Penn State advances to national semifinals after 3-1 defeat of Minnesota
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- No. 1 seed Penn State (33-2) advanced to the national semifinals with a 3-1 (25-19, 19-25, 26-24, 25-18) win against eighth-seeded Minnesota. The Nittany Lions have advanced to the national semifinals five times in the last six seasons.
The Nittany Lions are making their 10th trip to the national semifinals. Penn State also advanced in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. The Lions have won five NCAA titles, including four in a row from 2007-2010.
Junior Ariel Scott led the Nittany Lions with 25 kills on 422 hitting. Junior Deja McClendon McClendon was second on the squad with 14 and freshman Megan Courtney had 11. Four Nittany Lions had double-digit digs, including 20 from sophomore Dominique Gonzalez, Hancock had 13, McClendon had 12 and Courtney had 10. Sophomore Micha Hancock dished out 46 assists and had a match-high five aces. She now owns the NCAA record for aces in NCAA tournament play with 22. McClendon and sophomore Nia Grant had seven blocks apiece, including an impressive four solo by McClendon.
Penn State hit at a .237 clip and totaled 62 kills, five aces, 73 digs and 14.0 total team blocks. Minnesota was held to .177 hitting with 49 kills, three aces, 61 digs and 14.0 team blocks.
After a close start, Scott put down a kill sparking a 5-0 run for an 8-4 PSU lead. After a Minnesota timeout, the teams traded points before two Gopher errors and a Courtney kill gave Penn State a six-point lead, 14-8. The Gophers used a 3-0 run to move to within three, 14-11. Back-to-back Scott kills increased the gap to five, 16-11. Penn State continued to maintain the lead and eventually increased it to six, 21-15, sending Minnesota to the bench. Courtney and Scott each put down a kill after the timeout to keep PSU comfortably ahead, 23-16. Even after a 3-0 run by the Gophers, a Penn State timeout let the Nittany Lion regroup to take the set, 25-19. Scott and Grant put up a block and Courtney tallied a kill to help the Lions close it out.
Penn State got off to a 3-0 start in the second stanza. Two PSU errors had the Gophers within one, 3-2, but a Minnesota service error and a McClendon kill had PSU ahead by three, 5-2. Penn State's lead increased for four, 7-3, causing Minnesota to call an early timeout. The Gophers scored two consecutive points following the timeout to come within two, 7-5. Despite an attack error by Minnesota, the Gophers embarked on a 9-0 run for a 14-8 advantage. Scott pounded two kills, but a 4-0 Gopher run had Penn State trailing 19-10. Scott put down another kill and Hancock had an ace, but Minnesota answered with a kill and an ace to make it 21-12 in favor of Minnesota. The teams began going back and forth with the Gophers moving to within two of capturing the set, 23-14. The Nittany Lions kept fighting and three consecutive Scott kills had Penn State within six, 23-17. Following a Minnesota timeout, a Minnesota error and a Slay kill pushed Penn State closer, 23-19. A PSU error and a Gopher block closed out set two in Minnesota's favor, 25-19.
Neither team took off early in the third frame. With the score tied at 6-6, two PSU kills and a McClendon solo stuff gave Penn State a three-point edge, 9-6. After two Minnesota kills in a row bringing the Gophers within one, 9-8, a 5-0 Lion run had Penn State leading, 14-8. Minnesota wasn't discouraged and mounted its own run, 7-1, to knot the set at 15-15. The score stayed close, tying three more times before Minnesota went up by two, 23-21. The Nittany Lions managed to tie it at 23 thanks to kills from Hancock and McClendon. Hancock pounded a kill to move PSU into set point position, 24-23, but a kill by Dana Knudsen had it tied at 24-24. A solo stuff by McClendon gave Penn State the lead again, 25-24, before a Scott kill had the Lions with a 26-24 third set win.
Penn State jumped out to a 4-0 lead to start the fourth set with help from two Hancock aces. Minnesota fought to within three, 7-4, but a Courtney kill and a Gopher error had the Lions leading 9-4. A 4-0 Gopher run had Minnesota within one, 9-8, but a Slay kill had the Lions up by two, 10-8. Minnesota kept fighting and used a 3-0 run for an 11-10 lead. Minnesota's lead grew to three, 13-10, and Penn State called a timeout. Scott followed the timeout with three kills, while McClendon had a block and Hancock an ace to give Penn State a slim 15-14 lead. Minnesota used a timeout and a PSU service error allowed the Gophers to tie it up at 15-15. The score tied twice more before Penn State grabbed a three-point lead, 21-18. McClendon continued the run with a kill to give Penn State a little more breathing room with a 22-18 advantage. Hancock and Slay teamed up for a block putting the Lions two points away, 23-18, from a fourth set win. McClendon kept the momentum going with a solo stuff before pounding a kill for the win, 25-18.