Kristen Leigh Porter, NCAA.com
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Blair Brown, Alyssa D’Errico and Arielle Wilson, take a bow.
A year after helping the Penn State women’s volleyball team to an unprecedented third-consecutive NCAA Division I championship, the senior trio contributed to the program’s legacy by adding another championship Saturday night in front of 14,032 fans at the Sprint Center.
In sweeping seventh-seeded California, 25-20, 27-25, 25-20, to deny the Golden Bears (30-4) their first-ever title, the fourth-seeded Nittany Lions (32-5) gave veteran coach Russ Rose his fifth.
No doubt AVCA National Freshman of the Year and NCAA Championships Most Outstanding Player Deja McClendon hopes to do the same as her senior counterparts. The 6-1 outside hitter had 16 kills in her first final appearance.
“Probably the biggest lesson I learned from the seniors is just how to push through, especially when you’re having a hard time,” she said. “We started off really rough this season and the girls never stopped working with us, never stopped believing in us.”
Brown, an All-American opposite, had 18 kills and 10 digs. Wilson, an All-American middle hitter, added 12 kills and hit a match-high .391, finishing her career with a .468 hitting percentage, a new DI record. D’Errico had 13 digs.
Penn State went undefeated the past two seasons, and lost just two matches in 2007, giving the trio a 142-7 career record at Penn State.
“The legacy we leave, we don’t want it to be about numbers since it’s not about that,” Brown said. “We’re thrilled to have four national championships, but the legacy we want to leave is the program’s history, I guess. It’s the tradition of working hard every day in practice and going hard, because that’s how you get here.”
Junior All-American outside hitter Tarah Murrey had 16 kills and AVCA Player of the Year Carli Lloyd 33 assists and 11 digs for Cal.
The Golden Bears had two set points in the second set, but couldn’t pull it out. With the score tied at 25, back-to-back kills by Brown gave Penn State a 2-0 lead in the match.
“It was hard going in the locker room with two losses, but I still had confidence we could come out and win,” Lloyd said.
Midway through the third set, freshman Ali Longo went back to serve with the Nittany Lions trailing by two, but her three service aces combined with three Brown kills and one from freshman Ariel Scott gave the Nittany Lions a 17-12 cushion.
Rose was quick to point out the contributions of players such as freshman middle hitter Katie Slay, whose kill ended the match and sent the Nittany Lions into celebration mode.
“Our seniors did a great job of keeping us relaxed for this match,” she said. “I didn’t feel nervous because I had a great cast around me.”
It was the first time that two teams have met four consecutive years in the regionals, semis or finals, but unfortunately for Cal, the result was the same each time. Penn State also ended Cal’s season in the 2009 Gainesville Regional final, the 2008 University Park Regional final and 2007 national semifinal.
“This team has been so special,” said Cal’s Rich Feller, the AVCA Coach of the Year. “They are the most cohesive and hard-working team I’ve ever had and I’ve been coaching for about 26 years.”
Both Lloyd and Murrey were emotional in the post-match press conference as they talked about the best season in Cal history and being leaders of a team predominantly comprised of freshmen and sophomores.
“I know we’re going to be great because we’re going to work hard like we have with her,” said Murrey, who will take over the leadership role from Lloyd. “She’s left such a great legacy…Carli has brought this program to where it is right now. We’re just going to keep going.”
Sophomore defensive specialist Robin Rostratter added a match-high 16 kills for Cal, and freshman hitter Adrienne Gehan had seven kills.
Penn State improved to 5-3 in title matches. In additions to their wins in 1999 and 2007-10, the Nittany Lions lost in the 1993, 1997 and 1998 finals.
“It was a collective effort and I feel thrilled for these guys,” Rose said. “They had a lot of expectations, worked hard, got themselves in a great spot and pulled it off tonight.”
Only DII Concordia-St. Paul (2007-10) and DIII Washington St. Louis (1991-96) have won at least four consecutive titles. At the DI level in the sport, only the 1981-84 UCLA men have won four consecutive titles.