When it comes to women’s collegiate volleyball, the Big 10 is one of, if not the most, powerful conference in the country. The numbers tell the story. Current Big 10 institutions have won 18 total NCAA Division I championships, hold down five of the 10 highest average attendance figures and seven conference schools are ranked in this week’s AVCA Top 25 (four in the top eight).
Another interesting statistic, with a San Diego twist, is the fact that three players from Carmel Valley’s Torrey Pines High School are now playing for Big 10 teams and two—Emily Fitzner (Indiana) and Macall Peed (Penn State)—were teammates on back-to-back Falcon CIF Open Division title squads, the last in 2018, their senior year. The third, Kiara McNulty, is a sophomore at Northwestern.
Fitzner and Peed, now just over two months into their college careers, played together for three seasons at Torrey Pines. Fitzner, a 6-foot setter/outside hitter, was a first team AVCA Under Armour All-American and piled up 1,263 assists and 841 kills in her four years at Torrey Pines. A 5-foot-7 libero/defensive specialist, Peed holds the Torrey Pines career record for most digs and was an All-State selection as a senior. The Falcons were 95-14 in the three years the duo were both on the varsity roster and each was an academic standout.
Fitzner, part of a building program at Indiana, moved right into one of the starting setter slots in Indiana’s 6/2 offense. Through the first 27 matches of the season, she’s recorded a team high 501 assists (including a single game best of 36 in the Nov. 9 victory at Rutgers), 19 aces and 160 digs as the only freshman setter in the conference.
Second-year Hoosier Head Coach Steve Aird is enthused about what he’s seen from Fitzner to date as well as what could await in the future. “Emily is just such a special human being, one of the easiest and most receptive kids I have ever trained,” praised Aird. “She was very well-prepared for college volleyball and has steadily developed over the last three months.
“I am very excited about her career at Indiana and going forward. I think there is not question she will have the tools to potentially compete professionally and internationally. We are lucky to coach her.”
As expected, getting on the floor for 19-4, eighth-ranked Penn State has been a tougher task for Peed but she’s made the most of her opportunities. She’s played in 18 of the Nittany Lions’ 23 matches (11 of 14 in Big 10 play), collecting 24 digs and six aces off the bench.
“I think Macall has made great progress,” said Head Coach Russ Rose, the all-time winningest NCAA volleyball coach. “She has demonstrated she’s not afraid of the moment, has made great contributions at different times and earned the right to go in in big matches.
“I hope she continues to progress, because I see bright things for her.”
The two former Torrey stars faced each other as collegiate rivals for the first time on Nov. 8 at Penn State and will square off again in Bloomington, Ind., on Nov. 20. Both recently took time to share thoughts on different aspects of their post high school adventures.
Q—San Diego to the Midwest—how has the transition been?
FITZNER—The adjustment hasn’t been too tough. It’s pretty beautiful here and the leaves are starting to change. Of course, it could be a little difficult when winter comes.
It’s been very busy with school and volleyball but it’s a good busy.
PEED—Honestly, the transition has been pretty good. It’s just starting to get cold but we’ve got our team-issued puffy jackets which are nice. That’s mostly what I was concerned about since I didn’t have any jackets for the snow.
Q—What’s the difference between high school and collegiate volleyball?
FITZNER—Playing in the Big 10 is definitely very different than high school. You’ve got to get used to the game, particularly the speed. The ball’s coming a lot harder. We’re setting a faster tempo to both the middles and outside hitters.
PEED—The game’s just a whole lot faster, so there’s been a big adjustment to the speed. The serving and serve receiving’s tougher. I’ve gotten better in both areas. The Big 10’s definitely a transition. Our first set of conference matches were mostly at home so we kind of eased into it. The second half of the Big 10 schedule we’re away a lot which is going to make it a little more of a challenge.
Q—How would you describe your role on the team and the volleyball experience so far?
FITZNER—I’ve been starting as one of the setters in our 6/2 from the beginning of the season. My teammates have given me a lot of advice and support because getting up to speed in the Big 10 was a challenge. Being able to play with and against some of the best players in the nation is a highlight
We’re in the lower half of the conference but our coach has told us from the start to “trust the process” and every single player is motivated, working hard and very passionate. I think my setting has clearly gotten better. The coaches have helped improve my hands a ton—how the ball comes out and how to finish it off. They really want to see you improve and work hard at making it happen.
PEED—I usually come in as a serving sub when we’re having trouble serving and defensively in the back row. Kendall White is a senior libero and we have a couple of other good defensive specialists so right now playing time is limited. I’m pretty happy with things so far, though. Whenever I get in, I’m just trying to make a difference—get an ace or dig, make something positive happen.
Q—What’s it like traveling with the team?
FITZNER—The travel is amazing. We charter everywhere from the airport right here in Bloomington and took a charter bus to Purdue in-state. Wisconsin was my favorite road trip so far and everyone at Indiana loves the rivalry with Purdue and that’s been fun to experience.
PEED—We travel by charter which is really nice. You go straight to the plane, no lines, no security. We bus to closer games. Traveling can take a toll, though. When we went to Wisconsin, we played on a Wednesday and got back to campus at 3 a.m. with classes and practice the next day.
The biggest road crowd was at Nebraska. That was insane. I’d never played in front of that many people. When I got in, I just tried to focus on the game and kind of tune it out.
Q—What’s your new environment like?
FITZNER—Bloomington is great. Football games are fun and we have a great volleyball fan base. When I go out in town, it’s cool that people recognize me and always ask about the team and offer encouragement. We get a lot of support on campus and it’s been cool to meet the athletes from the other 28 teams. We eat together and our study areas are near each other.
PEED—State College is a cute little college town and everything is close. My dorm is a two-minute walk to Rec Hall which is our home venue. Our home crowds are awesome. We always know we’ll have a fan base in attendance and if we’re not having a great game, the crowd gets us back into it.
Q—From a volleyball perspective, did you feel prepared to play at this new level?
FITZNER—I think Brennan Dean prepared me pretty well to play in the Big 10. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but there was nothing I didn’t feel I could handle.
PEED—I think both Torrey Pines and my club program (Coast Volleyball) prepared me well. I’ve been trained by some high-class coaches.
Q—What do you miss most about being away from San Diego?
FITZNER—I definitely miss my family and the beach too. We live in Del Mar and I would watch the sunset every night.
PEED—I miss the beach. I miss that a lot. If I had a bad day, I could just go to the beach and forget about it.