Nov. 20, 2010
By Larry Watts
Arielle Wilson enjoyed her trip to Brazil so much with the Penn State volleyball team nearly two years ago that she can easily see herself going back.
"It was so gorgeous, I loved every minute of it," the Broadview, Ill. native says. "The beaches were great and they have really good food!"
It's not far-fetched to think the 6-foot-3 middle hitter could end up back on the beaches in Brazil. Her dream is to join the professional ranks overseas, and her top choice is to play in Brazil.
"Anywhere is actually fine with me; the sky is the limit," the senior quickly adds.
But first things first. Wilson knows Penn State volleyball is her top priority and she doesn't believe her work with the Nittany Lions is done until she adds another notch to her national championship belt.
During her tenure in University Park, the Nittany Lions have won three national titles, including perfect 38-0 marks the past two seasons. But old nemesis Stanford found a crack in the armor in early September, ending the second-longest winning streak in college sports history at 109 matches. Then Illinois, followed by Purdue and Indiana, ended their 65-match streak in Big Ten play.
"Winning those three national championships was unreal and a great experience," Wilson says. "We know we have a target on our back, but I think we put more pressure on ourselves because we want to be great and uphold the tradition.
"The loss to Stanford put more pressure on us to get better and work harder at becoming a more cohesive group. Losing is just a word; we had to figure out why we played the way we did. It wasn't a matter of them beating us; it was more us beating ourselves. And we felt the same way after our losses in the Big Ten because we were giving up too many points by hitting the ball out of bounds and making too many errors."
As one of four captains, Wilson has been heavily involved in meetings to find solutions.
"Things we needed to work on had been exposed and we didn't have the right mentality," she says. "We were a bit in shock, especially the older players. We were trying to figure out what else we could have done and if we were showing the right type of leadership to the younger girls. We finally came to the point where we had to stop talking and do something about it in practice, and we've been doing it ever since."
Since the loss at Indiana, the Nittany Lions have won their last four conference matches and hit the halfway point of the league schedule at 7-3, trailing Illinois (9-1) and Michigan (8-2). Starting with Indiana and Purdue visiting Penn State this weekend, Wilson believes her squad is positioning itself for a run at its eighth straight Big Ten title.
"I'm sure those other teams are still looking over their shoulders at Penn State," she says. "Just because we've already lost four matches this season doesn't mean it will continue. I think people are still worried about us and they should be because we're getting done what we need to in practice now. The Big Ten is very competitive this year and each team is capable of doing something special each night."
Winning is something Wilson didn't experience much as a high school volleyball player at Proviso East, a suburban Chicago school more known for basketball and track.
"I started playing volleyball in fifth grade and wound up doing club volleyball," she says. "I really enjoyed the competitiveness of the sport and all the traveling we did. Besides, there was less running and physical contact in volleyball than in basketball."
Wilson did play basketball for three years at Proviso East, spending her sophomore and junior seasons on the varsity. However, volleyball became a year-round sport for her by her senior year.
"Let's just say the basketball coach didn't understand my love for volleyball," she says with a laugh. "I had already committed to Penn State during my junior year and it became more important for me to get better in volleyball than worry about who would be the next center on the basketball team."
Wilson was intent on attending a Big Ten school. She made visits to Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, Michigan and Wisconsin before taking her final trip to Penn State.
"My AAU coach was friends with (Penn State) coach (Russ) Rose," she says. "Going to the farthest Big Ten school from home wasn't an issue because I enjoy traveling.
"I found the Penn State campus to be gorgeous, something I wasn't used to seeing in Chicago. Coach Rose was funny and honest, he seemed like he had a real passion about everything he was saying. I already knew a couple of girls on the team and everything seemed like a perfect fit."
It didn't take Wilson long to fit right in during her rookie year, starting 21 matches while leading the Big Ten with 1.80 blocks per game and earning freshman of the year honors. She followed that up by earning first-team all-conference honors the past two years while being named second-team All-America as a sophomore and first team last year, when she led the nation with a .540 attack percentage. Her .489 attack average entering this season is tops in Penn State history and she stands fifth in career blocks with 581.
"I'm not much of a talker," Wilson says of her role as a captain. "If something needs to be said, I will say it, but I feel like it's my job to set an example with my work on the court. If I go hard every day in practice and the younger players look to me as an example of how to work, that's the best feeling ever."
Last summer, Wilson and senior teammate Blair Brown were invited to spend two weeks training with the U.S. National Team in Anaheim, Calif.
"We lifted weights, ate with them and took in the whole experience of being part of the USA team," she says. "It was a lot of fun and something I could see myself doing in the future because it's possible to play (professionally) overseas and come home to play for your country. But there's no slacking at that level because you can be out the door just as fast as you came in. You have to be ready to give everything you have every day while also having fun with it."
In preparation for the day she finally decides to call it quits on the volleyball court, Wilson is studying to become an emergency room nurse. Maybe it is no small coincidence that her favorite TV show is "Grey's Anatomy."
"I've had this desire to work in the medical field from a very young age," she says. "At first I thought I wanted to be a surgeon, but then I realized that would be a lot of schooling. I kind of cut it down to being a nurse and wanted to specialize in the emergency room because I thought I would enjoy the rush and excitement of trying to help people. If I could help people just by talking or fixing a wound that would be great."
Even though she isn't going to be a surgeon, Wilson still has plenty of schooling ahead of her. She is currently wrapping up her major in kinesiology and then will head into a two-year accelerated nursing program. That will be followed by a master's program for another 18 months and then a registered nurse exam.
"It's doable, but it seems like I may never get out of school," she says with a laugh. "I do plan on taking volleyball as far as I can and, when it's done, nursing will get my full effort. But first I want to win another national championship."