Connect with us
PSN is sponsored by Beaver County Auto

Pitt Volleyball

Pitt Volleyball’s Serena Gray Looks to Go Out on Top to End Illustrious Career

Published

on

Pitt has dominated at the net throughout this past two seasons, propelling them to back-to-back Final Four appearances.

A large part of that success is having a strong middle blocker and graduate Serena Gray is one player who fits that role.

Gray is in her second year at Pitt and is one of the best middle blockers in the country, making both the All-ACC First Team and AVCA East Coast All-Region Team twice. She finished third in the ACC with a .406 hitting percentage in 2022 and eighth in the conference with an average of 1.10 blocks per set. Gray is also one of four players in the past two years to hit over .400 and is also the only player in 2022 to make 130 kills on a hitting percentage over .400 in ACC play.

Her love for volleyball began as she watched the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. She witnessed opposite hitter Destinee Hooker dominate, as she ranked second in scoring and earned the Best Spiker Award as the U.S. won the silver medal.

Hooker’s performance captivated Gray and she wanted to be just like her in the future.

She dedicated her time to playing club volleyball in the ultra-competitive state of California to further her career. She played against future stars in former Stanford outside hitter Kathryn Plummer and former Nebraska outside hitter Lexi Sun. Playing against top opponents from her childhood in college gave Gray an understanding of how incredible of a volleyball state California really is.

Serena Gray (21) of Pitt Volleyball December 9, 2021 — David Hague/PSN

Gray looked at two west coast schools in UCLA and Washington, but ultimately decided on Penn State for her collegiate future.

She played a part in three Nittany Lions teams from 2018, 2019 and the 2020-21 seasons that made it to the Elite Eight. She earned a slew of accolades as a Nittany Lion, with both AVCA All-American Honorable Mention and AVCA All-Northeast Region Honorable Mention honors in 2018 and 2019.

“It was definitely intense,” Gray said on her time at Penn State. “A really good growing and learning experience, as far as like, handling pressure and learning how to manage my game and taking a big responsibility on a team from an early start.”

At Penn State, Gray took part in two matches against rival Pitt on the same weekend in September 2019. Pitt swept Penn State on the road and Penn State won in five sets at the Petersen Events Center, both thrilling matches.

“I could just tell they were enjoying their sport and they were fiery, and I really liked that fire,” Gray said on what she noticed about Pitt in the two matchups she played against them.

Despite a successful career at Penn State, Gray realized that she no longer had a love for volleyball anymore. She put her name in the transfer portal in hopes of finding a new school to spark that love for the sport again.

Gray reconnected with an old friend from club volleyball in California in former Pitt outside hitter Kayla Lund (2017-21). Lund reached out to Gray to help convince her to join Pitt and the process soon began for Gray to transfer there.

“I mean obviously Pitt had all the attractive, academic, and athletic resources that I would be looking for in any program,” Gray said. “But honestly, hearing from the girls, especially Kayla, that was a big part of my decision. Just her genuine love and respect for the program and the coaching staff and how well they could develop a player. That was really what convinced me.”

Serena Gray Pitt Volleyball November 23, 2022 David Hague/PSN

Gray has spent the past two seasons improving her game and learning new ways to grow with the sport at Pitt

She said the biggest differences between the two schools is that Penn State focused on the grind and hard work while Pitt embraces team culture and working on your technique.

Gray struggled initially to adjust to the quick pace of the Panthers offense. She also worked on her setting technique and “started from scratch” with her blocking.

She quickly learned and improved her play throughout the 2021 season, helping the Panthers to their first Final Four. Gray earned First-Team All-ACC, AVCA East Coast All-Region Team and AVCA All-American Honorable Mention honors in 2021.

Getting back to top form is something that Gray credits head coach Dan Fisher and his staff for doing. She said that they taught her to play middle blocker in a way she never expected and that she now holds herself to higher expectations than before.

“They’ve made me love volleyball again,” Gray said. “They definitely like us to find joy in competing and I’ve definitely become a lot more competitive person while I’m here. But then I’ve also increased the standards for myself. I think so often people think that middle blockers don’t need to know how to dig or aren’t expected to pick up the tips whereas I’m expected to pick up everything that a libero would be expected to pick up.”

Serena Gray (21) of Pitt Volleyball December 11, 2021 — David Hague/PSN

Gray is playing some of the best volleyball of her life this season as a Panther. Her .404 hitting percentage is 15th best in Division I and she earned AVCA First-Team All-American for the first time in her career.

She is not alone in dominating as a middle blocker on the Panthers. Senior Chiamaka Nwokolo, who earned Second-Team All-ACC and AVCA East Coast All-Region honors, is another player who plays a great game at the net.

“Me and Chia both have pretty strong personalities, so sometimes we do bump heads,” Gray said. “That’s expected and that’s a good thing. Iron sharpens iron. But it’s really great to have someone who can see the game as well as she does and can give me feedback about what she sees when I’m on the court because we’re never on the court at the same time. So, I really appreciate her on the sidelines, and I really appreciate how much we’ve gotten closer this year.”

Gray loves the bond that the Panthers have off the court. The team doesn’t have any cliques and they go over each other’s apartments and spend time playing games. They also deal with conflict well and learn to work through it in healthy ways to create tranquility within the team.

Outside of volleyball, Gray finds herself enjoying all that Pittsburgh has to offer. She tries different restaurants, attends different entertainment venues and even finds herself trying more dangerous ventures.

“Tried to go axe throwing, fell through,” Gray said. “Let me tell you, you don’t want to be on bad terms with an axe thrower.” 

Gray is working to complete her Master’s degree in applied developmental psychology. Once she finishes her Pitt career, she will work with an agent to play overseas to continue playing the sport she learned to love again.

Before that occurs, Gray will work to bring a National Title back to Pittsburgh and end her career on the highest of highs. 

“I think it’s a little bit of surreal experience,” Gray said at Final Four media day on Wednesday. “You never think your time is going to end and then all of a sudden, you’re 22 almost 23 and then your time is ending and then your freshman year looks like it was the beginning of high school and you’re looking to go out with a bang. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

 



Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
5 Comments
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
5 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Mdtkd
Mdtkd
1 month ago

Great article

Chris
Chris
1 month ago
Reply to  Mdtkd

Totally agree. A description of why it is so easy to love and appreciate this program. First class. Successful. The culture….. So thrilled for the players and the staff.

Dale Carney
Dale Carney
1 month ago

That was a great article, so well written, captured the essence of the person. Thank you

ec2it
ec2it
1 month ago
Reply to  Dale Carney

Agree 100%. I watched that 5 set match at the Pete vs psu and felt she would raise the bar in our program. She is a tremendous athlete and sounds like she is completely aware of her surroundings as well. It looks like she is enjoying her time here. Kudos to Coach Fisher and his staff, these young women are a pleasure to watch. Best of luck tonight !!!

Christopher
Christopher
1 month ago

This was exceptionally well done.

Get PSN in your inbox!

Enter your email and get all of our posts delivered straight to your inbox.

 
Like Pittsburgh Sports Now on Facebook!
Send this to a friend