BYU no match for Penn State; Nittany Lions grab seventh championship
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Fifth-seeded Penn State (36-3) swept BYU (30-5) 25-21, 26-24, 25-14 Saturday evening at Chesapeake Arena to capture its seventh NCAA national championship in program history, claiming its title in six of the past eight years, the Nittany Lions now have more national championships than any other women's volleyball program.
Having not lost an NCAA title match since 1998, the straight set victory marks the third time that Penn State has swept its national final opponent. The win is also the first time that PSU has won back-to-back crowns since 2009-10, when the Nittany Lions completed the second half of its historic string of four consecutive from 2007-10.
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Redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney and junior Megan Courtney led the offense with 11 kills each. Courtney added 14 digs for her second consecutive double-double performance, while also leading the blocking until with five blocks, including two solo stuffs.
Courtney earned 2014 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors for her standout performances against both the Cougars and top-ranked Stanford in the NCAA national semifinals.
Senior Nia Grant finished second on the team with nine kills and four blocks, while freshman Ali Frantti added six kills and six blocks.
Senior AVCA DI Player of the Year Micha Hancock paced the team to a .233 hitting clip, dishing out 36 assists to go along with five digs, one block and a service ace. Both Hancock and Frantti joined Courtney on the NCAA Tournament All-Tournament squad.
Senior Dominique Gonzalez anchored the defensive effort with a match-high 16 digs, while senior Lacey Fuller contributed six.
Trailing by three early in the first set, 6-3, Whitney sparked a 3-0 run with a kill to tie the frame, 6-6. BYU and Penn State continued to trade points, 7-7, until a pair of kills from Hancock and Washington lifted the Nittany Lions ahead by two, 9-7. An attack error trimmed the lead to one, 9-8, but Penn State regrouped with a 6-3 stretch to enter the media timeout with a four-point advantage, 15-11.
The Nittany Lions came out of the break with a block, 16-11, but the Cougars chipped away at the lead with a 6-3 run to arrive within two, 19-17. A kill from Grant and a BYU attack error brought PSU back by four, 21-17, forcing the Cougars to call a timeout. A PSU attack error out of the break made it 21-18, but Penn State followed with a 3-1 spurt to arrive at set point, 24-18. BYU held off two attempts before Courtney put down a kill to secure a 25-21 win in the first set.
Leading by one, 3-2, in set two, a trio of kills from the Cougars lifted BYU ahead, 5-3. The Nittany Lions responded with a kill from Whitney and an ace from Grant to knot the stanza, 5-5. Penn State and BYU continued to keep it close, until the Cougars pulled away from a 7-7 tie with a 5-1 stretch to go up by four, 12-8, prompting PSU to call a timeout.
Penn State could not find momentum out of the break as BYU managed to maintain at least a two-point lead throughout the second half of the frame. Down by two, 19-17, PSU rallied with a 3-1 strike to tie the score, 20-20, causing the Cougars to take a timeout. PSU and BYU continued to battle point-for-point, until a kill from Whitney broke open a 23-23 tie to put Penn State at set point, 24-23. The Cougars held off two attempts before Hancock and Washington posted up for a block to lock up set two, 26-24, giving the Nittany Lions a 2-0 advantage in the match.
Holding on to a slim lead, 4-2, in set three, Penn State used a 3-2 stretch to widen the margin to three, 7-4, causing BYU to call a timeout. The Cougars came out of the break with a kill, but Penn State responded with a 6-3 streak capped off with an ace from Hancock to make it 13-7, forcing BYU to call a timeout.
Penn State continued to roll, using an 8-2 streak to push the lead to well into double digits, 20-9. BYU looked to halt the momentum with a kill, 20-10, but Penn State cruised to a 25-14 win in the third set with a 5-4 stretch to complete the sweep.