Those who followed Royce Clemens during his Central York High School career know there isn’t a whole lot that he can't accomplish as an athlete.
A three-sport standout with the Panthers (soccer, basketball, volleyball), all of his high school teams were successful, in large part because of his contributions. He helped lead all three of his teams into the PIAA state playoffs his senior year — the only student-athlete at Central to accomplish that feat.
Clemens also ended his high school career in style when the Panthers won the PIAA Class AAA state boys’ volleyball title in 2014.
Nearly two years removed from his high school days, Clemens is now in his second year playing volleyball for Penn State. And to no one’s surprise, the former Panther great is demonstrating his value on the court for the Nittany Lions.
After taking a redshirt season as a true freshman a year ago, the 6-foot, 1-inch Clemens is starting at libero for the perennial NCAA championship contenders at Penn State (8-2), which is ranked No. 7 in the country. He leads the Nittany Lions in digs with 82, averaging 8.2 digs per match. He's also third on the team in assists with 16.
We caught up with Clemens before Saturday’s victory against Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association rival Sacred Heart University to talk about his experiences at Penn State so far, and his memories from Central York, for this edition of Sports Q&A.
How is the team doing so far this season?
A: “We’re doing well. We’re ranked No. 7 and we’re playing some pretty good volleyball this early in the season, which is always a plus. I think that the team is really jelling well together and it’s nice to be able to be out there playing with everybody.”
Does Penn State play in the Big Ten in men’s volleyball?
A: “No, we’re part of the EIVA. (The Lions are 3-0 in the EIVA). There are not as many Big Ten schools that have men’s volleyball programs, so our conference is mostly the East Coast or Northeast region. So Ohio State is not in our conference, but they’re a Big Ten school.”
What is it like playing big-time college volleyball versus what you experienced at Central?
A: “It’s a lot faster pace, a lot more physical. The game is just a lot more intense. It’s similar in the sense that you just like to get out there and enjoy yourself, which is what I love, but play-wise the ball is hit like 10, 15, 20 mph faster and the play is a lot quicker. There’s not as many rallies. It’s more pass-set-kill or pass-set-error and stuff like that.”
There’s a lot more jump-serving in college and that’s something, as the libero, that you’re pretty much responsible for right?
A: “Yeah. I’m out there to try to get to as many serves as I can.”
Did you know from the beginning of the season that you would be starting?
A: “Yeah. Now I still had to perform during the offseason and everything like that, but that was the ultimate plan.”
How tough was it to sit out last year and have to watch Connor Curry (who graduated) play?
A: “It was tough, but it was a good experience. Connor was a phenomenal player. He knew the game well and he knew being the libero is not always about running all over the court but instead about being in the right position. And he did that very well. So he helped me adjust to the game and learn the angles and just help me read what was going on during play.”
What is the biggest difference between your experience last year and what is happening for now this year?
A: “Last year I didn’t know what to expect. The game was a lot different than what I thought it was going to be. It took a while to get adjusted to the pace and the serves. But now I have that experience and my teammates and what they bring to the table helped me adjust to that. I just think that making the transition was a lot easier after sitting out a year and developing my game to where it needed to be.”
Was it a tough transition to go from playing mainly on the attack in high school to playing only the back row at Penn State?
A: “Surprisingly it didn’t take very long. Once I got here I knew that I wasn’t tall enough or hit the ball hard enough to be able to swing. So I knew my role was going to change. And I was happy with that because I’m just happy to do anything to help contribute to the team. It was just new at the time, but I really do enjoy playing libero.”
The last game you played in high school was at Penn State in Rec Hall when you won the state title. Was it strange at all last year the first time to stepped on the floor there again?
A: “It was kind of a moment where you realized all the hard work that you’ve done in the past and the long hours that you’ve put in has paid off. It’s a bit surreal, but it’s also humbling because you know that you got to this point for a reason. I think the most important thing is know what it took to get there and know how you got there can help you to keep excelling, if that makes sense.”
What is the travel schedule like in college during the season?
A: “We’re actually lucky this year. We were able to fly to Chicago to play Lewis and Loyola, but this is our first bus trip of the year. Since we’re hosting the national championship this year in May, a lot of teams want to come here and play in our gym to get some experience here before they get to the championships. So because of that I think that 80 percent of our games this year are at home. So I’m lucky that my first year starting there’s not too much travel.”
I bet that’s nice for your parents and friends to be able to catch more of your games right?
A: “Yeah. My parents are actually up here (in Boston) this weekend to watch us at Harvard and then (to Connecticut) for Sacred Heart today. They try to get to all of the games that they can get to.”
How is Luke Braswell, who played against you in high school at Northeastern, doing this year?
A: “He’s redshirting this year. He’s been doing well and he’s adjusting to this level as well. He has two really good experienced setters there teaching him where the ball needs to be and the tempo, which is a really big difference for a setter. I’m excited to see what he can do in the future for this program.”
Do you miss not being able to play soccer or basketball?
A: “Yeah, obviously this is a different change not playing different sports. I’m at the level now where you pretty much can’t play multiple sports. I’m sure that in the summer I’m going to put my cleats on or go to a gym and shoot around, but I love the sport of volleyball and not playing (soccer or basketball) doesn’t affect me really that much.”
Finally what is your reaction to the whole situation regarding the removal of your former volleyball coach at Central, Brad Livingston?
A: “He was obviously a great coach. He helped me to be able to get to the sport where I’m at right now and it just kind of stinks to see him end his coaching career, which he’s done for around 40 years, it’s just really upsetting to see him go out like that. His legacy was spectacular. He won two state championships, but, on top of that and what’s really important, was that he was a good mentor to me and probably pretty much any athlete that he’s ever coached. I know that my friends that played on the football team have said that he was a great guy and they loved him as a coach, as did my teammates in volleyball. We all loved him as our coach. It just stinks that it had to end and really on that note.”
Anything else you want to say about your experience at Penn State?
A: “Yeah. I’m just blessed to be a part of this program. All of the guys up here are great and the coaching staff is great. There’s no place I’d rather be.”
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.