By Lincoln Arneal
When Kaitlyn Hord looks across the net on Friday night, she might feel like she’s having an out-of-body experience.
On the other side, she will see a player wearing a Penn State No. 23 jersey, her number for the past four years.
Instead, Kashauna Williams, a transfer from Long Beach State, now wears that number as part of a new-look Nittany Lion program, which will face off against No. 3 Nebraska at the Devaney Center.
Hord said she’s looking forward to the reunion and seeing some familiar faces.
“I think it’ll be good vibes. I mean, there’s not any bad blood,” Hord said. “They’re awesome girls, so maybe (I will) give them a little smile across the net. So yeah, I’m excited.”
The most significant change happened at the top as Russ Rose retired after 42 seasons on the Penn State sidelines. Taking his place is Katie Schumacher-Cawley, who slid over one chair from assistant to head coach.
NU coach John Cook said the Nebraska fans would miss Rose, who had a special connection as a one-time Husker assistant. Cook received a lot of text messages about Rose when he played in Lincoln and fans visited with him on the bench.
Cook said he gave a gift to Rose last year after he was gifted a Nittany Lions onesie for his granddaughter.
“I wanted to pay him back, and he really appreciated it,” Cook said, declining to specify what the gift was. “I’m glad that happened because I didn’t know that would be his last time coaching here, but I feel like we had some closure.”
After seven players transferred out, Schumacher-Cawley quickly rebuilt, adding four transfers and three freshmen. Williams, the Big West player of the year last season, leads PSU with 3.34 kills per set. Seleisa Elisaia, a transfer from Cal State Bakersfield, runs the offense with just under 10 assists per set. PSU also added outside hitter Zoe Weatherington from Utah and middle blocker Taylor Trammell from Purdue.
While many of Hord’s former teammates have gone elsewhere, several familiar faces are making an impact. Allie Holland leads the team with 1.44 blocks per set and is seventh in the Big Ten with a .343 hitting percentage. Also, sophomore libero Maddy Bilinovic is averaging 3.57 digs per set.
The 14th-ranked Nittany Lions started the year hot, going undefeated in the nonconference schedule, including wins over No. 7 Stanford and No. 17 Oregon. However, in Big Ten play, they have dropped half of their matches and enter this week at 3-3.
Nebraska has won four in a row in the rivalry and 11 of the past 12 matches dating back to 2015. Even though the jerseys might look the same across the net, Hord said there would be plenty of differences as she lines up on the opposite side of the rivalry.
“It’s definitely different,” Hord said. “It’s just a completely new program, new coaches, new players. It’s like starting from scratch.”