Members of the Penn State women's volleyball team stormed the court, many bursting into tears, as they piled on top of one another following a dramatic comeback that earned the Nittany Lions their third-straight national title.
The Lions (38-0) came back from dropping the first two sets against No. 2 Texas Saturday night to win the final three sets and claim another NCAA championship (22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-13). The win caps a second-straight undefeated season and extends their current winning streak to 102 matches.
"Only one team ends a season on a win, and that's unfortunate," Penn State coach Russ Rose said. "There's so many great stories and so many great teams, and my kids are very grateful."
Penn State was able to overcome strong play by Longhorn attacker Destinee Hooker, who had a career-best 34 kills and a hitting percentage of .316. Penn State senior outside hitter Megan Hodge said Hooker's athletic ability is "out of this world" and it's rare to see a player of caliber.
The Lions were led by Hodge, who tallied 21 kills on a .137 clip in her final collegiate match, and junior Blair Brown and freshman Darcy Dorton each had 13 kills on the night.
Emotionally, Penn State was led by Dorton, who in her first national championship match seemed to remain energized, constantly giving feedback to her teammates and jumping up and down in celebration after every point scored.
The 2-0 deficit was the largest Penn State has faced since the streak began back in the 2007 season. It is only the second time this season the team has had to play to five sets.
"I'm glad the season is over. It was a long season," Rose said. "I kept urging them to understand that they could still do it, and I thought they improved their energy as the match progressed."
This is the second-straight undefeated season for the Lions and the fourth national title the team has won under Rose's tenure.
The Longhorns had not been to the title match since the 1988 season, the first and only time the team has won a national championship. This is the second season in a row the Longhorns (29-2) have lost after taking a 2-0 lead in the NCAA Final Four. They lost in the semi-finals last season to Stanford, 3-2.
For seniors Hodge, Alisha Glass and Kelsey Ream it was an ideal finish to their four years on the team. Glass continued to be strong at the setting position and recorded 12 digs on the night. Ream, who came in to serve the ball only a handful of times, had three digs for the Lions.
Rose said the senior class was one that he felt would be judged more for how they competed at the end of this season more than any other time in their collegiate career.
The players agreed, and Glass said the seniors, as well as the entire team, were proud of overcoming an early deficit to claim the title.
"It's something that's pretty hard to describe," Glass said. "It was our goal, and we're really happy we came out here and got what we wanted."