OKLAHOMA CITY -- At a championship level there can be no weak links. Penn State, national champions for a second consecutive season and sixth time in eight years, showed what elite level volleyball teams are made of when it counted the most on Saturday night.
To say 36th-year head coach Russ Rose got a complete team effort in the 2014 NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship final is more than just an understatement. Across the board, in beating a very good BYU squad in straight sets inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, Rose got contributions from all who stepped on the floor.Selecting an All-Tournament team, consisting of seven players from the four participating teams this week, could have easily included seven Nittany Lions.
“It’s about the kids tonight,” said Rose, whose squad dispatched BYU 25-21, 26-24, 25-14. “[Dom] Gonzalez could have easily been the MVP in my opinion for the two matches she played here. [Nia] Grant was fabulous tonight.
“It’s a team victory. That’s one of the things that we’ve been really good throughout the year. It’s been a good team; I wouldn’t say it’s been great fun all the time, but we were good at the things we were good at.”
It was in fact a team effort, but when it counted most, Megan Courtney -- 23 kills against Stanford on Thursday -- and Micah Hancock -- 2014 AVCA Player of the Year -- proved the most valuable.
Courtney, named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament, made a back-line dig, quickly composed herself, then finished a high-flying monster of a kill from the back row to put PSU up 12-7 in the third set. Moments later, Hancock’s service ace, a laser that painted the back line, made it 13-7. BYU never recovered.
Dominque Gonzalez’s service ace, brushing off the top of the net, closed out the final set and a sweep for the Big Ten champions. Courtney, a junior from Dayton, Ohio, finished with 11 kills and 14 digs on a memorable night.
“It feels great,” Courtney said. “Something I never experienced before, but I mean there’s nineteen other girls and the coaching staff that led me to where I am today. So give all the credit to them.
“I just stuck to the game plan that all my coaching staff put hours and hours and hours of work in and [then] my teammates just giving me the great balls to set, telling me where to hit. It’s all to them.”
Hancock was named Player of the Year earlier Saturday to go with her third consecutive AVCA All-America honor earlier in the week. She had 36 assists and 5 digs against the Cougars. Penn State volleyball without the nation’s top setter, for supporters and Hancock, will not be the same.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Hancock, a left-hander who led her team in assists in all 39 matches in 2014. “What’s hitting me now is that I’m not coming back to play with my girls. I’ve been around them for a long time. ... They’re like a family to me.
“So it’s really weird for me right now. I think I’ll wake up tomorrow and be like ‘I want to go back to [Penn] State and train and do prowler and see everyone cry and thrown up and stuff.’ I’m going to miss the Penn State family. It’s weird to be an alum, but it’s a great way to end my career.”
“I’ve played with [Hancock] for three years,” Courtney said. “The girl has heart, she’s competitive. She’s one of the most steady and confident people I’ve ever met.”
Hancock and Courtney were far from alone against an unseeded BYU that knocked off Texas in the semifinals.
Senior Nia Grant had just 5 kills in the semifinals, hitting just .059 on 17 attackswith 9 kills, 4 blocks, and a pair of digs in the finals, playing her best when the Cougars led 19-16 in the second set.
Junior Aiyana Whitney flew all over the place on Saturday. She had 11 kills to tie Courtney for the team high.
AVCA Freshman of the Year Ali Frantti, who was very good against Stanford with 16 kills on Thursday, had 6 kills and 6 digs. Haliegh Washington was added 4 big blocks.
And not to be forgotten, as is usually the case with defensive specialists, Gonzalez had 16 digs, 4 assists, and a kill. Backline mate Lacy Fuller had 6 digs with Kendall Pierce and Lainy Pierce combining for 5 digs.
In other words, just about everyone had a say in the outcome.
Penn State swept 17 of their final 19 opponents in 2014 and finish 36-3.
BYU (30-5) was not at its best on Saturday. Senior Jennifer Hamson had 14 kills, but hit at a .071 clip. Alexa Gray had 9 kills, but as a unit the Cougars hit just .134 with 22 attack errors. Tambre Nobles had 7 kills and 12 digs in her final collegiate contest.
“We had opportunities,” BYU head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “But the deal is these kids didn’t fail, they didn’t lose. They competed and they’re going to grow from this experience and they’re going to be better because of it.
“I told them that in life, unfortunately, the moments that are hard are what build you and you become better from these moments that people perceive to be devastation.”
Rose loses four seniors from this team -- Hancock, Gonzalez, Grant, and Fuller -- all big losses. But with a roster full of contributors expect the Nittany Lions to be just fine in 2015.