May 8, 2009

PROVO, Utah -- UC Irvine gets a rematch with the last team to beat the top-seeded Anteaters this season.

This time it will be for the national title.

UC Irvine returned to the NCAA volleyball championship for the second time in three years with a 3-0 sweep of Ohio State in the semifinals Thursday night, advancing to the championship match Saturday against Southern California.

Freshman Carson Clark led the Anteaters with 12 kills. Taylor Wilson added 11, and Jordan DuFault had 10 more kills for the Anteaters, who won the first two sets 30-25 and won with a 30-26 victory in the third over the Buckeyes (16-11).

"It wasn't the prettiest match for us. We didn't play our best volleyball of the season so far, but I think that first match is always tough when you get into a Final Four," UC Irvine coach John Speraw said.

The Anteaters (26-5), who won the 2007 national title, are the No. 1 seed despite losing 3-0 to USC in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals on April 30.

UC Irvine held Ohio State to a .247 hitting percentage and pulled ahead to big leads in each set, then held on for the win. The Anteaters led 29-26 in the third when Kevin Wynne won it with a kill off an set from Ryan Ammerman, who had 45 assists.

"There's a reason they were No. 1 and they played well tonight," Ohio State's Robbie Klein said.

USC advanced earlier Thursday by beating defending national champion Penn State 3-1, ending the Nittany Lions' run of 11 straight wins.

Penn State hadn't lost a set since March 14 and took a 1-0 lead by winning the opener, but the Trojans won the next three -- 30-26, 30-26 and 30-24. Austin Zahn clinched it for USC with a kill that was too much for the Nittany Lions to handle, bouncing high into the rafters at BYU's Smith Fieldhouse as the Trojans (21-10) stormed the court.

"We got into a rhythm, started spreading out the offense and things started working out," said Riley McKibbin, who had 62 assists and five kills for USC.

Will Price led Penn State (27-4) with 17 kills.

The Trojans, who have won four national titles, are back in the championship game for the first time since they finished second in 1991.

Tri Bourne added 13 kills and hit .458 -- more than twice the .222 average he carried into the match Thursday and the Trojans hit .484 as a team. He also had two aces, including one during a three-point spurt that put the Trojans in command of the final set with a 27-22 lead.

"It sure seemed like every time Penn State started to get momentum we had one of those crazy plays where somebody barely got it up and over the net and we ended up winning the rally," USC coach Bill Ferguson said.

USC avenged a five-set loss to Penn State in the season opener by ending the Nittany Lions' hopes of repeating. The Nittany Lions were hoping to match Penn State's women's team with two straight volleyball titles.

Penn State hadn't lost a match since Long Beach State won in five sets on March 14, which was also the last time the Lions lost a set.

Penn State entered the semifinals leading the nation in hitting percentage at .396, but could not break the Trojans.

"They hit .484 as a team. That's pretty ridiculous to be hitting close to .500 as a team," Penn State's Max Holt said. "They picked us apart."

Penn State fell behind early in the opening set, but pulled away at the end for a 1-0 lead. Price set up set point with a kill that bounced into the upper level seats, then Holt gave the Lions a 30-27 win with a block.