Diary of a College Freshman

Paulina and her mother Maria stand in front of Penn State's collection of NCAA Championship trophies.

Paulina Prieto wasn’t her usual, energetic self.

It was her first week as a college student and between school, the snow, the intense weight-room workouts, and being away from her mother who was back home in Miami, it was a lot to take in.

“I’m so tired,” said Prieto, a 6'2" outside hitter who graduated early from the Palmer Trinity School in Palmetto Bay, Fla., and joined the powerhouse Penn State women’s volleyball program the first week of January. Prieto’s mom, Maria Cerame, flew up to Penn State with her daughter and spent a week helping her clean and prepare her dorm room and get settled in a new environment.

“We went shopping every day,” said Prieto, who was one of the nation’s top recruits. “She knew just what to buy for my room. She was my lifesaver.”

Prieto said she didn’t want her mom to leave so soon but realized it is part of growing up and would help her to connect with the other players on the team.

“The first week my mom was here, it didn’t feel like I was away from home,” Prieto said. “After she left, I bonded with the five freshmen girls on the team.”

Prieto’s roommate—a non-athlete—is a music major from New Jersey, and the two girls have been getting along well.

In order to help locate her classes, which are scattered across the vast Penn State campus, Prieto downloaded an app on her phone. Unfortunately there is nothing on her phone that can help her deal with the cold, which has been a shock to the system for a girl born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami.

“The day before I left Miami it was five degrees at Penn State, and I was freaking out,” Prieto said. “The worst part is the wind.”

Another adjustment has been the class sizes. Prieto is taking three classes during her first semester that are held in big auditoriums—history, human anatomy, and psychology—with several hundred fellow students.

Prieto said she is often too shy to ask questions of her professors in such an open setting, but she has emailed the teaching assistant and received help outside of class. Her other courses include English, which is a smaller class, and an online photography course.

The differences between a small independent high school and a large university are quickly becoming apparent to the freshman. At Palmer Trinity, Prieto would walk to class with her friends; at Penn State she is on her own much more often. That includes waking up in the morning without any help from her mom.

More adjustments include doing her own laundry for the first time and craving her favorite Puerto Rican dishes, which are largely unavailable in State College.

Despite all the new experiences and changes in her life, the main reason she headed north from her hometown still remains her focus; Prieto said she feels most comfortable on the volleyball court. Although there are no practices in the winter, the conditioning and weight-room work has kept her grounded to her volleyball foundation.

Cameron Davidson, the Penn State volleyball program’s strength and conditioning coach, has emphasized technique during the workouts for the already strong players.

“The weight room is huge, much bigger than I’m used to, and we have all these crazy machines,” Prieto said. “It’s fun!”

This is the first of four “diary” installments chronicling Paulina Prieto’s freshman season at Penn State.

Originally published in June 2012

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