OKLAHOMA CITY -- At some point everybody has to dig in volleyball.
Sure, the high-flying, divot-making strikers get all the love. Points are finished with kills.
But the dynamic of a championship-level volleyball point includes just one kill. The most frequent, and perhaps the most important, is the dig.It requires a few floor burns and a handful of headlong dives to keep a rally going. It happens near the net, in the middle, and while patrolling across the back line. Every player on the floor wears knee pads for a reason.
In Thursday night’s second NCAA semifinal between 2013 champion Penn State and this season’s top seed, Stanford, Chesapeake Energy Arena’s hardwood saw plenty of diving bodies.
Of course PSU’s Megan Courtney and Ali Frantti, plus Ms. Everything Micah Hancock, put up eye-catching numbers.
But before Courtney could put away one of her 23 kills, or Frantti her 16, it was Dominque Gonzalez and others helping make it happen.
Case in point: with PSU leading 23-21 in the fourth set, Gonzalez raced across the back line deep into a rally to keep play alive. It led to a Nittany Lion put-away, a 24-21 lead and, a point later, a second consecutive trip to the NCAA finals.
Penn State (35-3) will play BYU (30-4) on Saturday for all the marbles. PSU head coach Russ Rose and his program will be looking for a seventh title in eight years.
First, floor burns will have to heal temporarily.
“I think Dom [Gonzalez] is always under recognized,” Rose said. “I don’t know if any liberos in the country have had a better winning percentage; her stats aren’t high enough to garner recognition but there is no one I would trade her for.
“This is a team game, and the work that Dom does, so many things, makes a big impact on us winning and losing.”
Gonzalez had 23 digs, teaming with Lacey Fuller (12 digs) and Courtney (16 digs) to highlight an across-the-table team effort. Thursday marked the 139th match played and the four sets moved Gonzalez’ total to 460 for her career. She started all 36 matches during PSU’s championship run a year ago.
“It was a pretty steep learning curve,” said Gonzalez of learning the thankless position. “There was a lot to learn about the game, and the speed of the back row player and the facets you have as a back row player, not just a libero but a back row player in general, the steadiness you have to have and the technique behind it that goes into it that people don’t see, the talking, all of that, you have to learn it quickly.
“I don’t look at statistics. My job is to dig, to play defense, to allow us to get back into our offense.”
Stanford, who finishes 33-2, had plenty of divers on Thursday as well. Kyle Gilbert had 18 digs; Jordan Burgess (13), Morgan Boukather (12), and Madi Bugg (11) also recorded double-digit digs. But the PSU trio of Courtney, Frantti, and Aiyana Whitney combined for 49 kills and proved too much.
“Tonight it was just about the 20 girls on the team, the coaching staff, us against the world, and that’s what we took it as and that’s what we did” Courtney said.