LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- No. 5 Penn State (34-3) rallied from a one set deficit to defeat No. 4 Wisconsin (31-3), 3-1 (22-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-19) Saturday evening at the KFC Yum! Center. With the victory, the Nittany Lions advance to the NCAA national semifinals, marking the seventh time in the past eight years PSU has appeared in the final four.
Penn State will take on the winner of the Ames, Iowa regional final (No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 8 Florida) Friday, Dec. 18 in the NCAA national semifinals in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Three Nittany Lions recorded double-digit kills in the win, led by redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney who tallied a match-high 16 kills, adding three blocks. Freshman Simone Lee came off the bench with 12 kills for the Nittany Lions, including seven in the second frame on .750 hitting with zero attack errors. Freshman Haleigh Washington rounded out the group with 10 kills on .368 hitting, adding five blocks.
Senior Nia Grant tied for first on the team with five blocks, while also adding five kills and two digs. Senior Dominique Gonzalez anchored the defensive effort with a match-high 24 digs. Junior Megan Courtney finished second on the team with 13 digs. Senior Micha Hancock notched seven kills on 13 perfect swings, adding two aces, six digs and four blocks.
Whitney and Washington each earned spots on the All-Tournament team, while Hancock earned Louisville Regional Most Outstanding Player honors.
Penn State and Wisconsin began the match battling back-and-forth early in the opening frame. Tied at 6-6, Courtney lifted the Nittany Lions ahead with a pair of consecutive aces to make it 8-6. A Badger kill and a Nittany Lion error knotted the frame, 8-8. Both teams continue to trade points, until Wisconsin used a 5-1 run to break away from an 11-all tie and move ahead by four, 16-12.
The Nittany Lions looked to spark some momentum with a kill, 16-13, but the Badgers continued to match PSU points-for-point to stay ahead. Trailing by two, 21-19, Courtney lifted the Nittany Lions within one with a kill, 21-20, but Wisconsin answered with three straight to arrive at set point, 24-20. Penn State fought off two consecutive set point attempts before the Badgers put down a kill to take set one, 25-22.
Penn State opened set two on a 5-3 stretch before a kill from Wisconsin brought the Badgers within one, 5-4. Whitney looked to build the cushion with a kill, 6-4, but Wisconsin followed with a kill and a block to tie it up, 6-6. Regrouping, Penn State pulled ahead with a 9-5 stretch featuring three kills from Lee and two from Washington to enter the media break with a four-point lead, 15-11.
The Badgers looked to get back on track with a kill out of the timeout, 15-12, but Penn State put together a 6-1 scoring streak that forced Wisconsin to use both of its timeouts in an effort to break up the rhythm as PSU went up by as many as eight, 21-13. The Badgers made one final attempt to mount a comeback with a kill, 21-14, but the Nittany Lions held off the attempt with a 4-2 stretch to secure set two, 25-16, tying the match, 1-1.
Trailing by three, 8-5, in set three, Penn State tallied five in a row to move ahead by two, 10-8. Wisconsin responded with three straight to jump back on top, 11-10, but a service error knotted the frame at 11-11. PSU and Wisconsin continued to trade points until a kill from Whitney and two consecutive Badger errors cracked open a 14-all tie to bring Penn State up by three, 17-14. Wisconsin came charging back with a 3-1 spurt to arrive within one, 18-17. Washington cut off the strike with a kill, 19-17, but the Badgers responded with another 3-1 burst to tie the stanza, 20-20, prompting Penn State to call a timeout.
A Penn State attack error and a Badger block out of the break lifted Wisconsin up, 21-20, but PSU erased the lead with a kill and an ace from Hancock to move ahead 22-21. Continuing the momentum, a PSU block and another ace from Hancock made it set point, 24-21, but a service error held off the attempt. The Nittany Lions stopped the Badgers on the next play with a block from Lee and Grant to put away set three, 25-22.
Penn State and Wisconsin fought point-for-point for most of the opening part of the fourth frame. With the frame locked at 11-11, the Badgers used a 3-1 stretch to take over a two-point lead, 14-12. PSU came rallying back with three straight to go up by one, 15-14, forcing the Badgers to call a timeout.
The Nittany Lions and the Badgers continued to keep it tight, 20-20, until Grant and Whitney followed a Wisconsin service error with a block to give Penn State a two-point advantage, 20-18. Lee and Whitney continued the momentum with back-to-back kills to stretch the lead to four, 22-18, causing the Badgers to call a timeout. A PSU attack error out of the break made it 22-19, but two more kills from Whitney and a block by Whitney and Grant locked up a 25-19 win in set four to give the Nittany Lions a 3-1 win.