Freshman Paulina Prieto, an early-enrollee who arrived at Penn State in January from Miami, Fla., was excited to play a 2012 schedule that included matches against 11 teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season. Some of the bigger names that visited Penn State this season included Stanford, Texas, Nebraska, and NCAA runner-up Illinois.
But a stress fracture in her left foot that was discovered just before the season started forced Prieto to take the year off. Prieto said she is trying to be positive in spite of this setback.
“If I have to wait until next season to come back I will be a very experienced freshman because of all the work I’ve done up to now,” she said.
That work has included conditioning, weight training, practices, classes, and adjusting to new teammates, professors, and friends. She’s done all that over the past nine months, and has also taken a leadership role with the three PSU freshmen who arrived over the summer: Megan Courtney (Dayton, Ohio), Kendall Pierce (Eden, N.Y.), and Lara Caraway (Evans City, Pa.).
“They bring a new energy [to the squad],” Prieto said. “The team feels complete now.”
Prieto has done her best to guide her fellow freshmen, but she said they are “very responsible girls” all on their own.
“That’s my crew. I have their backs.”
Her crew started this fall completely cold with no college matches in their portfolios. Had she stayed healthy, Prieto would have brought some experience in that field because she played college exhibitions this past spring against Bucknell, Syracuse, George Mason, and Kent State.
She also competed in PSU’s annual Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage.
The exhibitions were played on two side-by-side courts, while the scrimmage was played on one court, and players wore game jerseys instead of practice shirts. Since they didn’t have Prieto’s number 9 jersey ready in time, she was lucky enough to wear number 11, which belonged to former PSU star Megan Hodge. “That was pretty cool,” she said.
Prieto said she wasn’t nervous at the start of the season, but she was emotional. “My adrenaline was rushing,” she said. “It was fun.”
As for her play, Prieto assessed it as inconsistent. She was happy with her serving and passing but not her hitting in the exhibitions. In the scrimmage, it was the other way around.
Prieto said she expects to get a point every time she hits, even if that is unrealistic.
“That’s the type of hitter I think I should be,” she said.
In the scrimmage, which was held at night, Prieto said she gained some valuable insight that she could take into future matches.
“I threw the ball up for my jump serve, and I lost the ball in the lights for a split second,” she said. “I thought to myself: ‘I don’t remember those lights being there in practice.’”
Prieto had hoped to apply that new information during the season. The same can be said for everything else she has learned since January.
“I’ve been through a lot here already,” Prieto said. “When I first left Miami, it felt like I was just leaving to get volleyball training. But when I went to my high school graduation in May, it felt more real. It felt like my childhood and adolescence was done.
“Now comes a new chapter in my life. I don’t know what [next] season will be like yet but it’s comforting to know what the spring and summer are like. That’s why I graduated early – to gain that advantage. I’m happy with my decision.”
Originally published in January 2013