Blair Brown Lipsitz returns to Penn State in UB volleyball head-coaching debut

Rookie coach’s first game will come against team she won four national titles with

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Blair Brown Lipsitz stepped off the Buffalo volleyball team bus in State College, Pennsylvania on Thursday afternoon, ultimately completing her “full circle moment.”

The Bulls’ first-year head coach, a Penn State graduate and former star Nittany Lions volleyball player, is excited to visit old friends, rekindle old relationships and reunite with her favorite Italian restaurant in her return to ‘Happy Valley.’

But for Lipsitz, the weekend getaway to central Pennsylvania will not be all fun and games. The visit is about taking care of business and appreciating the moment – and she’ll do so from Penn State’s opponent’s sideline.

The Bulls take on Penn State, the No. 1 ranked team in the country, on Friday as Lipsitz’s debut as a head coach will come against the school she helped to win four national titles. It is the first time Buffalo volleyball will take on the No. 1 team in the country.

“It’s going to be such a special weekend,” Lipsitz said. “I just think it’s such a great opportunity for these athletes to be able to experience in playing the No. 1 team in the country and see what that looks like. And to be striving to get to a place where we’re competing with those people.”

Lipsitz graduated from Penn State in 2011 and left with one of the most prolific careers in Nittany Lions history. She was named a First-Team All-American twice in her career and was named the Big Ten Conference Player of the Year in 2010. She also helped Penn State win four straight national titles.

And the Nittany Lions haven’t slowed down since Lipsitz left. Penn State has amassed 128 wins over the past four years and is coming off two straight national titles. The Nittany Lions are the consensus favorite to be NCAA Division I champions this season. Stanford head coach John Dunning recently described the women’s volleyball landscape as “Penn State against everybody else.”

Lipsitz understands the magnitude of Penn State’s skill level. Although she cannot guarantee a victory for the young Bulls squad, she guarantee’s Buffalo will seize its high-level opportunity.

“They’re doing some pretty special things in State College, but what I really want is to go out there and just not be intimidated,” Lipsitz said. “Just to go out there, play hard and have fun with it. Like I said, it’s an opportunity.”

Buffalo has a core of upperclassmen, led by seniors Amber Hatchett, Megan Lipski and Marissa Prinzbach, that will offer a plethora of experience, But the Bulls also welcome six unproven newcomers to a squad led by a first-year coach. Lipsitz expects a lot of growing over the course of the season in this transition year, but she couldn’t think of better competition to challenge Buffalo in its first game.

“We just focus on our game and really honed in on what we can do to be better,” Lipsitz said. “This game is going to be great and it’s such a cool opportunity, but we also have a whole season to work on and not a lot of time to do it.”

Buffalo kicks off its season on Friday in Happy Valley and will proceed to play Villanova and Stony Brook on Saturday as part of the Penn State Classic. Friday’s match is set to begin at 7 p.m.

Jordan Grossman is the senior sports editor and can be reached at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jmgrossman.