Bayleigh Hoffman is living the dream of nearly every girl who grew up playing volleyball in Pennsylvania.
She's spending her final season of collegiate eligibility as a walk-on defensive specialist for legendary Penn State coach Russ Rose.
The fifth-year senior played indoor and beach volleyball for Louisiana-Monroe after graduating from Dover High School, but there came a point when she wanted to transfer closer to home.
“It was kind of the homesick type of thing,” Hoffman said. “It just wasn’t for me. I didn’t think it was the lifestyle I wanted. I’m from Pennsylvania, so I came home. I have a bunch of friends that go here and obviously having a Penn State degree is an awesome thing to have.”
After Hoffman applied and got into Penn State, she had the opportunity to play with ex-PSU standout Roberta Holehouse McGuiney, who was a two-time national champion libero for the Nittany Lions from 2005-2008.
“She was like, ‘You should contact coach. Do it. Why not?’ That was kind of the whole thing,” Hoffman said. “I tried out last January. Coach said, ‘This is tough. This is really hard. Is this something that you want to do?’ I said, ‘Let’s find out.’ So here we are.”
Various positions: Hoffman has played various positions during her volleyball career, lining up at setter and even outside hitter at times. She’s been part of the rotation at defensive specialist for the Nittany Lions early in the season, seeing action in six of the first seven matches. PSU is 6-1 and ranked No. 5 in the nation in NCAA Division I according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association.
Hoffman is one of only four seniors on this year’s roster.
Hoffman came off the bench in the first and third game of a 3-0 sweep of Navy and generated four points each time she headed to the service line, drawing praise from Rose afterward.
“Bayleigh’s a more mature player, having played the game a little bit longer,” Rose said. “I think because she was a sand player that she’s probably a little more comfortable with the serving-passing part of the game, because when you play doubles, you’re not as dependent on everybody else, you’re not serving 16 percent of the time. You’re serving every other time.”
Upbeat personality: Junior libero Kendall White said Hoffman’s upbeat personality has been a positive influence on a team that features eight true freshmen who are trying to figure things out on the fly.
“Bayleigh is just very bubbly. We like that about her,” White said. “She’s really positive every time she comes on the court, in practice, it’s who she is all the time.”
Freshman Jenna Hampton is typically the first defensive specialist to enter a given match for the Nittany Lions, while Hoffman and junior Emily Sciorra provide a change of pace for Rose.
“She’s not a very physical kid and I think that she’ll still have some challenges associated with how physical the Big Ten is,” Rose said of Hoffman.
Winding route to PSU: Hoffman’s journey to Penn State has been a winding one, but stories such as hers have a way of giving a young team some perspective.
Rose has developed 44 different players into All-Americans during his first 40 years as head coach of the Nittany Lions, but he also has a knack for finding these diamond-in-the-rough players and welcoming them into the program with open arms — provided they can keep up.
Playing at a place like Penn State is no easy task for even the nation’s most highly recruited prospects, so seeing a player such as Hoffman make an impact so soon after joining the team is certainly a story line to keep an eye on as the Penn State season unfolds.