Women’s Volleyball Reaches Sweet 16 With 3-1 Victory Over Dayton
Russ Rose’s Nittany Lions made easy work of Howard in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament, handily sweeping the Bison. Penn State returned to Rec Hall on Saturday night for a second-round showdown with Dayton.
No. 7 Penn State (28-5) advanced to the Sweet 16 thanks to a 3-1 (25-17, 13-25, 25-14, 25-17) victory over the Flyers, who, coincidentally, fell to the ladies in blue and white during last year’s second round as well, but it didn’t come quite as easily as many would have expected.
How It Happened
Sophomore middle blocker Heidi Thelen returned to the starting lineup for the Nittany Lions on Saturday night, and the Edgewood, Ky., native would go on to notch a steady seven kills and a block. Dayton, led by head coach Tim Horsmon, appeared unfazed by a raucous Rec crowd, as the Flyers, whose fanbase traveled well, managed to stay within a few points of the lead throughout the first set.
However, in the final home match of her illustrious career, Dayton, Ohio, native Megan Courtney put on a show against her hometown program. Courtney paced the Nittany Lions in both kills and digs with four apiece in the first frame. The high-flying outside hitter would finish with a match-high 15 digs, eight kills, two blocks, and an assist. Thanks to a tremendous rally to keep set-point alive, Penn State posted a stress-free 25-17 win to kick the match off right.
The second set provided a tougher challenge for the Nittany Lions, as Rose’s ladies came out flat against the Flyers. Super senior Aiyana Whitney and sophomore Ali Frantti got things going on the outside for the Nittany Lions, but it wasn’t enough to keep Dayton from pulling off a shocking 25-13 triumph. The duo would finish with a team-high 14 kills apiece, evidently spurred on by the mid-match adversity.
Penn State was clearly reinvigorated by whatever was said during the intermission, as the Nittany Lions returned to their orchestra-like precision in the third set. Redshirt freshman setter Bryanna Weiskircher enjoyed an added helping of confidence dishing the ball around, as the Rockford, Ill., native turned in a big-time balanced performance. She would post a match-high 46 assists, as well as seven digs, four blocks, and three kills when the final whistle blew. Penn State cruised to a much-needed 25-14 win.
Dayton displayed impressive grit in the fourth set, but the Nittany Lions had no interest in prolonging their Sweet 16 berth. Both sides battled back and forth for the lead, refusing to give in to the rising pressure associated with this stage of the NCAA Tournament. However, Penn State has been here before and knows what it takes to survive and advance. Behind yet another surge from Whitney and Frantti, the Nittany Lions showed their tireless preparation was well worth it. Rose’s bunch rolled down the stretch to an emphatic 25-17 win.
Defensively, Courtney and senior libero Kendall Pierce led the Lions with 15 and 13 digs respectively, with Pierce adding three assists along the way. Sophomore middle blocker Haleigh Washington came on strong midway through the match, finishing with seven kills, five digs, and four blocks. Rounding out the stat sheet for the Nittany Lions was sophomore outside hitter Simone Lee’s two kills and a service ace. True freshmen Wilma Rivera and Keeton Holcomb contributed five digs and an assist respectively, while sophomore Lainy Pierce added a dig of her own on the night.
Although the Flyers saw their season come to an end in Happy Valley, sophomore middle blocker Amber Erhahon put together one heck of an effort Saturday night, finishing with a match-high 16 kills to go along with four blocks. Senior outside hitter Alaina Turner wasn’t far behind, registering 15 kills, three digs, and a block in the loss.
Player Of The Match
Ali Frantti | Outside hitter | Sophomore
Frantti was downright terrific for the second night in a row, matching Whitney with a team-high 14 kills, while adding seven digs, a service ace, and an assist in the victory. The Spring Grove, Ill., product turned it on when the Nittany Lions needed her most.
Penn State improved its gaudy all-time NCAA Tournament record to 92-27, advancing to the Sweet 16 in the process. The seventh-seeded Nittany Lions, their dream of hanging an unprecedented eighth National Championship banner in the Rec Hall rafters alive and well, will next face unseeded Hawai’I (28-1) in the Des Moines, Iowa, regional semifinal on Friday, Dec. 11. Dave Shoji’s Rainbow Warriors upset No. 10 Texas A&M in straight sets in College Station, Tex. Time of the match has yet to be announced.