Playing at Penn State equipped Megan Courtney with a diverse set of skills she’s utilized over the years on the international stage — tuning out raucous crowds, grinding out matches against formidable opponents and adjusting to different styles of play.
However, the 2015 Penn State graduate and three-year Team USA volleyball member said there was one thing that her four years as a Nittany Lion didn’t quite prepare her for.
“The thing that actually gets me the most is when we sing our national anthem because when you sing it college, you’re like, ‘OK, we have to sing it every single game.’ It’s just what we do,’” Courtney said. “But when you’re singing it and you’re wearing a USA flag on your chest and you’re putting your hand over your heart, it’s just like, ‘Wow. This is real. I’m representing the country that I’m singing about now.’”
For seven weeks, Courtney and fellow Penn State alumnae Haleigh Washington were part of a team that represented the United States during the 16-team 2019 FIVB Volleyball Women’s Nations League (VNL) tournament. The competition spanned five countries and five time zones, and on July 7, it ended with the United States beating Brazil 3-2 (20-25, 22-25, 25-15, 25-21, 15-13) to win its second straight VNL championship.
Courtney and Washington were Penn State teammates for two years, as Courtney graduated in December 2017. Washington said she found out she’d be competing in the international tournament only a couple weeks before its start.
“We had been talking about changing it up and kind of sending younger girls the first two weeks, but I didn’t officially know until two, three weeks before we left for the tournament,” said Washington, a member of the 2014 Penn State national championship team. “My post-college career is very go-with-the-flow, so I just kind of go where people tell me and try to be content with wherever I’m at.”
The United States was coached by three-time Olympic gold medalist Karch Kiraly. Courtney and Washington credited Penn State women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose for acclimating them to the grueling demands and expectations of competing on the international stage.
“I think the biggest thing with coach Rose, in general, is he taught us really early on that nothing is easy, and playing for a team like Penn State, you’re ranked in the top five or top 10, at least,” said Courtney, a member of Penn State’s 2013 and 2014 national championship teams. “So everybody wants to beat you. You always have that target on your back, and you have to bring it every single night. I think the same thing happens with Team USA.”
Washington echoed her teammate’s observation.
“The No. 1 thing that Penn State volleyball does in preparing you for the international stage is that it recognizes the ideas that there are no off days, and no one cares if you’re tired,” Washington said. “Karch Kiraly, our head coach now, likes to say, ‘We’re tired, we’re being pushed — no one cares. There are teams like China and the Dominican Republic and Brazil that are training just as hard and working just as hard, and they don’t care if we’re tired or if our gym is hot.’ And that’s kind of the same mentality that Penn State had.”
In addition to their gold medals, both Courtney and Washington were recognized individually for their championship-winning contributions. Courtney was named the tournament’s best libero, while Washington earned the tournament’s best blocker award.
While the international acclaim and gold medals are appreciated, the Penn State duo said it was honored to be able to represent its alma mater internationally, and serve as ambassadors for the women’s volleyball program.
“I think it’s a good way of showing people – especially young women – that go to Penn State and young women who aspire to go to Penn State that there’s so much more beyond college,” Washington said. “To know that you can shoot higher than just going to college, and yes, it’s possible for you to win a gold medal. It’s really cool seeing that that’s possible, and it’s even cooler that it can come from Penn State, because there’s something about that program and the way that we build athletes.”