Amy Hughes, Special to

The road to back-to-back-to-back-to-back NCAA Division I women’s volleyball championships got a little easier for Penn State on Friday.

But not for the reason you’re thinking of. 

Yes, Penn State, the No. 4 seed nationally did what it needed to, defeating Oklahoma in three sets on Friday at the University Park regional. But six states to the southwest, Purdue gave its Big Ten conference mates an assist by upending No. 1 seed Florida. 

So, while Penn State must get past Duke, a 3-1 winner over Missouri, the Nittany Lions can breathe easier should they win Saturday’s regional final. The game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Penn State’s Rec Hall and will be televised by ESPNU. 

No. 12-seeded Duke is trying to advance to the national semifinals for the first time in program history, while Penn State would be making a fourth straight appearance in the sport’s final weekend of play.

Saturday night’s battle will feature the ACC Player of the year, Duke senior setter Kellie Catanach, against the Big Ten Player of the Year in Penn State senior hitter Blair Brown. Both teams won their respective conferences en route to earning seeded bids to the NCAA tournament.

Penn State (29-5) beat Oklahoma, 25-23, 25-23, 25-15 on Friday and hit a .429 as a team for the match and were over .300 in each individual set. Brown led all players with 24 kills in the match, the only Penn State player with double-figure kills.

“I thought the match played out like I thought it would,” said Penn State head coach Russ Rose. “I would like us to serve a little tougher [against Duke Saturday night], but I thought Blair, in the end, was serving tough. We played them last year at Duke and it was a very tough match with a big crowd.”

Duke (27-6) advanced on the strength of a four-set victory over Missouri (25-19, 21-25, 25-19, 25-22). The Blue Devils become the third team in ACC history to advance to the NCAA Division I regional finals. 

“Missouri is a great team, they’re a great serving team, and we really had to work hard in our serve receive in order to be able to do what we wanted to do with the ball,” said Duke head coach Jolene Nagel. 

During the regional semifinal, Catanach lived up to her billing, posting 55 assists and setting four Duke hitters to double-figure kills.

Should Duke upset Penn State, it will be the Blue Devils first trip to the national semifinals. But even Saturday’s game is nearly new territory – Duke has played in the regional final only one other time, losing to Texas in 1993. 

“All along I've said this was a special team,” said Nagel, “and not because of where we are right now – but because of how they've come to work every single day in practice. They have a focus now that I haven't always seen for all the players on the team, and I think that's helping them be able to continue to get better as the season goes along.”