Kara Callahan, Chris Harmotto Help Lady Lion Volleyball Team to NCAA Championship
by Joe Savrock (February 2008)
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was an unforgettable ride for Kara Callahan, Christa Harmotto, and the rest of the Penn State Lady Lions volleyball team.
Kara and Christa, both students in the Elementary & Kindergarten Education program of the College of Education, helped the Lady Lions win the 2007 national championship with their outstanding play both during the season and at the NCAA tournament in December.
All season long, Kara and Christa played key roles for the top-ranked Lady Lions, who finished the season with a 33-2 record.
Kara, a 5-foot-8 senior, is highly recognized around the Big Ten as a defensive standout. “In being a defensive specialist, it is your job to step in there, dig the impossible balls, and get the team fired up,” she said.
“As the old saying goes, the game is won because of defense,” she continued. “But a little offense does not hurt. Everyone loves the hard hitters of volleyball. They have all of the pizzazz.”
Christa is one of the team’s offensive net threats. A 6-foot-2 junior, she is a dominating middle hitter. She had an outstanding season and was named the Big Ten player of the year.
The Lady Lions went through the NCAA tournament with unstoppable momentum, sweeping all five of their opponents leading up to the championship game against Stanford.
In the championship round, played before a national television audience Dec. 15 in Sacramento, Calif., Penn State and Stanford battled to a split of their first four games, forcing a winner-take-all final Game 5.
Penn State won the dramatic finale, 15–8. Christa had two kills during a critical seven-point run that gave the Lady Lions a commanding 10–4 lead. Christa was named the tournament’s Most Improved Player.
“Everything imaginable was going through my mind when we won,” recalls Christa. “I laughed. I screamed. I cried with tears of joy.”
Kara was moved by all the attention. “After we won, there were a great deal of students, faculty, and fans that showed us support,” she says. “It has been amazing to see how much people really care about Penn State athletics. We feel that we were not just winning a national championship for our team, but for all of Penn State.”
“All the hype and glam is really nice,” noted Christa, “but the best part was sharing the experience with my team.”
Becoming a great volleyball player is largely dependent on a person’s athleticism, a natural trait that cannot be taught. But to earn a national championship, a team’s players must apply unending discipline and hard work—qualities that indeed can be taught.
And Kara and Christa, as future teachers, are well set to teach discipline and hard work to children. They know fully how hard work can lead to a national championship. Their dedication on the volleyball court carries into the classroom as well: both earned Academic All-Big Ten honors.
Christa will be returning to anchor next season’s Lady Lions team. She envisions herself eventually teaching in the mid-levels of elementary school, perhaps third or fourth grade. “I would also like to coach high school,” she says.
“Christa has all the intangibles to have her excel with young people—she is enthusiastic, intelligent, and a fabulous role model,” said Penn State head coach Russ Rose. “Her ability to always have a smile and maintain belief in herself and others will certainly shine when she enters into the world of education. That and the fact that she is one of the best athletes in the country should enhance her entry.”
Christa also hopes to extend her volleyball career beyond next season. “My dream is to play in the Olympics,” she says. “Also, I would like to play professional volleyball for as long as my body holds up, maybe in Brazil, Italy, or Puerto Rico.”
Although Kara’s college volleyball career is over now, it ended at the highest level—with a national championship. She expects to graduate this fall and enter the teaching field. “After I have established myself as a successful teacher, I hope to coach a youth club team or work within the district,” she said. “Volleyball and teaching are my passions in life, and teaching, so teaching and coaching would make a perfect combination.”
Coach Rose noted that, “Kara has a great energy about her that kept the team loose and will certainly allow her to score with her students once she becomes a teacher. She is fun, engaging, and has selected the perfect vocation to pursue.”
Kara has a strong interest in children’s literature. At this season’s team banquet, she analogized her favorite Penn State experiences with the children’s books of the late Shel Silverstein, a renowned author.
Realizing that her exceptional playing career has ended, Kara often points to a quote from another children’s book author, Dr. Suess: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”