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Pierce sees Penn St. as top option for college, volleyball

PENN STATE-BOUND — Eden senior setter Lainy Pierce, pictured left, signs her letter of intent while seated next to parents, Kiernan and Robert Pierce. Standing are, from left: Scott Minton, Eden guidance counselor; Stephen Pierce, Eden girls volleyball coach; brother Declan Pierce; Marisa Fallacaro, Eden athletic director; and Jeff Cervoni, Eden High School principal. Photos by Jeffrey Barnes/Michael Petro.
Lainy Pierce said that she wanted to keep her options open in the process of selecting a college, but when it came right down to it, Penn State had too tight of a grip on the Eden High School senior – for good reason.

Not only is Penn State one of the more prestigious universities in the nation, but it is also the place her father, Robert, played men’s volleyball; her mother, Kiernan, competed in track and field and her sister, Kendall, is currently a sophomore on the women’s volleyball team.

The women’s volleyball team also continues to be a contender for the NCAA national championship, having won titles four straight years (2007 – 2010) and returned back to the Final Four last season.

Lainy, who had verbally committed to Penn State last year, made her decision official on Nov. 15, as she signed her letter of intent at Eden High School, before jumping on the bus with her Raiders teammates, to play in the state tournament in Glens Falls during the weekend.

“My parents and family were good about helping me keep my options open and not wanting me to feel too much pressure, but ultimately when I would discuss pros and cons of my top schools, it always came back to Penn State. Everything got compared to Penn State,” Lainy said. “Maybe it was because it was the first school I started looking at and I started looking at it from such a young age, and that might be from my parent’s influence. But whenever I thought of college, I’ve always thought of Penn State. It was hard for me to get out of that, but I’m glad I didn’t.”

It wasn’t just family ties that made the decision. If she wanted to play at the highest level and challenge herself academically, the athlete said she figured: What better place?

“Kendall and Lainy both understand that hard work does pay off and have had their eyes on the prize for a while now,” her father, Robert Pierce, said. “Yes, they’ve been smart enough to look at other options. We’ve taken them on visits, to say, ‘Look at this, look at this,’ but I think when they look at the whole big picture – family, volleyball and academics – having the opportunity to go to a university like this and play for national championship contender every year, it was a home run.”

Pierce, also the coach of Eden’s boys volleyball team, has already watched as Kendall Pierce earned her scholarship as a Penn State walk-on, and now he gets to see as his other daughter continue a family legacy at the university. Lainy Pierce was given some scholarship money, with the chance to win further scholarship awards.

“I never thought it would come to complete fruition, for both of them; I hoped it would ... it’s a dream,” Robert Pierce said. “We couldn’t be happier with Lainy’s choice. Penn State is rated a top 50 university in the world, and the resources afforded a student-athlete there are incredible, far more than when my wife and I went there. There placement and connection with alumni, academically, is top notch, facilities are top of the line ... and, to me, it’s one of the best coaching staffs around.”

The decision brings a reunion between Lainy and Kendall Pierce as teammates. While at Eden, the two helped the Raiders to three straight state titles, a mark that was extended to five during the weekend, where Lainy Pierce won her second straight Most Valuable Player Award at states. Kendall Pierce had won it as a senior in 2011.

“My sister was super thrilled when she heard I committed to Penn State,” Lainy Pierce said. “She was bouncing off the walls. She wants to play with me again and I want to play with her again, because we had so much fun, but also it will be nice to be able to support each other at school.”

Originally looked at as a future libero at Penn State, playing as a setter at a state championship level the past two seasons has made Pierce more marketable and may get her on to the floor to compete and help right away at the next level, according to her father.

The athlete said she was a little reluctant to the idea of switching to setter at first, but she got used to the role and was willing to take it on, to help her team. She wound up embracing quarterbacking the team and helping others score, after being one of the main scorers herself on past teams she’s played on.

“Stephen [Pierce, her uncle and head coach at Eden] talked me into it and said, ‘This is something you have to do for the team,’” Lainy Pierce recalled. “I realized my role was something completely different from sophomore to junior year. I used to have my setter there and my sister as the libero and all they needed me to do was pass, serve and hit the ball, but I realized that I had to step up and truly be a leader. So if it was something I had to do for my team, than I would do it.”

Robert Pierce pointed out that Lainey had an advantage being the younger daughter and able to develop her athletic IQ by watching her older sister and playing up levels with older kids. He noted that this allowed her to mature quicker and be a major contributor for five years with Eden.

“Lainy’s been with me for five years and I’ve been able to see all of the growth,” Stephen Pierce said. “I’m proud of the young woman she’s become and the way she’s learned to put an imprint on the team. She’s one of the best pure athletes from this school. She should be the kind of athlete that responds well to the demands of the next level.”

Robert Pierce said that he is happy he and his wife now can make the four – five-hour trip to see two Pierces playing for Penn State at once. “We’re excited; we can go down there and watch both girls play,” he said. “They’re trading in the maroon and white for the blue and white, but they’ll always be Raiders. We couldn’t be happier for them. They worked so hard for this.”
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