Women’s Volleyball Sweeps Washington To Earn National Championship Bid
The No. 2 Penn State women’s volleyball team looked to be struggling very early against No. 3 Washington on Thursday night, failing to contain the Huskies’ two-setter offense, but it wouldn’t last long. Coming off of an early Russ Rose timeout, the Nittany Lions went on a huge run off of Micha Hancock’s serve midway through the first set and never looked back for the entire match, dominating the Huskies behind a strong team effort. Penn State swept Washington (25-14, 25-13, 25-16) on its home turf at KeyArena in Seattle to earn a shot at the national championship on Saturday evening against Wisconsin.
It wasn’t close after the early going as Penn State was clearly the better team on the court, putting on an absolute clinic en route to the team’s bid for a sixth championship. The statistics back up just how dominant the Nittany Lions were in the match. Penn State finished with an outstanding .488 hitting percentage with just five errors compared to .117 with 17 errors for Washington. Penn State led in blocks 14-4 and led in aces 5-1 behind three from Hancock.
It was the definition of a team effort for the Nittany Lions. It’s no surprise that Deja McClendon had the best match for any Penn State player, finishing with 11 kills, a .391 hitting percentage, 13 digs, and three blocks, but she didn’t win the match by herself. Hancock had just five kills but hit .625 along with 39 assists and three aces. Megan Courtney and Nia Grant added six kills a piece while Katie Slay hit .727 with eight kills. Ariel Scott added 10 kills while hitting .556 and tallying two blocks.
The start of the first set saw the only competitive volleyball of the night as Washington came out to an 11-9 lead and looked to have Penn State’s number. The Nittany Lions went on a massive scoring run on Hancock’s serve at that point with two aces by Hancock, storming out to a 17-11 lead and extending that to a 21-12 lead soon after, winning 12 of 13 points to take control of the set. Washington tacked on one point on a Kaleigh Nelson kill, but a Huskies service error and two attack errors gave the Nittany Lions a 25-14 first set win, the worst single set loss of the season for Washington.
The momentum for Penn State carried into the second set as the team quickly went up 8-4 heading into the first break. The Nittany Lions held that four-point lead when Hancock’s serve came around at 10-6 and some deja vu occurred. Penn State was again able to go on a huge run and break the set open. A Scott kill and four straight attack errors — two coming off of Penn State blocks — put Penn State up 15-6. Hancock aced a serve and Scott picked up another kill to go up 17-6.
Washington was able to put up a few more points but the set was never close as Penn State went on to win 25-13 on a set point service error, topping the first set for the Huskies’ worst loss of the season. McClendon was on fire, hitting .500 at the end of the second set as Penn State reached familiar territory, going up 2-0 for the 23rd time this season. The Nittany Lions were 22-0 in that situation on the year.
The third set was no different for Penn State. The Nittany Lions quickly went up 10-4 and never looked back. The next five kills came from Courtney, McClendon, Grant and Slay. Along with three attack errors from Washington in that stretch, Penn State led 18-10.The national championship-clincing match point came soon after as Slay posted an easy kill off of a pass from Hancock to take the third set 25-16 in an uncompetitive Final Four match.
Penn State will face No. 12 Wisconsin on Saturday evening for the title after sweeping the Badgers twice this season in Big Ten play. Wisconsin upset No. 1 Texas, the defending national champion, earlier on Thursday night.