UCLA 3, Penn State 1

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The Penn State women's volleyball team's trip to the west coast was much shorter than they had hoped.

It was certainly not very pleasant.

The Nittany Lions had their season closed out by UCLA on Friday night in the third round of the NCAA Championships at Washington's Bank of America Arena.

The Bruins used defense and a quartet of big hitters to win the match 30-24, 22-30, 30-25, 30-28 and advance to tonight's regional final against either Washington or St. Mary's, who played in Friday's late match.

"When you get to this level, the defense gets better, the offense gets better and overall teams get better," said sophomore middle hitter Cassy Salyer, who racked up 12 kills and a match-high 10 blocks. "We didn't respond to it very well."

The biggest thorn in Penn State's side was 6-foot-1 middle hitter Nana Meriwether, who racked up 16 kills and seven blocks. She took just 24 swings and had a .500 hitting percentage, and her long arms caused all sorts of problems for the Nittany Lions.

"She's a great athlete and she's tough to defend," Salyer said. "She played well. She came out and had a big night."

Penn State, usually the team with the sharper back row, was severely out-dug Friday night. The Nittany Lions had 68 digs to the Bruins' 87, a major reason why Penn State hit just .189 for the match despite taking more spikes (190-185) and recording fewer errors (30-24). UCLA hit .249 for the match.

The setback overshadowed yet another big outing for freshman Melissa Walbridge. The Pennsbury product matched her season-high with 15 kills to go with only one error, for a .538 hitting percentage. Walbridge has been in double figures in kills in each of Penn State's postseason matches.

"They had a hard time stopping Melissa," Rose said. "The difference was Meriwether had seven blocks and Melissa had one."

Kate Price had 14 kills but they came on 60 swings as she posted a .050 hitting percentage. Seniors Syndie Nadeau and Ashley Pederson also struggled in their final matches, with seven and nine kills, respectively.

"Our middles did well but our outside hitters struggled," Rose said. "A great deal of their struggling in the match was based on the fact that UCLA played well and they have a good defense. We were just unable to get good swings."

Kaleena Walters made 19 digs and Sam Tortorello had 55 assists and 14 digs. Penn State did win the blocking battle 15-12.

Nancy Barba also had 16 kills for UCLA (21-10), Brittany Ringle added 14 and Brynn Murphy posted 12. Krystal McFarland made 61 assists.

UCLA controlled the first game as Meriwether had six kills on eight swings while the Nittany Lions' struggled to connect offensively.

Penn State's middles came alive in the second game, with Walbridge and Salyer taking turns pounding the ball through the UCLA defense. Thanks to the pair, Penn State had its only strong hitting game, registering a .343 success rate.

"We came out strong in the second game," Salyer said. "But we had trouble keeping that momentum going. It was sort of a roller-coaster throughout the match."

A combination of Nittany Lion errors and UCLA spikes helped the Bruins pull out to a sizable lead in the third game and the teams traded the lead in the fourth set. The Nittany Lions were poised to send the match to a fifth game with the score knotted at 28-28, but one final kill from Meriwether and a Colby Lyman spike ended the match and Penn State's season.

The Nittany Lions were denied the 18th 30-win season in school history and a trip to the regional finals for the second straight year. Penn State also was looking for its eighth regional final appearance.

"I'm not disappointed because if someone had told me this team would finish 29-3 and win the Big Ten, I would have signed on right there," Rose said. "It's the old saying, it's how you play, not who you play."

-- Courtesy Associated Press