One player's journey to finding a 'home sweet home' at Penn State

November 02, 2018

Bayleigh Hoffman has found herself back home at Penn State as a walk-on defensive specialist in her final season of collegiate eligibility after a long, winding road since the beginning of her collegiate career.

The fifth-year senior from York, Pennsylvania graduated from Dover Area High School and was an Under Armour All-American selection and PA Gatorade Player of the Year nominee. From a young age, Hoffman had always had her eyes set on playing at Penn State, but she decided to take her talents to the University of Louisiana Monroe, where she could play both indoor and beach volleyball.

"Playing at Penn State was something I always wanted to do because it had a bunch of players that I looked up to as a little girl playing volleyball," Hoffman said. "But beach (volleyball) is something I fell in love with and Penn State doesn't have that because it obviously gets very cold here."

Hoffman used her first two years of eligibility at ULM and started all but one match from 2014-2015 as a setter. However, the tide began to turn after her freshman season when her beach volleyball coach, David Fischer, left for a new job at UNC-Wilmington.

"He and I got along very well and I learned a lot from him, but he had an opportunity to take the next step in his career," Hoffman said. "It just did not feel right without him there and I started to get homesick. I loved my time there and still keep in touch with a lot of the girls I met, but something internally just didn't feel right."

The following year, Hoffman found herself at the University of North Florida. She was very drawn to the school's beach program and thought that it would be better for her to focus solely on beach volleyball.

However, Hoffman soon realized that the homesick aspect of her decision to leave ULM had a greater influence than she had previously thought, and she subsequently determined that it was time for her to move back closer to home.

"I didn't realize it was as much homesickness as I thought it was. I thought I still wanted to be on my own branching out," Hoffman said. "It was a great experience, but it just hit me and I finally figured out that I need to be closer to (home)."

Hoffman landed at Penn State in the fall of 2017 but needed to sit out for a season due to the NCAA transfer rules. She then discovered Penn State had a competitive women's club volleyball team and spent the fall semester playing for them.

Hoffman pointed out that her brief time on the club team at Penn State helped her rediscover the fun aspect of playing volleyball.

"I had no idea that collegiate club existed at all, but I then I found out about it and tried out. It was a lot of fun and a great way to keep in shape and it was a great experience overall," Hoffman said.

During that semester Hoffman attended many of the varsity matches and began setting up a timeline with head coach Russ Rosefor her to try out as a walk-on.

Finally, in January, Hoffman tried out, made the roster and participated in the team's spring and summer offseason programs heading into the current season. She now brings plenty of experience off the bench as a defensive specialist to a young Penn State team that features eight freshmen.

Despite finding a home with the Nittany Lions, playing for Rose and the Penn State program initially had a steep learning curve.

"Playing here is way different than anything I've ever done," Hoffman said. "It's very fast-paced and coach told me right after my tryout that it was going to be very challenging and asked if this was something I wanted to do. I'm glad I said yes because out of all my experiences in the past this has been the most amazing."

Hoffman has also had to learn a new position this season, switching to a defensive specialist from primarily being a setter in the past. She is quick to give credit to the welcoming nature and patience of her teammates while she adjusted to the new situation.

"The girls were immediately very welcoming and understood that I needed a minute to adjust to what was going on," Hoffman said. "I've never had balls hit at me this fast before and playing defense wasn't something that I've done a lot of in the past, but I knew it was something that I could learn and I've had so many great defensive specialists here to learn from."

Hoffman may not be the first name one will see in a box score from a Penn State match, but the biggest contribution she has made to this team has been her combination of experience and ability to relate to the freshmen while also being a new player.

"I'm one of the older players with experience in different backgrounds coming from two different schools. It's neat because I'm also new here, like they are, so they'll ask me things that I'm not sure about but it's been fun to figure it out with them."

Last Updated November 02, 2018