Set up in the air and boom, Katie Slay dropped the hammer.
That was match point of the final game at the Chicago Classic and it sealed the victory for Penn State over host University of Illinois-Chicago on Sunday. The Lions won in straight sets, 3-0, and started a fresh winning streak.
Say what, a new winning streak? What happened to the old one?
Unfortunately for the No. 2 Nittany Lions, they suffered their first setback of the season Saturday night 3-2 to Oregon State. The loss is something that the team looks to use to re-evaluate themselves and improve on.
“A great team is the kind of team that’s going to push through the first three games and be done with a team and I think we learned a lot from that game about ourselves that we need to come out ready to fight,” junior outside hitter Deja McClendon said. “We can’t relax, we can’t let up on the gas, we can’t do that, we don’t have the luxury to do that.”
The Lions hurt themselves with 26 attack errors and 13 serving errors. As a result, they only had a .205 hitting percentage and for the first time this season, had a clip lower than their opponents.
Despite their first blemish of the season, the Lions (7-1, 0-0 Big Ten) did take two of three from their opposition in Chicago. They defeated DePaul 3-0 in the first of two matches on Saturday and ended the weekend on a high note by blanking the Flames.
The squad said they need to come out from the opening tip firing on all cylinders and play with high levels of intensity all match, no matter who is on the other side of the net.
“We can’t underestimate anyone, because we found out this weekend that we’re capable of losing to an unranked team,” junior right side Ariel Scott said. “They played really hard and we need to match that next time.”
Even though the Lions found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard for the first time, they did not allow that trend to continue.
They posted nine aces while registering 35 kills and 14.0 total team blocks en route to a .239 clip against the Flames. Slay, a junior middle hitter, led the Lions with a match-high eight blocks, while teammate sophomore setter Micha Hancock contributed seven blocks and three serving aces.
McClendon and sophomore defensive specialist Dominique Gonzalez, who has served as the team’s libero so far this season, were both named to the Chicago Classic All-Tournament Team.
Even with the accolade, Gonzalez would rather have not faced the bump in the road that the Lions encountered from the Beavers over the weekend.
“Losing sucks, but it does make you stronger. It brings you together, it really helps you focus in on what your goals really are,” Gonzalez said. “Otherwise you just kind of get in a coasting zone and you coast through things and don’t really realize what’s actually standing in front of you, when you can actually achieve so much more. It’s just kind of a reality check sort of thing.”
The Lions will now use this week to prepare for the Penn State Classic when they welcome Duquesne, Eastern Illinois, and Portland to Rec Hall next weekend.