Kristen Leigh Porter, NCAA.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Penn State became the first NCAA Division I women’s volleyball program to reach four consecutive title matches, beating Texas 25-13, 25-13, 25-22 in its national semifinal Thursday evening at the Sprint Center. The 12,091 fans in attendance saw the three-time defending champion and fourth-seeded Nittany Lions (31-5) improve to 12-4 all-time in NCAA Finals action.
Not that AVCA Freshman of the Year Deja McClendon was expecting anything less.
“When I came to Penn State, I came for this kind of program,” McClendon said. “I expect us to go to the Final Four.”
Senior opposite Blair Brown had 12 kills, junior middle hitter Ariel Scott 10 kills and McClendon 11 kills, as Penn State upped its postseason-record winning streak to 23 consecutive matches. The Nittany Lions will face seventh-seeded Cal (30-3) in Saturday’s 8:30 ET championship match.
“It’s a great feeling, but we’re not celebrating yet,” Penn State senior libero Alyssa D’Errico said. “We have one more match to play. Our goals are the same; the program’s goals are the same. It’s about tradition and upholding that tradition and getting to a final is not our goal.
“Our goal is to win.”
Senior outside hitter Juliann Faucette had 14 kills and seven digs for the ninth-seeded Longhorns (27-6), who were making their third-consecutive Finals appearance. Penn State improved to 11-6 all-time against Texas, including a 22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-13 comeback win over the Longhorns in last year’s final at the St. Pete Times Forum.
How dominant were the Nittany Lions in their 26th shutout of this season?
Penn State held Texas to just 48 points, an NCAA Finals record for fewest points allowed in a three-set match in the 25-point, rally scoring era. The 13 points Texas scored in sets one and two were the fewest ever scored in a non-deciding single-set of the Finals in the 25-point rally scoring era.
McClendon’s .733 hitting percentage was an NCAA Finals record for a match with 15-19 attack attempts, as the 6-1 outside hitter finished with 11 kills in 15 swings with no hitting errors. Part of the game plan called for hitting the ball down the line, but McClendon had no problem adjusting the angle when that was taken away by the Texas block.
“The coaches do a really good job of scouting so you kind of have an idea in your mind of where you want to put the ball,” said McClendon, who also contributed eight digs, three blocks, one assist and one ace.
Penn State, ranked second in the country in hitting percentage, hit at a .365 clip. In addition to her 38 assists, setter Kristin Carpenter was an offensive threat with three kills.
The same could not be said for the Texas attack. Even 6-2 middle Rachael Adams and 6-5 middle Jennifer Doris, who came into the match ranked 1-2 in the country in hitting percentage at .448 and .435,
respectively, had issues with the Penn State defense. Adams tied with Faucette with a team-leading .231, while Doris hit .091 in the contest.
Six Penn State players were credited with two or more block assists, led by freshman middle hitter Katie Slay with six block assists. The Nittany Lions had 9.5 total team blocks.
Said Texas coach Jerritt Elliott: “We just couldn’t get comfortable…We were trying to attack higher seams and we were pulling the ball back in the block, and they were getting a lot of good touches because of it.”
The Penn State backcourt also befuddled a Texas team ranked fourth in the country .311 hitting percentage at .311, holding the Longhorns to .131 for the match, their third-lowest percentage of the season.
“It was hard for us to get a rhythm putting things down and they were picking everything up including the tips and (were) just really good on their feet,” Faucette said, noting the play of D’Errico, who had a match-high 11 digs. “It was hard to come back from that because we weren’t responding with our defense until the third game and it was too late.”
Carpenter’s strong serving set the tone for the rest of the match, as Penn State took a 6-0 lead in the first set. The Nittany Lions stretched it into a 10-1 advantage, prompting Texas to call its second time out, but the Longhorns never recovered. Penn State hit .556, with Scott contributing five kills.
Texas hit .050 in the second set, when a 13-10 deficit quickly turning into a 20-11 hole.
“I just think we got in a funk and we couldn’t figure out early on how to get out of it,” Doris said.
In the third set, the Longhorns led 6-2 early in the third set before the Nittany Lions regrouped. Tied at 13, Penn State took the lead for good on a kill by Carpenter.
Although the Nittany Lions won’t enter the title match with a perfect 37-0 record like they did in each of the last two seasons, the team has now won 18 of 19 matches.
“There were some times during the season where we were exposed in areas that we maybe weren’t as proud of ourselves in,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “All of those teams and matches gave us a little more information on what we needed to do to be better.”