COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Blair Brown (Purcellville, Va.), a rising senior opposite hitter at Penn State University, has helped the Nittany Lions to an unprecedented three consecutive NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship titles. Yet, she is not resting on those laurels while attending the U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team open tryouts being held Feb. 19-21 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
The tryout involves 174 athletes -- the most ever at the annual open tryout -- being evaluated by U.S. Women's National Team Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon (Christchurch, New Zealand) and his coaching staff in sessions Feb. 19 through Feb. 21.
The Open Tryout has 46 middle blockers, 41 outside hitters, 38 liberos, 30 setters and 19 opposites representing 81 different colleges. As part of the tryout, athletes are competing for spots on the U.S. Women's Volleyball National Team program and the U.S. Women's Senior A2 teams. The U.S. Women's National Team program is open to athletes who have concluded their college eligibility and who wish to train full-time. This program could begin as early as February 2010, or when an athlete's scholastic or professional club season has concluded. Athletes who will have remaining collegiate eligibility may still participate in the program with participation beginning May 2010 or when their scholastic calendar ends.
Athletes in college with collegiate eligibility remaining for the 2010 season and not selected to the USA Women's National Team may be invited to participate in the USA Senior A2 Team. This program is tentatively scheduled to take place in Phoenix from May 24 through June 2. A projected 24 athletes will be invited to participate in the program, which will include training and competition in the 2010 USA Adult Open Championships in the Open Division from May 29-June 1. USA Volleyball considers the event as the National Championship for the sport of volleyball in the United States.
Through the first training session of the tryout, Brown has been impressed with the quality of the event and the level of competition.
"It has been great so far," Brown said. "I expected to see a very high level of competition on the court, and that has been the case. It is also great to see all the U.S. Women's National Team staff here, including Coach McCutcheon. They have been showing us new techniques to become better volleyball players. Everyone here at the tryout is looking to compete at a higher level."
Brown and her Penn State teammate Arielle Wilson (Broadview, Ill.), who is also participating in the tryout, were named 2009 American Volleyball Coaches Association Division I All-America First-Team. Brown, who was an AVCA All-America Second-Team pick in 2008 as a sophomore, held a .347 hitting percentage while averaging 2.97 kills, 0.24 aces, 0.91 blocks and 1.60 digs per set in 2009. Wilson hit at a stunning .540 attack efficiency for the season to set an NCAA Division I single season record while averaging 2.76 kills and 1.52 blocks per set.
Penn State defeated University of Texas in a thrilling five-set comeback to win its third straight NCAA title on Dec. 19, 2009. Texas has nine Longhorns attending the tryout including past U.S. Women's National Team outside hitter Juliann Faucette (San Diego, Calif.). Other Longhorns at the tryout are outside hitters Amber Roberson and Bailey Webster; middle blockers Jen Doris, ShaDare McNeal and Rachael Adams; setters Michelle Kocher and Hannah Allison; and libero Sydney Yogi.
For Brown and Wilson, motivation to do well in front of the U.S. National Team staff also comes from seeing the recent success of Penn State players on the international level. Middle blocker Christa Harmotto (Aliquippa, Pa.) and Nicole Fawcett (Zanesfield, Ohio), who helped Penn State to two NCAA titles in 2007 and 2008, enjoyed a successful first season with U.S. Women's National Team in 2009. Megan Hodge (Durham, N.C.) and Alisha Glass (Leland, Mich.), who exhausted their collegiate eligibility in fall 2009 by winning three straight NCAA titles, participated in a U.S. Women's National Team training trip to China in earlier this month and are expected back at the USA National Team Center in Anaheim in May.
"They have had a great experience playing against impressive competition," Brown said of her past Nittany Lions teammates. "But there is always something else to do. I still have one more year of eligibility at Penn State. If I get to play at the next level after college, great!"
Brown and Wilson, with their one year of college eligibility left, could become the first players in NCAA Division I history to earn four national volleyball titles in their career. Further, they could trump the NCAA Division I win-loss record of Hodge and Glass set over their four years. Penn State has gone undefeated in its last two seasons and is 110-2 in Brown's and Wilson's three seasons at Penn State.