Four the Glory – Penn State Wins the National Championship
At the beginning of the women’s volleyball season, coach Russ Rose said that Penn State did not deserve the number-one ranking. The Nittany Lions had to earn the top spot, and they did just that by winning a record-breaking fourth consecutive NCAA National Championship on Saturday night by beating California.
“We had some ups and downs throughout the year, but we never lost hope,” Rose said on ESPN following the match. “[The players] worked hard, got themselves in a great spot and pulled it off tonight.”
The first set was sloppy at times, and neither team could seem to take advantage. Two kills from freshman Deja McClendon gave Penn State a 12-7 lead, but California used a time out and then won four straight points to get back into the set. A kill from McClendon stopped the momentum for California, and the Nittany Lions led the rest of the way to a 25-20 first set victory.
The second set was extremely tight throughout, featuring sixteen ties and quality volleyball from both teams. California took the largest lead of the set at 14-10, but Penn State battled back to eventually tie the score at 17. California had two set points for a chance to tie the match, but the Nittany Lions won both on impressive blocks. Senior Blair Brown won the next two points for a 27-25 win in the second set.
In her final match for Penn State, Brown dominated the third set. Along with eight kills in the set, Brown displayed great blocking and defensive skill en route to a 25-20 third-set victory. After being down 12-9, the Nittany Lions scored the next eight points to take a comfortable lead. Freshman Katie Slay, who finished with a match-high six blocks, got her only kill to complete the sweep.
Penn State’s fourth-straight national championship came in a year filled with doubt and parity. The Nittany Lions had their 109-match winning streak broken by Stanford early in the year, and a two match losing streak in October had fans doubting the quality of this team. Penn State responded to the losses and finished the year strongly by winning the Big Ten.
The Nittany Lions then played well in a post-season that saw the top three seeds getting knocked out. Four home games helped Penn State get to the final four before sweeping Texas and California for the championship.
“It’s unbelievable and it’s a testament to what coach does every day with us,” Brown said. “We are very well prepared for matches, and, obviously, it paid off well in the end.”
Rose will most likely downplay Penn State’s chances next season as well, but with AVCA National Freshman of the Year and Most Outstanding Player in the final four McClendon, Slay and freshman Ariel Scott all returning, the Nittany Lions will make a strong case next year for a fifth-straight NCAA National Championship.