Feature: Senior volleyball player reps Pitt on national level


In some ways, Delaney Clesen is like other typical college students who are entering their final undergraduate year. This summer, she is working toward her dream job and getting the chance to travel.

But Clesen is not a typical college senior — her dream job is to be a professional volleyball player.

For the last two weeks, she tried to make the most of what is the biggest volleyball-related event to happen to her. The 5-foot-8-inch media and professional communications major played for a chance to make the U.S. Women’s National Team through the collegiate national team.

“I loved every second of my experience,” Clesen said. “And I feel so blessed to have been given that opportunity.” 

Out of 248 collegiate volleyball players, Clesen was one of 36 selected to participate in the U.S. Collegiate National Team program. Only five other women were chosen for the defensive position of libero.

The U.S. Collegiate National Team program took place from June 22 to July 1. Clesen and the rest of the CNT flew to Minneapolis, where they practiced on the campus of University of Minnesota-Twin Cities for one week. Following the training period, the 36 players were divided into three teams and put into a round robin competition that lasted from June 27 to June 30. Clesen enjoyed playing during these three days. Not only did the teams play using international rules — different substitution rules and a ball made of different material — and in front of huge crowds, they also got a chance to step back and appreciate their situation.

“It was surreal having all these girls ask for our picture and autographs. When I was playing at that age, I would have never thought that I would be wearing a jersey that said USA on the back,” Clesen said. 

The round robin competition is known to serve as a second audition for the U.S. Women’s National Team after the athletes spend time with former coaches of the U.S. National teams, Mike Hebert and Bill Neville. Both men are former collegiate and international volleyball coaches — Hebert formerly coached Pitt’s men and women’s volleyball team from 1976 to 1979 and Neville served as an assistant to the men’s national team in the 1968 Olympics before becoming the women’s national team temporary coach in 1972. 

“It was the most incredible experience being able to be coached by a few volleyball legends,” Clesen said. 

Clesen took part in the open tryouts for the U.S. National Team in February at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., but the open tryout by itself wasn’t enough to secure an athlete one of the final slots. Past performance in the CNT program also played a part in who made the team. Clesen had none. 

“It is a great honor for Delaney, and one well-deserved,” Pitt head coach Dan Fisher said.

Last fall, she went over 1,000 total digs for her career as well as tallied a career-high 31 digs in the Panthers’ final match of the season against Virginia Tech. For the season, Clesen recorded 542 digs. This put her in the Pitt record books for the sixth-most digs in one season.

In Minneapolis, the team participated in “double days” with the schedule breaking down as, “wake up and eat breakfast, play for three hours, eat lunch, take a nap, play for three hours, eat dinner, team activity,” according to Clesen. 

“Playing six hours of volleyball a day is exhausting,” she said. 

Fisher said he is proud of what Clesen has done.

“She went into the tryout with no previous USA experience and proved herself as one of the best collegiate liberos,” he said.

Now, Clesen hopes she can apply what she learned in the past two weeks to her Pitt team for the upcoming college season.

“After training at such a high level and witnessing what it takes to be successful, I am determined to get my team there,” she said. “The experience was incredibly motivating and I’m so excited to start my final season at Pitt with such a positive outlook.”