Mende Epitomizing the Student-Athlete
It is a few minutes before 6 p.m. in Rec Hall as the Penn State men’s volleyball team is finishing up its final practice before a pair of weekend matches on the road against USC and UCLA.
The practice routine is always the same, finishing with a 6-on-6 scrimmage, one game to 25 points. All eyes are on right side hitter, Calvin Mende, as his team has game point with his side receiving the serve. The three opposing blockers know exactly where the ball is going, but the 6-foot-11 Mende takes his leap, extends his long, left arm well above blockers and hammers the ball to the floor with a booming echo through the gym to end the game.
The handful of spectators on the Rec Hall concourse are in awe of Mende’s rare combination of size, power and mobility, but the rest of the Penn State team just proceeds to the center of the court for their post-practice huddle, having just witnessed nothing they aren’t used to seeing from Mende.
Mende was selected to First-Team All-EIVA (Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association) in each of his first two seasons at Penn State and is an All-American candidate as a redshirt junior this season. While Mende is revered for his accomplishments on the volleyball court, what is just as impressive, but far less known, is his excellence as a student.
Mende is a student in Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College, which is widely recognized as one of the top undergraduate honors programs in the country. Each year only 300 first-year students are accepted into Penn State’s renown honors program, and this past year Schreyer received 3,799 applications.
“Cal (Mende) is everything we want him to be,” Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik said. “I think when you look at not just him, but you look at our other athletes that are students in the Schreyer Honors College and you get some really special people. They’re passionate about things, and I think their passion bleeds over to the rest of their life too.”
Mende, a native of Redlands, California, is a security and risk analysis major who hopes to eventually pursue a career in intelligence analysis and counterterrorism.
“As far as the academic ties at Penn State go, they had a great program for my major, and I was hoping to go either cybersecurity or intelligence analysis, and this was tailor-made for both of those,” Mende said. “With Schreyer, it was an easy choice to further my academic career with the resources they have available.”
Mende was rated as one of the top volleyball players in the country in high-school volleyball, but he was also a two-time captain for the Redlands High School water polo team and was named the Inland Empire Player of Year for water polo in 2014. In addition, he was a member of student government and is an Eagle Scout.
“Through student government I really enjoyed the outreach with the student population, connecting with everybody and fostering the community that happens naturally at a small school,” Mende said. “Then coming here and looking at what Schreyer does with a student body of around 40,000 students, they give you this tiny community where everyone is connected to give you the small college feel.”
“Cal (Mende) is someone who prioritizes both his athletic career as well as his academic career because both of them very important to him, and I think in terms of his personal development, both of them make up his identity,” said Penn State setter Nathan Smith, Mende’s teammate for the last three seasons.
Mende will continue to leave his mark on the volleyball court, and his success in a Penn State volleyball uniform will likely be how he is most remembered in the Penn State community. But his pride representing Penn State as a student, as well as an athlete, epitomizes what it means to be a student-athlete.
Will Desautelle is a junior majoring in journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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