Penn State women’s volleyball head coach Russ Rose held his weekly press conference on Zoom Tuesday afternoon before a weekend road trip to Michigan State.
The Spartans haven’t played since a February 21 loss to Wisconsin in East Lansing after seeing their last three series postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. Rose discussed the addition of former Penn State libero Dominique Gonzalez to Michigan State’s coaching staff, among other topics.
Rose’s opening statement:
“It was good to have an opportunity to play last weekend, as always. We’re going to play Michigan State, which is coming off an extended break. There’s not really a clarity to preparing a scouting report as if they played last week like we played last week to look at recent performance, but certainly they’ve played a very strong schedule to date. They played Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Michigan, so although their record isn’t strong, all the teams they’ve played are strong. Similar to us, the teams they’ve lost to are all ranked teams. That’s the life you live in the Big Ten is you play good teams every time you tee it up, so you have to try to keep your team’s spirits up when their results aren’t as the players or the fans or whoever might want.”
Q: How would you assess the team’s back-row play this year, specifically Jenna Hampton?
“I thought Jenna has been improving each week that we’ve been playing. I think a lot of it has to do with players, as they regain their health, they get a little stronger. I think as the team gets better and they play a little bit more together and the block gets formed a little better, it makes it easier on the defensive players and the back row to do what their main responsibilities are. I think Jenna always plays hard. She has a great feel for the game. I think she’s maybe missing a few more serves than I’d like at that position, but I think she makes up for it a lot of times by just how hard she plays. She’s a real valuable member. The libero position is a really important one, and I think she plays it well.”
Q: What did you enjoy most about coaching Dominique Gonzalez and how pleased are you to see her continuing her coaching career at Michigan State?
“One of the things that I especially liked about Dom is her commitment to be the best she could be on a daily basis and just her commitment to the team. She was one of the leaders of the team and she came to my office every day. She would do whatever she could to make the team better. There are not a lot of players who I can say that about. Her mother was a very successful coach. I expect Dom to have a similar career if that’s the path that she chooses to follow professionally. She’s very good at the position that she played. She was always exceptional in camps. I’m sure she’s making a very positive impact at Michigan State. When she was coaching in Texas [at the University of Texas at San Antonio], the coach who she was working with spoke very highly of her. One of the club programs that she did a clinic at reached out to me afterward and told me how good she was, as if I was responsible for her excellence, and I said that I appreciated the call, but she and her mother were really more responsible for her excellence than I was. I was pleased that we had her in our program for the four years [we did]. She made a great contribution and impact on our success when she was here.”
Q: Earlier this season, AC Fitzpatrick got off to such a hot start and you had reiterated that she still had so much to learn. In the last two months, where do you think she’s improved the most?
“AC’s strength is just how hard she plays and how enthusiastic she is about the game itself. I think she still has a long way to go assessing game situations and seeing the game evolve as it’s happening in front of her, but she certainly has a great passion, and there’s a lot to be said for that.”
Q: What are Lauren Clark’s best traits as a player and what does she need to do to take that next step?
“I think Lauren’s made really positive strides since she’s been here. I’m not sure she thinks that she plays enough, and I would probably agree with her. She’s a really strong attacker and her ball-handling, first-contact serve reception has improved a great deal. I think Lauren’s ready to play when called upon. There’s only X number of players on the floor at one time. It’s challenging for players who are not playing. Some people handle that in different ways. As a coach, you can only do what you think is best for the team and communicate those things with the players. I have those conversations with the players. I think Lauren’s made great progress since she’s been here.”
Q: How does encountering a team that’s been on a break for so long change how you prepare your team and how you coach that match?
“As I said, I can’t really identify on paper a specific scouting report and say, ‘This is how they played two or three weeks ago,’ because I wouldn’t really know who’s available to play. Michigan State has one of the more physical rosters of attackers, so whoever plays, it’s going to be a very physical team. They’re going to be way bigger than us at the net. They’re going to be much more of an offensive-minded group. Certainly Dom, I know, is going to make a big impact on their ball-handling and their first contact, because she was so good at that when she was here. Again, to look at what they did a month ago doesn’t really give me great insight into what they might be doing today. We have to worry about what we’re doing. We haven’t had a week all season where we’ve had everybody cleared to practice at 100 percent, either, so it’s not like we’re rolling along at a high level of efficiency and I should focus on others. We have enough things in our gymnasium that we need to address to keep ourselves busy.”
Q: What does a typical away match flight look like for you? Do you like to read or listen to music?
“Depending on the length of the [trip], I’ll probably bring an iPad and watch a little video. If it’s a longer flight, I would probably bring something to read. I still am into books. Everybody has things on their computers. I see some of the staff watches movies, but I’ve never mastered that, either, so I just bring books.”
Q: What are your thoughts on the NCAA’s pause on individual eligibility clocks and how that will affect future roster management?
“That certainly forces the need for communication between the players and the coaches for identifying which players might want to continue and play longer. It forces communication between the graduating classes in 2021 and 2022 about how that impacts incoming student-athletes. I know there are a number of youngsters around the country who probably had scholarships verbally offered that the coaches had to circle back and identify that maybe they had to reconsider or they had to talk to those individuals about considering walking on for a year, because if a coach has an opportunity to keep a multi-year All-American on their roster versus bringing in an 18-year-old who might have a bright future, that doesn’t seem like a hard thing to balance, if you ask me. On the other hand, there are some 18-year-olds who are really talented and some 21-year-olds who might be on your last nerve. Again, it just requires communication and I think that’s how it’s worked out. When it was presented, I talked to our junior class players about which individuals might have an interest in staying and which ones were interested in moving on, and we went from there.”