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Penn State women's volleyball team relies on a culture of hard work

“We have a culture that I work hard to maintain and try to keep people working hard all the time,” says Russ Rose, center, who has been the Penn State women’s volleyball coach for 31 years.

Associated Press (2008)

“We have a culture that I work hard to maintain and try to keep people working hard all the time,” says Russ Rose, center, who has been the Penn State women’s volleyball coach for 31 years.

The unprecedented success can be directly traced to a culture, developed and nurtured over three decades, and based on the belief that nothing breeds success better than hard work.

In 31 years, Russ Rose has tried to instill that into every volleyball player he has coached at Penn State.

"I think all teams work hard," said Rose, the women's coach. "We have a culture that I work hard to maintain and try to keep people working hard all the time. And I don't care if they are mad at me, and I don't care if they are mad at each other. I care that we realize that the next team that we play is going to write a slogan on their T-shirt if they beat you. It's a lot different than just coming to work every day and being a college athlete. So you sign on for something, and when you get that chance to do something special and great, I hold them to that."

And he has held them to it. To say Penn State is in the midst of doing something "special" and "great" is an understatement.

The No. 1 ranked Nittany Lions (36-0) are preparing to compete for their third consecutive national championship this week at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa. Rose has taken Penn State to 29 straight NCAA Tournaments.

Penn State is on a record 100-match winning streak, which dates to September 2007. It is the longest win streak in Division I women's sports history and the second longest for any sport, trailing only the Miami men's tennis program, which had 137 straight wins from 1957 to 1964.

Yet "the streak" — as it has become known — is the farthest thing from Penn State's mind. When the team won its 100th straight match Saturday over Cal in the NCAA region final in Gainesville, the Penn State fans began chanting "100."

"Honestly, we had no idea what the streak is," junior middle hitter Blair Brown said. "They were chanting a number, and we had no idea why."

That is all by design.

"We don't talk about the streak at all," Rose said. "I don't know the number; it doesn't make a difference. We're not thinking about the streak. When you're in the NCAA Tournament, you need to win the next match or you're celebrating Hanukkah. I don't know the number. I don't care about the number."

When told the number was at 100, Rose said, "It's 100? Well triple figure is better than double figures for sure."

Others marvel at the streak.

"What's incredible about that is things happen during a season," Florida State coach Chris Poole said. "You overlook a team on the road, or you have a heavy test week for your team, or you have the flu going through them and you drop a match you really shouldn't have dropped. That happens to everyone. It hasn't happened to Penn State. … They obviously find a way to win no matter what."

The Nittany Lions have taken every opponent's best shot — and persevered. That alone has made them a better team.

"I think that's true; people said we have a target on our back ever since the streak began," Brown said. "I think it helps us that people come out with their A game all the time against us, because it pushes us to be better and to have to come out every single time with that energy that we need. We have to step up right away. We can't come out and be casual because people jump on us."

Rose credits outside hitter Megan Hodge and setter Alisha Glass as the strength of the team — both are seniors who have won national titles.

Just making it to the Final Four isn't the goal. Making history is.

"I think our team is very focused on our side of the net," Hodge said. "When we control what we can control on our side of the net, I think we're a very powerful force for any team. So it's kind of us having that mentality that when we do what we need to do, we can beat anybody."

Added junior Arielle Wilson: "Our goal this year was not to make it to the Final Four. We have higher goals for the season, and I think we're concentrating on that."

Which should be a concern for the rest of the field.

Times staff writer Brian Landman contributed to this report.

Fast Facts

NCAA volleyball championships

When: Thursday's semifinals — Texas (28-1) vs. Minnesota (28-8), 7 p.m.; Penn State (36-0) vs. Hawaii (32-2), 9 p.m. Saturday's final — 8 p.m.

Where: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa

Tickets: $60 for semifinals and final, (813) 301-2500 or sptimesforum.com

Today's practices: Texas, 10 a.m.; Minnesota, 11:35 a.m.; Penn State, 1:20 p.m.; Hawaii, 2:55 p.m.; admission free

Charity game: Teams from the Air Force and Marines will meet at 4 p.m. today on the St. Pete Times Forum West Plaza to benefit Toys For Tots.

Fan Fest: 4 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday and 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the St. Pete Times Forum Plaza

High school All-America game: 1 p.m. Sunday at St. Pete Times Forum with admission of $7.25

Penn State women's volleyball team relies on a culture of hard work 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 9:06pm]
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