Penn State Defeats Wisconsin, 3-1, Advances To Final Four
No. 5 Penn State (34-3) continued its streak of NCAA Tournament dominance by defeating No. 4 Wisconsin (31-3) in four sets, 22-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-19 to advance to its seventh Final Four in eight seasons.
Aiyana Whitney led the Nittany Lions with 16 kills, while adding on two digs and a .231 hitting percentage. Defensively, Dominique Gonzalez and Megan Courtney led the way with 24 and 13 digs respectively, with Courtney recording the team’s lone block.
The opening set was neck and neck, as both teams traded kills and errors early on, which led to a 12-12 tie about midway through. Wisconsin jumped ahead after a kill by Ellen Chapman, and three consecutive attack errors by Penn State put Wisconsin up by four. Penn State could not recover from its early stumble, and despite two late kills from Whitney, the Nittany Lions conceded the first set to the Badgers, 25-22.
After an attack error by Ali Frantti, head coach Russ Rose called on his bench for support, substituting Frantti for Simone Lee. The move worked, as Lee responded with a kill to knot things back up at two apiece. Rose again switched up the lineup, pulling Lee in favor of Kendall Pierce. The Nittany Lions played the second set with a renewed energy, and jumped out to a 13-10 lead after back-to-back kills from Lee, who provided a spark off the bench.
After an offensive outburst, the lead would be extended to eight, as a Wisconsin attack error put the score at 21-13. Penn State easily ran away with the second set, as two kills by Whitney and Lee gave the Nittany Lions the set, 25-16, while tying up the match at 1-1.
Rose decided to keep Lee on the court to start the third set, but was replaced by Pierce after the Badgers jumped ahead 6-3 early on. Wisconsin held a two-point lead for the first portion of the set, but the Nittany Lions were able to even things up after a Wisconsin service error, and jumped ahead 14-13 after an ace. Errors allowed the Nittany Lions to hold the lead, and ultimately take the set, 25-22, as Wisconsin never recovered from its early slip.
With Penn State now leading the match 2-1, the Lions were one set away from returning to the Final Four. Whitney and Lee put Penn State up early, but the Badgers remained persistent, and kept it a one-point game. Drama continued to unfold, as neither team could hold a lead. At the same time, neither could find a way to run away with the game, and the two teams continued to fight down the stretch.
In the waning moments of the set, however, Penn State found a way to pull away thanks to an attack error by Wisconsin, followed up with three consecutive kills by Whitney to give Penn State a 24-19 lead. Wisconsin’s task was mighty, and the stage was set for a comeback. There would be no such magic from the Badgers, however, as an attack error sealed Wisconsin’s fate and gave the Nittany Lions the set, 25-19, and more importantly, the match. With the 3-1 victory, Penn State returns to the Final Four, leaving only two games between the team and a second consecutive National Championship.
The Nittany Lions will take on either No. 8 Florida or No. 1 Stanford in the NCAA national semifinal on Friday, Dec. 18 (the two teams play at 9 p.m. on Saturday). The semifinal will be played in Oklahoma City.