Penn State York women's volleyball team makes history

Team to play for a national title
Eight female student-athletes iat Penn State York in volleyball uniforms and a female and male coach pose with award

Showing off their second-place Penn State University Athletic Conference Championship award, the Penn State York women's volleyball team and coaches take a moment to celebrate in Rec Hall at the University Park campus. Front row, left to right, are Makayla Dyson, Hannah Knight, and Jayda Simmons.  Back row, left to right, are Whitney Smyth, Sadie Schantz, Jess Dunbar, Olivia Giltner, Zoe Luedtke, Keith Hartman, head women's volleyball coach and two-time Coach of the Year winner, and Val Hartman, assistant coach.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

YORK, Pa. — Making history once again, the Penn State York women’s volleyball team claimed a second-place win in the Penn State University Athletic Conference Championship on Nov. 1 at Rec Hall at the University Park campus. This is the first time a women’s volleyball team from York played in the championship game. The team battled but fell to Penn State Mont Alto, 3-0 (25-13, 25-20, 25-19).

York claimed the top seed in the PSUAC East for the second consecutive year with a conference record of 12-0 and an overall record of 21-6.

"To think where our volleyball program was just five or so years ago, and see where we now stand, is nothing short of incredible,” said Jeff Barkdoll, athletic director at Penn State York. “This group of talented young women worked so hard, and through so much, it is so great that the opportunity to play on the national stage is now theirs! So proud of the team, and coaches! Way to go!”

View pictures from the championship game on Flickr:

York returned to the court at the start of the 2022-23 season with a conference record of 11-1, having made history with a variety of team firsts in the 2021-22 season. Under the guidance of Keith Hartman, head coach, and Val Hartman, assistant coach, the duo led their team to being named the Penn State University Athletic Conference East Division Champions. York also won its first playoff game and several players earned first-team recognition, Player of the Year, and Specialist of the Year awards. Keith Hartman was also honored with Coach of the Year in the PSUAC. This was the first time a women’s volleyball coach at York has earned this recognition.

Despite all the positive aspects of the 2021-22 season, the team also dealt with the death of one of their fellow players and Penn State York student, Courtney Groft, who was killed in a car accident as the team prepared for the playoffs. York decided to play the game in honor of Groft and took her picture along to the playoff game against Greater Allegheny. Although they lost, the team made history by participating in their first women’s volleyball playoff game in campus history.

“This year versus last year were two extremely different experiences,” said Keith Hartman, head coach and two-time PSUAC Coach of the Year winner. “Last year was one of knowing that these young women worked hard and deserved to be there, but with the emotional grief of just losing a teammate and friend a couple days prior and trying our very best to honor her memory and what she meant to the team. This year, the ladies again put in the hard work in practice to compete at the highest level with multiple goals set by them which included honoring Courtney (#3 jersey was displayed on the bench) at every match, reaching the quarterfinals, repeat as PSUAC Eastern Division Champions, and winning a semifinals match and competing in the finals,” he said.

Along the way, the team started creating all new firsts for Penn State York such as a 12-0 conference record, a 20+ wins season, a player to receive PSUAC East Volleyball Player of the Year for two consecutive years, and the head coach to receive a second consecutive PSUAC "Coach of the Year."  

Hartman, along with his assistant coach and wife, Val Hartman, dedicated themselves in preparing the team for the competition they were about to face by watching hours of previous matches of the opposing team and demonstrating how each of their attackers hit, as well as discussions on key offensive and defensive strategies for producing a positive outcome. The coaches incorporated six Division III matches that greatly challenged the team, and at the same time, prepared them to work harder and play at a much higher level than the previous seasons.

According to Hartman, the wins and close five-set losses were all confidence builders and stepping stones for the team to believe that they could achieve anything. 

So, how did it feel to play in the championship? “It was something very special and memorable for all of us and a true testimony that this is a team of overcomers. I believe that out of tragedy there can and will always be the light of triumph when you believe in it as a team. However, I have to say that winning the semifinals match against Penn State Greater Allegheny (who knocked them out of the playoffs last season) was just downright magical,” he said.

Those who watched the game in person or online witnessed a heated contest that could have easily gone to five sets, but in the end, the York players and coaches believed in each other that this was their moment.

“Now we have something new to look forward to for next season and one more first to add to program history. Now, we head to United States Collegiate Athletic Association Nationals to create another first, and again spotlight how amazing this group of young ladies are to us and Penn State York,” said Hartman. 

USCAA National Tournament

The team, the #4 seed in the USCAA, heads to Virginia Beach, Nov. 10-12, to play in the national tournament, a first for a York volleyball team. Penn State York will begin play on Thursday morning, Nov. 10, at 9 a.m., and will then continue pool play on Friday morning, Nov. 11, at 9 a.m. The tournament is being played at the Virginia Beach Field House, 2020 Landstown Centre Way, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

PSUAC Recognition

In addition to claiming the top seed in the PSUAC East and taking second place in the PSUAC Championship, Penn State York players were honored for their work on the court:

PSUAC East Player of the Year and All Conference 1st Team

Jess Dunbar, Hanover (second-consecutive year)

PSUAC All Conference Honorable Mention

Makayla Dyson, Hanover

Jayda Simmons, Hanover

Whitney Smyth, Gettysburg

John Fritz Sportsmanship Award

Sadie Schantz, of York, was named the John Fritz Sportsmanship award winner. This award is given by the PSUAC in honor of John Fritz, retired PSUAC commissioner, who was considered the epitome of a team player and who had a true love for the Blue and White.

Coach of the Year

For the second consecutive year, Keith Hartman, head coach for the women’s volleyball team, of Dover, was named Coach of the Year. Hartman, who took over as head coach in 2019, made history last year. He led his team to being named the PSUAC East Division Champions, boasting a conference record of 11-1. The team also won their first playoff game and several players earned first-team recognition, Player of the Year, and Specialist of the Year awards. The success continued this year with the team winning the PSUAC East Division with a record of 12-0 and taking second-place in the PSUAC Championship.