Penn State Women’s Volleyball Opens Season with Win over Illinois

Story posted February 6, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Austin Groft

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 426 days later, Penn State women’s volleyball returned and won their first game of the season over Illinois, giving coach Russ Rose his 1,300th win.

Penn State had its first two series postponed because of COVID-19 difficulties, as they finally got the chance to start their season against Illinois, who already played four games.

The Nittany Lions were without junior captain Gabby Blossom, Jenna Hampton, Hannah Flowers and Lauren Clark, leaving the door open for bench players.

This gave the opportunity for freshman Annie Cate Fitzpatrick and Maddy Bilinovic to shine in their debuts for Penn State women’s volleyball.

Bilinovic was all over the court making digs and saves. Bilinovic ended the match with a game-high 16 digs, an impressive accomplishment for a freshman debut.

Fitzpatrick also made her presence known, having 13 kills for the Nittany Lions.

“It bolds well for Maddy that she played so well because when Jenna [Hampton] is healthy, we will have two people to play the libero and defensive possession,” coach Russ Rose said.

Since it was her first game, Bilinovic expressed her pre-game feelings.

“Not going to lie I was nervous at the beginning, in the long run the energy really helped me,”  Bilinovic said.

Junior captain Jonni Parker was pleased with how the team played even missing several players. Parker was proud of Bilinovic and Fitzpatrick stepping up as freshman.

“Penn State volleyball is Penn State volleyball. Our bench is deep, and we have players who can come off and make big plays. Coming in as freshman she [Fitzpatrick] did well and stayed aggressive. I was proud of what her and Maddy did tonight,” Parker said.

On the other side of the net, outside hitter Megan Cooney recorded for 1000th career kill and recorded a game-high 20.

Rose was happy about the win and the freshman performances.

“For our first match of the year and for our newcomers on the floor, I thought we got some positive efforts, Maddy played terrific in her first match,” Rose said.

Coach Rose expressed how big of a win this was over Illinois and that every Big Ten game will be a challenge.

“Illinois is a great program, and I knew this was going to be a battle, it was a long game, and we were just glad to get the win,” Rose said.

Penn State opened the game with a 9-2 lead, which gave much energy and enthusiasm to the Nittany Lions, with only around 30 fans in attendance. Although it was a big win, they struggled serving, having 15 service errors.

“I thought the serving was really sloppy and we will work on that tomorrow, but for the first match I was pleased,” Rose said.

Penn State will play against Illinois again Saturday at Rec Hall at 2 p.m.

Austin Groft is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, please email him at atg5271@psu.edu.