Women’s Volleyball’s Season Ends In Sweet 16 Heartbreaker
No. 7 Penn State arrived for its Sweet 16 showdown against Hawaii at the Wells Fargo Arena expecting nothing less than a barnburner between two of the most storied programs in the nation. In fact, while Russ Rose owns the title of winningest coach in women’s college volleyball history with 1,189 victories, his counterpart and good friend, Dave Shoji, trails him by only 11 wins on the all-time list.
Penn State (28-6) struggled to keep pace early, however, and saw its season and three-peat chance come to an end in Des Moines, Iowa. Hawaii (29-1) was simply too good on its way to handing the Nittany Lions a straight-set (22-25, 25-27, 16-25) loss. The Rainbow Wahine, who extended their nation-leading win streak to 24 straight matches, will face No. 2 Minnesota in the Elite Eight on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.
How It Happened
Penn State enjoyed a variety of scoring options early in the first set, as four Nittany Lions reached at least three kills right off the bat. However, the Rainbow Wahine, led by junior Nikki Taylor, played fearlessly from the start of what became a highly entertaining first frame. Taylor’s match-high 18 kills to go along with eight digs would prove essential. Penn State fought off back-to-back set points to come within 24-22, but couldn’t pull off the furious comeback. Though outside hitters Megan Courtney, Aiyana Whitney, and Ali Frantti posted four kills apiece, it wasn’t enough to top Hawaii, who went on to capture the first set 25-22. Frantti would finish with a balanced seven kills and six digs.
Coming out of the short break, the Nittany Lions struggled to keep pace with Shoji’s squad, who rattled off a bunch of early points. However, a stern motivational speech by Rose during the 10-6 timeout helped turn things around for Penn State’s second-set fate. Seniors Tai Manu-Olevao and Olivia Magill helped to keep the Rainbow Wahine on the right side of things midway through the all-important second set before the Nittany Lions clutched up with a stellar run to tie things at 13-all. The duo would finish with 14 and nine kills respectively. Rose’s ladies kept clawing for points in an electric back-and-forth battle. Courtney and Whitney continued to dominate, yet even a spectacular rally down the stretch couldn’t keep the Rainbow Wahine from holding on for a crucial 27-25 win.
Heading into the intermission, the Nittany Lions no doubt needed to dig deep and remember all the hard work that got them here, because a tall test sat directly in their path to pulling the three-peat. It was too little, too late, though, as Penn State came out of the gates slow yet again in the third set, which allowed the Rainbow Wahine to turn on cruise control as they built a sizable advantage; one they wouldn’t surrender. Whitney and Courtney would go on to post 10 and nine kills respectively to lead the Nittany Lions offensively, but Hawaii refused to be stopped on its way to a stress-free 25-16 victory.
Rounding out the stat sheet for Penn State were sophomores Haleigh Washington and Simone Lee, who finished with nine and five kills respectively. Redshirt freshman setter Bryanna Weiskircher added 39 assists and a pair of kills, while senior libero Kendall Pierce finished with a match-high 14 digs and two spectacular service aces.
Even though the outcome was disappointing, this is still Penn State volleyball. Russ Rose’s team will go back to work this offseason and come back with added fire in 2016. Congratulations to all of the Nittany Lions seniors, Megan Courtney, Aiyana Whitney, Kendall Pierce, and Lara Caraway, on a fantastic four years that featured back-to-back national titles in 2013 and 2014.
Player Of The Match
Megan Courtney | Outside hitter | Senior
The Dayton, Ohio, native strung together a steady nine kills and digs apiece in her final collegiate match. Courtney is the first Nittany Lion (eighth all-time) since Deja McClendon to join both the 1,000 career kills and digs clubs. Congratulations on an outstanding career, Megan.
The seventh-seeded Nittany Lions saw their chase for a record eighth National Championship dashed in heartbreaking fashion by Hawaii, who will return to the Wells Fargo Center this Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. ET clash with No. 2 seed Minnesota. The Golden Gophers swept Illinois to reach the Elite Eight. No doubt, Rose’s squad will be back next year raring to go.