Russ Rose’s Nittany Lions traveled to Lincoln Friday afternoon to face a familiar foe in No. 1 seed Nebraska in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
After being a point away from the sweep, Penn State (24-10) saw its season come to a close in a 3-2 (25-23, 25-23, 24-26, 19-25, 6-15) heartbreaker. It’s the second year in a row the blue and white were bounced from the Sweet 16.
How It Happened
The Nittany Lions and Huskers (30-2) are the only two teams in college volleyball this year with players who have won a national championship on their rosters. In front of a sea of red-clad Nebraska faithful, both programs battled back and forth to open the match, trading 3-0 runs midway through the frame.
Penn State, decked out in its uber clean road blue uniforms, took the first set 25-23 behind a spectacular nine kills from junior Ali Frantti. She finished off the set with a block to give the Nittany Lions an early lead in a standing-room-only crowd of 8,240 at the Devaney Center. In fact, Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts penned a letter urging employers to let as many fans as possible come out for the match.
Nebraska responded with a 7-2 run to start the second. A pair of bad calls didn’t go the Nittany Lions’ way early, and without the use video replay for today’s match, Rose was livid with the referees. Backup setter Bryanna Weiskircher rotated in to serve for Abby Detering often, providing a huge service ace to cut the deficit to 7-4. Detering would post 40 assists and 10 digs when the final whistle blew.
Nia Reed continued the 4-0 run for the Nittany Lions, prompting a timeout from John Cook with his team up by just one point. After playing sparingly during the regular season, Reed put together a tremendous performance off the bench a spot in the Elite Eight on the line. The refs blew yet another call on a double-hit set from the Huskers, but Haleigh Washington answered with a big kill.
Nebraska rode a 4-1 run to a 17-14 lead, but the Nittany Lions were recharged coming out of a timeout from Rose. Simone Lee followed Frantti’s lead, posting a pristine .450 hitting percentage through two sets with nine kills. Penn State showed incredible grit down the stretch to stun the Huskers with another 25-23 win to take a 2-0 lead into the intermission.
Desperate to avoid the sweep, Nebraska opened up a 10-3 lead to start the third set. Washington stopped the damage with a cross-court kill — her fourth of the match. She would go on to reach double figures with 10. Penn State fought all the way back to being down just 16-14. The Nittany Lions showcased a toughness unlike anything we’ve seen this season, drawing even with the Huskers, 22-22. However, despite taking a 24-22 match-point lead, the Huskers fought back with four unanswered points to force a fourth set.
Freshman Kendall White led the way with a match-high 26 digs from her libero spot. Rose called timeout with his Nittany Lions down 11-6. Just after Frantti tied her season-high with 20 kills, Clare Powers checked in to give her a breather with Penn State staring at a 19-10 deficit. The Nittany Lions responded with a 5-0 run but it wouldn’t be enough to keep this one from going to five. Nebraska hung on for a 25-19 win to force a deciding set. Lee and Frantti matched each other with 20 kills through the first four frames and would finish with a match-high 22 and 21, respectively.
Nebraska got things started with a 9-4 lead thanks to a service ace, necessitating another timeout from Rose. It would put away the Nittany Lions with relative ease, 15-6. The Rolfzen sisters, Amber and Kadie, were on fire for the Huskers. The pair of seniors from Papillion, Neb., notched 15 and 14 kills, respectively, while Kadie tied a team-high with 18 digs.
Player Of The Match
Briana Holman | Junior | Middle blocker
The DeSoto, Tex., native was as efficient as can be Friday afternoon in front of the home crowd, tallying a team-high 17 kills on a scorching .583 hitting percentage. Holman added seven blocks and a dig to help the Huskers rally and advance.
Nebraska will be back in the Devaney Center Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET, where it will meet the winner of No. 8 seed Washington and Arizona in the Elite Eight. The Nittany Lions head into the offseason earlier than they had hoped.