by Jonathan Ketterer
After the absence of last week's post, the Friday blog returns to the interview series with Penn State's star outside hitter Deja McClendon. Now a sophomore, Deja has been instrumental to the team's success this season, having played in all 82 sets and leading the squad with 275 kills. During her freshman season, Deja made an immediate impact playing in 122 of 123 sets, while recording 418 kills, which was second on the team to Blair Brown. In high school, she was honored as Miss Kentucky Volleyball, Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year, and as an Under Armour All-American. In her freshman season, she was also recognized as a standout player, garnering the awards of: AVCA Division I National Freshman of the Year, AVCA Second Team All-American, NCAA Championship Most Outstanding Player, NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team, and First Team All-Big Ten. These honors however, may pale in comparison to the fact that she helped the Nittany Lions to their 4th straight NCAA title. To this point in the season, Penn State holds a 17-5 record, while riding a 6 game win streak which includes a home win over #1 Nebraska, in which Deja had a match-high 18 kills. I got a chance to get an interview with Deja this past week, and here's what she had to say.
|(Photo courtesy of Jason C. York)|
What's your favorite part about being a student athlete? What's your least favorite part?
Being a student athlete is like becoming a new addition to a huge multi-talented family. I've had such a great opportunity to meet people from all over the nation who are here for some of the same reasons that I am and I think that's an awesome perk. My least favorite part of being a student athlete is how much time it demands. I would love to join the multi-cultural club or take a pottery class but there’s not a lot of spare time during season.
What was it like to be a crucial part of defending the title and making it a 4-peat in your freshman season? Was it fun to be a go-to player?
I was lucky to have had the chance to learn from and play next to legends like Blair Brown, Arielle Wilson and Alyssa D’errico. To say I helped get them a 4th ring is an insane thought to me. Playing with girls who are so competitive is always fun, and I think they are the reason that I was confident enough to step up in some of the more crucial matches of the season.
How would you say you have progressed from last season to this season?
This season has been a huge challenge in a different way for everyone. I’ve struggled trying to adjust from playing a secondary role last year to taking on a primary role this year. My overall goal is to be more of a vocal leader. I think on the court I have made improvements in defense compared to last year.
What was it like being recognized by the AVCA as an All-American?
To me, being named an AVCA All-American is one of the highest honors in collegiate volleyball. I can remember going to the banquet and seeing people like Megan Hodge and Alisha Glass accepting their awards. It was like a dream to actually be on the stage as a freshman.
Who has helped you the most in your volleyball career?
It’s extremely difficult to narrow it down to one person who has helped me the most, but I can definitely say that without the support of my parents, I would never have played college volleyball. Although my mom doesn’t play sports, she is one of the most competitive people I know, and it rubbed off on me. My dad, who played college basketball, has given me a passion for sports that I will never lose. They both taught me to work hard and to push myself.
A lot of girls talk about balancing their studies and volleyball, and how it is difficult. Do you have any strategies that help you out? (i.e. tutors, or a strict schedule/routine?)
|(AP Photo/ Charlie Riedel)|
During season it is always a struggle to keep a good balance between volleyball and school. Our academic advisors help us a lot when it comes to scheduling the right classes. What helps the most is that they make it a point to not over schedule in the fall so I never feel overwhelmed. Then in the spring when volleyball is less demanding, we take the more challenging courses.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
My dream is to play professional volleyball. I have no clue where, but I would love to have that experience in 5 years. If that doesn’t work out, I hope to be working in advertising.
Describe how playing in the Big Ten is different than any of your non-conference games.
The Big Ten is a conference where every game is going to be competitive because every team is good. Even the easiest games of the year can be challenging. To win the Big Ten, you can’t take any games off, because it is really easy to let it slip away. Our pre-season games were more of a mixture. We played a good amount of unranked teams to balance out the tough matches against Stanford, Texas and Cal.
I'd like to thank Deja for being able to take the time to do this interview, and I wish her and the Nittany Lions nothing but the best as the season continues. After their huge home win last Saturday, Penn State returns to action tonight as they take on Minnesota in Minneapolis at 9:00. If you'd like to read a more in-depth biography of Deja, you can visit her profile on Penn State's athletics website: Deja McClendon Profile. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!