfortable and ready to go into the profession is really important. From my standpoint, the short answer to your question is I want kids who are tough, who are willing to work hard and be accountable, and understand that it’s a team sport. It’s really about the team more than it’s about them.”
Q: People talk about you in regards to winning, but I’m wondering what your relationship is with the 200-some losses? Where does that stick in the back of your head when it’s all said and done?
“I certainly know more about the championship matches that we lost and the coaching decisions I should have made in those matches. I probably erred in being more loyal to the players who got us into those matches instead of probably being a little more attuned to assessing the value of winning for maybe everybody else’s importance to it. Sometimes, you win by teaching everybody a lesson and getting everybody to see what’s really important about being in your program than it is winning a match. It’s the Penn State volleyball program. I’ve been the volleyball coach here for a long time, and when I leave, somebody else will be the volleyball coach. That will be how it goes. Somebody will come in and I’ll wish them great success. I won’t be one of those people who are hanging around with an opinion. I’ll be a fan in absentia.”
Q: Playing five matches in about a week, has that affected how the team is training or perhaps the team’s mindset heading into each match?
“In the old days, when we would play in a tournament, you could play multiple matches. You could play two matches in a day and one the next day. In preseason, people might do that. Certainly not five conference matches in a week. There are some parts to it that I really can’t get my arms around. We didn’t get back until 2 a.m. from being in Minnesota, so yesterday was a wash. We’re going to Ohio today, so we’re not really going to be able to do much today since it’s starting to snow again. We’ll have a very short opportunity on Thursday to regroup again. We don’t have that many players. We have six of them who are just coming back from not being able to play, so they’re not full go. It’s an impossible way to prepare for the long haul, I would say that. I would say the best thing to do would be to be very guarded with your repetitions and things along those lines. It’s certainly foreign to anything we’ve experienced before, but I guess one would attribute that to the COVID situation, and we’ll just leave it at that.”
Q: What has the impact been on you and the players and their mindset about having to venture out and not be at their home arena?
“Again, we lost the first two weeks of the season because of health-related matters, so our first weekend was at home, then last weekend was our first away weekend. Minnesota is a long trip and it was cold in Minnesota. This won’t feel like nearly as long of a trip going to Columbus. It’s what you do. If you make a big issue about it, then the players will make a big issue about it. I think it’s, ‘Hey, we lost the last two matches. We have an opportunity to play and hopefully we’ll play better.’ That’s the goal. The goal is always to get better. If you’re winning and you’re playing well, the goal is still to get better. It’s not like if you win, everything’s better now. I think if you win, some things are better. Every player is different. Some players want to be great. Some players want to know what’s for lunch.”
Q: When did you first identify Nicole Fawcett had what it takes to get into coaching?
“First off, her father was a very successful coach and her mother was from a very competitive family of athletes, so I think Nicole Fawcett came from an incredibly competitive family of athletes. Her career at Penn State was an exceptional one. Her time with USA Volleyball was an exceptional one. Like her, I’m saddened that she never had an opportunity to go to the Olympics. Not everybody does. Being an alternate is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. She had an incredibly long and distinguished professional career. I’m sure that she’s making great contributions at Ohio State. We used to run camps and things and she was good. She was a great player. She wasn’t a good player. She was a great player. It’s not easy to be a great player, because there’s a big difference between potential, being good, and being great. She was exceptional.”
Q: Do you like being this busy?
“It’s part of the job. My mind’s not great right now, but I’m doing the best I can like everybody else is right now. That’s what I’ve got.”