Dapper Dan Sportswomen of the Year: Penn State volleyball team breaks records, traditions

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When Russ Rose took over as coach of the Penn State women's volleyball team in 1979, he taught 16 classes, had three scholarships, no assistants and the team wore sleeveless, leftover jerseys from the basketball team.

Nowadays, the Hall of Fame coach teaches one class, has 12 scholarships, two assistants, a director of operations and his team wears sleek-looking Nike uniforms.

Rose also is the ringleader of the best women's volleyball program in the country.

"Times have changed, that's for sure," he said. "But you can't do it without the support of the university. When we joined the Big Ten Conference [in 1993], Penn State gave us the resources to be competitive.

"We have just taken off from there."

Penn State made NCAA history in December, becoming the first team to capture three consecutive national championships.

The top-ranked Nittany Lions rallied from a two-set deficit to beat No. 2 Texas, 3-2, in Tampa, Fla., extending the second-longest winning streak in Division I-A history to 102 matches.

And for the first time in Dapper Dan history, the sportswoman of the year will be given to a team -- Penn State -- rather than an individual on Thursday.

There are no current Western Pennsylvania players on the Lions' roster, but Rose said players from the Pittsburgh region have been instrumental in helping his program become a powerhouse.

"When I accept the award, I am going to dedicate it to all of the great volleyball players who have come from Western Pennsylvania, both men and women," Rose said.

"In the early years, half of our team was from Western Pennsylvania. All of them helped shape our program."

Penn State has not dropped a match since losing, 3-2, to Stanford Sept. 15, 2007.

In addition to the three national titles, the Lions have won four consecutive Big Ten championships behind the most-talented recruiting class in school history.

Senior All-Americans Megan Hodge and Alisha Glass helped Penn State compile a 142-5 record.

"We've certainly had a great run the last three years," Rose said. "And Alisha Glass and Megan Hodge contributed heavily to the success of our team in different ways."

Hodge, an outside hitter, finished her career with 2,142 kills, second in school history. Glass, a setter, finished with 5,799 assists, fourth all-time, and added 454 blocks.

Hodge became just the fifth player in Division I to be named first team All-American four consecutive years. She also was named the winner of the Honda Sports Award, given to the country's top female athlete in volleyball.

She was the second consecutive Penn State player to win the prestigious award, following Nicole Fawcett.

"Penn State has the type of volleyball program that is unmatched when compared to any other school," Hodge said. "It's not really about individual awards with me, or being the best player on the best team.

"At the end of the day, it was all about playing as a team and playing well. I think our record and championships are a credit to our coaching staff and all the great players who have passed through the program."

This past season, Rose became just the fourth Division I coach to win four national championships. He also became just the third coach to reach 1,000 wins.

Penn State finished the decade with a record of 308-38. Its 102-match winning streak trails only the Miami men's tennis team, which posted 137 consecutive victories from 1957-64.

"We've won four national championships and had a lot of success, but I think the hardest part still is trying to sell a player on coming to Penn State," Rose said. "They all want to know why would they should go East to play a sport that is dominated primarily by teams from the West.

"We've been fortunate. We have had some very talented kids who have played hard and have been able to handle the enormous expectations that go with it."

Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com


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