Three students from California decided to play at Penn State
LOS ANGELES -- Leaving Southern California for college 2,700 miles away in the middle of nowhere would seem like a pretty daunting task, but several student-athletes are migrating to central Pennsylvania, not fazed by the east coast winters and isolated campus to play volleyball at Penn State.
According to PSU head coach Mark Pavlik, it’s not that hard of a sales pitch.
“You don’t sell the location, you sell the Big 10 experience, you sell the difference in what they are used to and what they perceive us to be,” Pavlik said. “Sometimes it’s not for everybody, it’s tough for some to be away from family and friends. I think volleyball more than other sports there [has] a social aspect to it.”
You would think Pavlik would have a difficult time convincing a recruit that Happy Valley, Pennsylvania is not a remote destination, but they have done their due diligence before their recruiting trip.
“Occasionally you are going to have that one kid that thinks we have igloos over here, but what helps now is the media savvy-ness these kids have. They see the football games on TV and pictures of the campus, it really is probably more the exception than the rule that a kid doesn’t know what is going on here.”
When the team won the NCAA championship in 2008, they had two players from California. This year they have three in redshirt freshman Taylor Hammond, sophomore Connor Curry and Senior Ian Hendries.
Curry and Hendries are from Newport Beach and Cardiff, while Hammond grew up 15 miles inland in Mission Viejo. All three haven’t regretted the decision to go to PSU.
Both of Hendries parents are from the east and convinced him to take a visit. Once he did, he was certain that is where he would attend school.
“I was used to perfect weather and living by the beach, but I wanted something different,” Hendries said. “I really feel like I got that at Penn State. I saw that the first time I visited.”
For Hammond, it took a little more convincing.
“I was a little skeptical about it at first before I went out there,” Hammond said. “But when you get out there it really is overwhelming with the school spirit and the people. I really wanted a big school experience. They took me to a football game, Michigan versus Penn State, and put me on the field. I went ‘wow.’ You don’t get that at schools out here.”
Still, there is definitely culture shock. Curry saw that when he made his recruiting trip.
“You go to this tiny little airport where you don’t even do security until your flight is ready to board,” Curry said. “You drive past a couple of corn fields and you smell the cows and it’s like, ‘what is this?’ The campus is in the middle of nowhere, but I think that is what makes it fun.”
From a volleyball standpoint, Pavlik has built a program that has made the semifinals each of his 19 years and has won two NCAA championships.
"I would hope the history helps us as well,” Pavlik said. “I would think that would make us attractive as an option.”
It definitely was a big reason the three current California players chose the school. Curry was deciding between PSU and Stanford and Hammond had UC Irvine and San Diego in his final three. It wasn’t just the volleyball program that attracted them.
“The education for me was so much better here than some of the schools I was looking at in California,” Hammond said. “I just knew it had everything I wanted.”
Even snow and temperatures in the teens doesn’t bother the warm-blooded west coasters.
“It’s the first time I was in snow and it was a lot of fun,” Hammond said. “It was Halloween weekend and I got woken up and we went out there and played in it all day.”
Still, why trade all the trappings of Southern California for the middle of Pennsylvania?
“I don’t think you can answer the question unless you go to the school,” Curry said. “It’s a very fun place to go to school. There is so much school spirit and a buzz around campus. In central Pennsylvania that is what it is, it’s Penn State.