Women's volleyball coach Russ Rose celebrates 40th season

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Every great story starts with a strong protagonist, and you'd be hard-pressed to tell the story of Penn State women's volleyball without head coach Russ Rose. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the college volleyball story as a whole without him.

For the 40th time this fall, Rose, who will be honored on field today, will be roaming the sidelines in Rec Hall, continuing to oversee the powerhouse program he so successfully built over the years. There's a sense of pride in any coach, but especially when seeing his own work and philosophies manifested into reality year after year.

Rose has certainly seen that, with a record seven national championships to his name as well as 17 Big Ten titles, and he's overseen one of only two programs to make the NCAA volleyball tournament in all 37 of its iterations. But for him, it always comes back to representing the university and all it has done for the volleyball program.

"I'm very passionate about Penn State, the history of Penn State and the people I've had the privilege of interacting with over the course of my time here," Rose said. "I try to share with the players the importance of tradition and the importance of the opportunities they have."

Famous for his hard-nosed coaching style and his desire to work his players to their full potential, Rose carries a certain reputation of discipline and dedication among those in the volleyball world. 

"There's a lot of tough love," redshirt senior outside hitter Nia Reed said. "It's definitely a grind playing for him, but that's why we come here. We knew what he was like being recruited, and we have one goal in mind: to win. That's why we come to Penn State and that's why we're in this program."

Even to relative outsiders that aren't from the northeast, Penn State has made itself a household name in the sport, winning 1,249 matches and making Rose the all-time winningest coach in women's collegiate volleyball.

"I'm from Chicago, so Penn State volleyball isn't quite as big, but obviously you still know Penn State if you're in the volleyball world," redshirt senior setter Bryanna Weiskircher said. "As soon as you get that recruiting letter or email from coach, you light up. It's not necessarily easy, but it's a driving force to get you to where you want to be."

Not one to boast of his personal accolades, Rose credits the program's success to the players more so than himself, and for good reason. Rose has coached 28 first-team All-Americans, who combined to be selected to the team 64 times, including three four-time All-Americans.

"I've been very fortunate to have a lot of great players, people who are affiliated with the program, like administrators, coaches and volunteers," Rose said. "They've allowed the program to achieve success, not me. I've been here for a lot of it for sure, but I certainly think it's about the players."

As consistent as Penn State's program has been over the last four decades, that much time naturally brings change with it. Whether it be the inception and implementation of Title IX, the advancement of women's sports in general, or the way the game of volleyball has changed over the years, Rose has been here for all of it.

"They're very fortunate to have great opportunities in a lot of areas, and I want them to be appreciative of those opportunities and the many people that came before them to lay the groundwork for those things," Rose said.

Rose naturally demands the most from his players, and it shows with the results on the court. But, more importantly, Rose wants to develop his players into strong people as well as athletes, as there's only a finite amount of time in the gym but a lifetime of lessons.

"Part of tough love is educating people, and part of educating people is trying to provide them with good direction, pat them on the back when you need to pat them on the back and help them up, but try to keep them headed toward the best that they can be," Rose said.

"He wants us to be the best players and best people that we can be," Weiskircher said. "He shows it every day in practice and in games, and we're all thankful for him."

The team is in position to contend again this year. Even with the departure of seven seniors last year, expectations are still high. Rose wouldn't have it any other way.

"I think the expectations for what young people can do should be set really high, or they should go someplace where they feel comfortable and there's no expectations. I don't have a problem with them going elsewhere," Rose said. "I like to win, but I'm not playing."

For the players, tradition trumps everything, and the winning mentality is something ingrained in most Penn State student-athletes before they even set foot on campus.

"It was easy for me. I didn't want to go anywhere else," Reed said. "Coming from New Jersey, I went to the same school as Ariel Scott and I played with Aiyana Whitney and they all came here and told me about it. I was like, 'I want to play for Russ Rose.'" 

With the season just getting into full swing, Rose's latest test is to turn his youthful team into a contender.

"Last week the freshmen said I was sweet," Rose said. "Goes to show you how times change."

Last Updated August 31, 2018