Penn State U. volleyball not getting lift out of its Nike shoes

By Emily Kaplan

The swoosh is practically Penn State U.’s secondary logo.

Nike’s signature emblem is embroidered on every Nittany Lion uniform, screened on banners lining Jeffery Field and stitched on the apparel of thousands of fans who pack Beaver Stadium on football Saturdays.

But there’s at least one sport at Penn State where the swoosh isn’t altogether embraced — men’s volleyball.

“We love everything Nike has done for us with uniforms and warmups, and just everything has been great,” coach Mark Pavlik said. “They make things so much easier. But the shoes is something the guys haven’t all quite figured out yet.”

Seems the Nike shoe doesn’t always fit for the Lions.

Players were reporting problems with this year’s model of volleyball shoes.

Opposite hitter Will Price went through a pair every two to three weeks because the rubber soles were peeling off.

In volleyball, footwear is a player’s most-prized piece of equipment. So earlier this month, a handful of players traded in their Nike volleyball shoes for the new Kobe Hyperdunks — a basketball lowcut.

Freshman Tom Comfort, who made the switch, said he likes the lightness and traction of his new kicks. He said shoes are an important part of the game — but not something he wants to be thinking about when he’s on the court.

When players kept finding complaints with the shoe, they met with the captains and decided to try something different. But, as per Lions’ policy, it had to be Nike.

In 1996 Penn State signed an undisclosed contract with Nike — reported to be four years, $2.6 million — which involves advertising and marketing considerations. It also requires all Penn State athletes to wear only the company’s apparel. The contract has since been renewed.

“Nike’s not really a volleyball company,” Price said. “They make some nice stuff, but we get running shoes and basketball shoes and stuff. Asics and Mizuno are volleyball companies, so naturally they’ll be a little bit more tailored to what we need.”

When Price plays with the U.S. national team during the summer, he wears Mizunos, which he calls the best shoes he’s ever worn.

“But we have to wear Nike here,” he said. “So it’s whatever.”

Even the company recognizes it doesn’t specialize in the sport.

Nike does put some development into volleyball shoes, but not as much its larger categories like running, basketball and soccer, said Dr. Mario Lafortune, director of the Nike Sport and Research Laboratory.

Lafortune said he was surprised some Penn State volleyball players preferred their basketball models.

“But at the end of the day,” he said. “It comes down to the individual athlete and trainer’s preference.”

Some players still prefer the volleyball models. Sophomore Ryan Wolf likes the gum sole, which is specific to the sport.

Ultimately, Price said, shoes make a difference — but only to an extent.

In November, the senior co-captain landed awkwardly off a block, spraining his right ankle. But he doesn’t blame it on Nike.

“I would have just blown my ankle out no matter what,” he said. “It was just a bad sprain. Nike, Asics, Mizuno, whatever.”

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