Oct. 4, 2007
by Jeff Smith
Penn State's Arielle Wilson has already learned quite a bit about collegiate volleyball in this her freshman season, yet still she has so much more to learn. There is figuring out what position to be in at the right time, learning new terms of the game, and even improving her communications skills. Granted we could all use a refresher course in the latter, but as Wilson notes, the mantra of this squad stems from head coach Russ Rose.
"Communication is the key to winning. That's what he always preaches," Wilson said.
And when others on the team speak, this newcomer listens.
Once thought to be a redshirt recipient this season, Wilson was given a chance to play at home in the Penn State Classic in early September. In six games over the two-day tournament, she posted an impressive .607 hitting percentage and recorded 18 kills and a team-high 14 blocks. In the week that followed, Wilson was given another opportunity against No. 2 Stanford, which she responded with 10 kills and four blocks. The redshirt was an option no longer for this freshman. She came to play.
But the learning curve is significant for a freshman for Penn State volleyball. The third-ranked Nittany Lions have dominated the conference scene in recent history, winning four consecutive Big Ten Championships, the past Player of the Year awards in Sam Tortorello (2005) and Megan Hodge (2006) and the 2005 Defensive Player of the Year winner in Kaleena Walters. Oh yeah, Penn State has also accounted for the conference's last five Freshman of the Year honorees.
"I don't think there is any formula to it, but I think as a freshman here, you don't have to think a lot and you can just go out and play," Wilson said.
Yet Wilson goes on to talk about her frustrations already this season with her lack of knowledge with some volleyball terms and her position on the court. She admits to not having a very strong volleyball background and says she gets easily frustrated with herself. Despite being informed of her improvement by the coaching staff, Wilson still questions whether or not she has. Luckily for her, she is surrounded by All-Americans she can learn from.
At middle hitter, Wilson shares the line with senior Melissa Walbridge and junior Christa Harmotto. Walbridge was second team All-America and an All-Big Ten first-team selection as a sophomore, while Haromotto has earned first team All-Conference honors in each of her two seasons and was a 2006 AVCA All-America second-team honoree in 2006, following on honorable mention selection in 2005.
"I feel like we are all different and we each have a unique style of play," Wilson said of her fellow teammates. "It has been wonderful that I have been able to learn things from them. Mel has the experience and Christa has the agility. It has been amazing working with the two of them."
Wilson also had the privilege of working with another former All-American at Penn State back in Chicago, just minutes west from her home in Broadview, Ill. Bonnie Bremmer, Penn State's first four-time All-American, the 1996 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the 1997 and 1998 Player of the Year, met Wilson through a friend of hers when she was helping out with Wilson's club team. At the time, Wilson was being recruited by over half of the conference and had yet to visit State College. Bremmer told her that whatever she did to make sure her last visit was to Penn State.
Wilson did, and it was love at first sight.
As an only child to La Verna and Robert Wilson, the Penn State newcomer has had to adapt to a life where she no longer "gets everything she wants." Born January 3rd, Wilson says she was never the victim of having her birthday so close to Christmas where the two days of presents were wrapped into one. She admits living with a roommate is a different experience and credits teammate Megan Hodge with helping her with her new surroundings. Hodge is not a bad one to hang around, as last year she became the first player in Big Ten history to be named both Freshman and Player of the Year.
Wilson still stays in close contact with her family and says that her mother has been able to make it to almost every match on the schedule, home and away.
"We are nine hours away from Chicago, but now she can easily drive to any place in the Big Ten to watch me play," Wilson said.
And since she has already tasted Big Ten competition, Wilson reiterates how fast the learning curve as been.
"I have learned to stay focused and be mentally tough at the net," she said. "You have to be on your toes and be ready to move side to side. You can never take anyone for granted and you have to play hard each night. Being here at Penn State, everyone is out to beat us, so you can never stop being aggressive."
Off the court, however, Wilson enjoys winding down by allowing her creative side to take over. Since she was little, Wilson has enjoyed drawing, painting and ceramics. She is currently enrolled in an art class on campus and took several more when she was in high school. Wilson says it is her way of getting away from the stress and drama.
Then she starts talking about becoming a surgeon or an emergency room nurse. Here's hoping she has a lot of paint and clay, because those two professions are nothing shy of stress and drama.
"Initially I wanted to be a surgeon, but I knew that would be a lot of years in school," Wilson said. "So I think I would like to be an ER nurse. The classes are hard, but I guess I need all of that."
When asked if she made her decision based on her favorite television show as "Grey's Anatomy," she laughed and hinted that nursing might just be in the genes.
"I have nurses in my family and after talking with them, I just decided to go for it."
In that profession, Wilson is guaranteed several study sessions, packaged with a little stress and drama. Perhaps being thrown in with the lions - pun intended - will help Wilson prepare for her future plans. Inside Rec Hall, she finds herself in a technical environment that calls for precision and perfection. Communication may be the key to winning, but the ability to listen and learn returns far more benefits both on and off the court.
But for the time being, maybe it suits Wilson best if she just sticks with the freshmen mentality: "Don't think, just play." It seems to be working for her.