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Sophomore outside hitter Claire Deller of Penn volleyball during the match against Lafayette on Sept. 9. Credit: Cynthia Dong

A year after being called Penn volleyball's "secret weapon" by The Philadelphia Inquirer, sophomore outside hitter Claire Deller sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian to answer 15 questions about her role on the team, favorite road trips, and surfing in Philadelphia. 

1. Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Claire Deller, and I’m a sophomore middle blocker on the Penn volleyball team.

2. You played lacrosse before switching to volleyball. How was that transition, and did your lacrosse skills transfer to make you a more dynamic volleyball player?

They are very different sports, for sure. I think the contrast illuminates my distaste for running, and that’s why I play volleyball and not lacrosse anymore. But, I think that in lacrosse there is that same component of relying on your teammates, because it's not just a single-person sport, and you can’t do it by yourself. You need every single other person on the team. That companionship and that sportsmanship translates well to volleyball.

3. You’re from California. How does Philadelphia's volleyball culture compare to the West Coast?

It’s funny because a lot of the teams we play have a lot of Southern California girls, so I know a good percentage of the girls on other Ivy League teams. But the volleyball culture in California is hyper-competitive and hyper-focused, whereas here at Penn, it's a lot more balanced. We’re focusing on school and volleyball at the same time. From what I remember in high school, a lot of the girls on my club team were solely focused on going to a big volleyball school and had an all-or-nothing perspective in the sense of 'I’m gonna dedicate all my time and energy to volleyball and leave school to God.'

4. Do you feel that playing a varsity sport has enhanced your Penn experience? How so?

Absolutely. It’s brought me together with a group of girls that I would have probably never met without volleyball. Especially coming in as a freshman, all alone, I immediately had a family, and it’s comforting to know that I have a group of girls in every single grade here at Penn that I can go to with anything, and who I trust and love wholeheartedly. So, I think that being on a varsity sport — of course, it holds you back in some social situations —but I think that’s honestly good because it provides some structure and keeps you on track. I could not be more thankful for the experiences brought to me. Being in the Ivy League is also pretty cool because we get to go up and down the East Coast every fall and see the other Ivy League [schools], which I wouldn’t get to do if I wasn’t an athlete.

5. You mentioned traveling up and down the East Coast. Who’s your favorite team to play?

There’s one trip that I particularly enjoy, and that’s Harvard-Dartmouth, because we get a really, really good hot chocolate when we’re in Boston playing Harvard. Then when we’re in Dartmouth, we’re playing my good friend, Feyi [Ogunlari]’s, sister. Dartmouth is also very in line with the fall aesthetic. When we go there, the leaves are changing because they get fall a little bit earlier than we do in Philadelphia, and it’s fun to get a sneak peek of what’s coming. Personal take — not everyone loves the bus, but I love the bus. It’s a lot of fun, and I love hanging out with my friends, even for eight hours in the same seat.

6. Are there any teammates you particularly look up to? Why?

I look up a lot to [senior outside hitter Emerson] Flornes because she genuinely and wholeheartedly cares about every single person on our team. I think that passion was really evident when she rolled her ankle in our game versus Villanova — she got pulled out, and it was clear that she was distraught, not because of her injury but just because she wasn’t able to be on the court helping us. So I look up to her a lot. Also, she’s the same position as me and has offered me tons of guidance since I came to Penn. 

7. I noticed on your stats sheet that you have 38 digs this year compared to nine this time last year. How does that reflect your development as a player?

I’m now playing a rotation in the back row now, which is not something I did last year. But I worked on it over the summer, so now I get to fill that position and get some more digs through that.

8. Let's say I’m a Penn student who’s on the fence about attending a volleyball game. What would you say to convince me to go?

Our matches are insane, and our bench’s energy will engage you. It’s a lot of fun to watch people flail and sprawl onto the floor. Some girls on our team can really jump, which you don’t get to see every day!

9. What are your goals for the rest of this season?

I want to make the Ivy League Tournament. That means being in the top four of the Ivy League, which I think is completely feasible for my team.

10. We’ve talked a lot about volleyball. How do you like to spend your time off the court?

I like to shoot film. I like to sew. When I’m at home, I like to surf. I like to hang out with my dog. That’s my top four.

11. Have you ever tried surfing in Philadelphia? In the Schuylkill River?

Absolutely not. I think I might contract a disease if I did.

12. What’s a highlight from your time at Penn?

It feels like every moment here is a special experience. But particularly this season, coming in, it’s not so much an experience as a feeling — the anticipation of the upcoming volleyball season and all the potential it holds. Coming in as a sophomore, it was nice because I knew what we were doing and could see the growth of my team.

13. Let’s say you’re planning a day trip to downtown Philadelphia. Where would you go, and why?

I would start with Rittenhouse Square so I could see all the cute dogs and probably have a picnic. Ideally, this would be on a Saturday when they're having a farmer’s market — I’d go and get a big thing of pickles from Dr. Pickle. Then, I’d probably hit up the LOVE sign and get a good meal, too. After, I’d probably go to Old City and get some ice cream — and hopefully, there’d be a concert going on as well.

14. Who’s an influential person in your life?

My brother is an influential person to me because he’s the oldest sibling and I admire his drive and ambition. I think I’m really similar to him. But also, he’s so accomplished. He’s going to [medical] school, so it’s fun for me to look at him and see myself in him and see everything I can be. He’s pretty cool.

15. You said in your commitment bio that you think Philadelphia is the “coolest city in America.” Do you still stand by that, and how do you justify that opinion to the people who just don’t get it?

Stand by it. We have the Schuylkill, we have Rittenhouse Park, we have the crazy Philadelphia sports fans. It’s not as overwhelming as New York and beats places like Boston because it doesn’t get as cold here as it gets in Boston. Also, our football team — the Eagles — are the best, and the Phillies are pretty damn good too. Plus, we have Penn, which is obviously the best school in the world.