UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Second-ranked Penn State (24-2, 14-1 Big Ten) swept Illinios, 3-0 (25-17, 25-17, 25-14), Thursday at Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions out-served and out-blocked Illinois (11-14, 5-10 Big Ten) on their way to the victory.
Junior Deja McClendon led Penn State with 11 kills and junior Ariel Scott added seven. Sophomore Micha Hancock paced the offense with 21 assists and freshman Kendall Pierce posted two aces. Sophomore Dominique Gonzalez led the Lions on defense with 11 digs and junior Katie Slay had a team-best five blocks.
Penn State registered a .298 hitting percentage. The Lions totaled 35 kills, five aces, 33 digs and 8.5 team blocks in the three-set match. Illinois hit .034 with 26 kills, four aces, 35 digs and seven team blocks.
The Nittany Lions opened the match with a 10-2 run with Illinois calling a timeout with the score at 7-2. Illini Erin Johnson pounded a kill to cut off the run, but Penn State kept firing with a 4-1 run to bring its lead to 14-4. After a second Illinois timeout, Penn State’s lead grew to 16-5 thanks to a Slay kill. Illinois followed up with a 6-3 run to narrow the gap to 19-12.
Two Illinois errors helped Penn State on a 4-1 run for a 23-13 lead. Jocelyn Birks pounded a kill to spark another short Illinois run, which brought the Illini within six. Penn State called a timeout, and after an Illinois service error Hancock closed out the set with a kill for a 25-17 win.
Penn State trailed for much of the second set. Illinois was ahead by as much as five before Penn State began its push to take control. Three consecutive PSU kills moved Penn State within two and Illinois called a timeout.
Penn State continued to trail until back-to-back Illini errors knotted the score at 15. The score tied twice more before Hancock put down a kill to begin a 9-0 run that closed out the set for PSU 25-17. McClendon had three kills during the run and Slay added two.
The Nittany Lions continued their domination in set three and had a 6-1 advantage when Illinois headed to the bench for a timeout. Pierce, who had served three consecutive points before the timeout, helped Penn State continue the run as the Illini recorded three consecutive errors and she registered an ace to make it 10-1.
Illinois used its second timeout and an Illini error and three PSU kills brought the score to 14-1. Two Illinois kills finally cut off Penn State’s run and had the Illini within 11. Penn State continued to maintain control, never allowing the Illini to cut the lead to single digits. With Penn State leading 19-9, Illinois and Penn State began trading points. However, Illinois was never able to steal any momentum and never came closer than nine as the set began to come to a close.
Sophomore Nia Grant pounded a kill to put Penn State at set point at 24-13. Despite a kill from Johnson for Illinois, the Illini followed it with an attack error for a 25-14 PSU win.