LEMONT FURNACE, Pa. — Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus hosted the 2023 United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) Volleyball and Cross-Country Small College National Championships.
The event highlighted athletic talent and community engagement, supported by Penn State Fayette alumni. The championships generated an estimated $200,000 in economic revenue from lodging, spending and tourism according to the bid request for proposal.
Stephen Oberly, athletic director at Penn State Fayette, acknowledged the community's contribution to the event's success.
"Our volleyball and cross-country student-athletes received national awards and recognition while competing against top talents across the national association," Oberly said. "We are incredibly grateful for the community support."
Former Penn State Fayette student-athletes Janelle Cooper, Victoria Helmantoler, Emma Lewis and Caitlyn Tavarez shared their experiences at this year's event.
“It was nice coming back and seeing how much Penn State Fayette’s athletic program has evolved,” said Helmantoler. “Going to nationals was always the end goal as an athlete, but my team never got to play on our home court when we made it. This tournament put our little school in southwestern Pennsylvania on the map and I couldn’t be prouder to be a Penn State Fayette alumna.”
“It was a joy coming back to help,” said Lewis, who assisted with camera operations and admissions. “Getting to see most of my teammates from college and being around the sport that we dedicated our lives to ... there was a constant smile and pure happiness on all our faces.”
“This is one of those full-circle moments,” said Tavarez, who served as the tournament’s broadcast commentator. “Coming back to where it all started, now working the national tournament with my best friends. Not too long ago that was us on the court. I feel a connection to volleyball and Penn State Fayette and it will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Cooper currently serves as Penn State Fayette’s Assistant Volleyball Coach and was a significant contributor to the USCAA Division II and National Championship victory. She has four PSUAC Championships and USCAA appearances. Other involved alumni and related family include Emily Konter, Tori Helmantoler, Marney Hillen, PJ Savini and Mike Elliot.
“What a showcase this was,” said Samantha Swetz, assistant athletic director at Penn State Fayette. “We saw past volleyball players from all eras come back just to be close to the magic that is the USCAA National Volleyball Tournament. We even had parents return because the players now live across the country and couldn’t attend. Fayette volleyball is special; I’m the maid of honor for one of my former teammates. Another teammate is my daughter’s godmother. It’s an unbreakable bond that’s hard to explain. Some of my best memories from playing and coaching are at Nationals.”
Penn State Fayette competed against Kent State Tuscarawas in a semi-final match, entering as the sixth-ranked team, and winning the first two sets but losing the next two. In the fifth set, Fayette fell 15-10, narrowly missing the finals. Despite the loss, Fayette's performance against higher-ranked teams was noteworthy.
Emma Eckert, setter for Penn State Fayette's Women's Volleyball Team, expressed gratitude for her support system and reflected on the team's journey.
"I am eternally grateful to the Lord, my athletic directors, coaches, team and parents for putting me in a position to represent my school in such a positive way. I'm sure we were all disappointed in the losses, but the pride for our team and school outweighed it. This was the best season of volleyball I have ever played. I wish I could hold onto my seniors, Pasepa Driso-Buwawa, Maddie Richards and Abby Bickerton, forever. I can't wait for next season!"
The 2023 USCAA Volleyball and Cross-Country Small College National Championships at Penn State Fayette celebrated athletic excellence and underscored the connection between the University and its alumni. Their involvement played a pivotal role in the success of the event, showcasing the strength and spirit of the Penn State Fayette community.