Dec. 13, 2009

By Paul D. Bowker
Special to

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Bring up the topic of Penn State‘s NCAA women‘s volleyball-record win streak, and the Nittany Lions players squirm in their seats a bit. Their voices become uncomfortable. Next subject, please.
“We don‘t talk about it,” said senior hitter Megan Hodge, the Big Ten Player of the Year who will try to lead Penn State to an unprecedented third consecutive Division I national title next weekend in Tampa, Fla.
“We hear people in the stands sometimes,“ junior hitter Blair Brown said.
Penn State coach Russ Rose says he doesn‘t even know what the number is.
Well, it‘s 100 now. The Nittany Lions‘ 3-0 victory in the NCAA Divisioin I Regional Final on Saturday against Cal pushed their win streak into triple digits. They haven‘t lost since Sept. 15, 2007, when Stanford beat them in the title game of the Yale Classic in New Haven, Conn.
Attempting to lighten up the mood following Saturday‘s win, Rose said, “Triple figures is better than double numbers, for sure.”
“Honestly, we have no idea what the streak ever is,“ Brown said.
The uniqueness of the streak may hit them after the season, said Hodge, who had a team-high 14 kills in Saturday‘s win over California and more than 2,100 in her college career.
Penn State’s numbers are dazzling. The Lions have won 65 consecutive Big Ten matches. They’ve won 74 in a row at home and 49 in a row on the road. They haven’t lost a set in four NCAA tournament matches this year and they lost just one set in the last two national championships they won against Stanford. And imagine the frustration of Cal; the Golden Bears have played, and lost to, the Lions in each of the last three seasons, twice in a regional final and once in the national semifinals.
And add one more number to the mix: If Penn State (36-0) defeats Hawaii or Michigan (the teams play at 11:30 EST Saturday in a regional final at Stanford) in the national semifinals Thursday at Tampa, it‘ll be the 1,000th career win for Rose, an 11-time Big Ten Coach of the Year whose first team in 1979 won 32 games.
Beyond national stars like Hodge and senior setter Alisha Glass, both of whom worked out with the USA national team this past summer, the Lions‘ formula seems clear. They truly focus on each opponent with a determination that has one goal -- winning a national title. After Saturday‘s win, Brown made it clear in the postgame news conference that getting to the Final Four isn‘t a team goal; winning it is the goal.
“We have a culture,” Rose said. “I don‘t care if they get mad at me, I don‘t care if they get mad at themselves.”
What he does care about is that the Lions are prepared and not, as he put it, the reason for being on some other school‘s T-shirt because they beat Penn State.
“We just play every game like it‘s your last game,” said junior hitter Arielle Wilson.
2,000-KILL CLUB: Cal senior outside hitter Hana Cutura, the Pac-10 Player of the Year, passed 2,000 career kills in Saturday’s match. Her game-high 16 kills increased her career total to 2,004, the highest total in school history and fifth highest in Pac-10 history.
“She’s a pretty special player,” Cal coach Rich Feller said. “Talented, physical. What she brought to our team is a passion for the game.”
Cutura, who is taking a heavy course load of 18 credit hours in both the fall and spring, is scheduled to graduate in the spring. A native of Zagreb, Croatia, what’s next on the horizon for her is professional volleyball (Feller said he has heard from a dozen European scouts) and perhaps the 2012 Olympics with the Croatia National Team.
“Sure, why not?” Cutura said, smiling.
ALL-TOURNEY TEAM: In addition to Hodge being named the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player, Penn State landed three other starters on the all-tournament team: Senior setter Alisha Glass (80 assists in two matches), junior hitter Blair Brown (24 kills) and Wilson (14 kills), a junior hitter. Also named to the team were Cal’s Cutura (tournament-high 34 kills) and junior setter Carli Lloyd (70 assists), and Florida senior Elyse Cusak (game-high 15 digs in a loss to Penn State).