Down 14-10 against No. 21 Illinois and facing quadruple match point, the No. 1 Nittany Lions never stopped believing.
It was not a good spot to be in to say the least, especially on the road in a hostile environment against a top 25 team, but the Lions managed to fight back and ended up winning the fifth set 18-16, giving them the 3-2 victory.
But how was the squad able to stare adversity in the face, only to slap it away?
They rallied around the Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin” that has become very popular at Penn State sporting events. It was made possible by the alert true freshman Megan Courtney, who heard a familiar tune buzzing in the stands.
“Honestly, the band at Illinois was playing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ and I actually noticed it, so in the huddle I said ‘Hey guys do you hear the song? Believe in the song, it says don’t stop believing, live up to it, do that exactly what the song is say,’” Courtney said. “It could have been a variety of things, but I think just coming together as a team, all of us believed it so I think that helped.”
The Lions (16-1, 6-0 Big Ten) victory over the Illini marked only the third time this season that the squad needed to play five sets. They won two of the three, with the lone loss coming to Oregon State at the Chicago Classic back in early September.
Since that lone blunder, the Lions have rattled off 10 straight wins and have already surpassed their highest winning streak of the season from a year ago –– a seven-game winning streak that the 2011 squad achieved twice.
They also defeated the Illini for the first time in their previous three attempts. That victory helped the Lions to prove to themselves that they are not the same team as they were last season –– something that was important for the players this year to learn.
“They’re not the team they were last year and we could be because we lost some really good players,” coach Russ Rose said. “Whether the team is better, maybe you could look at it that over their body of work. Certainly I’m sure they were tired of hearing the announcements that Illinois had beaten them two times in a row.”
Along with the losses of Katie Kabbes and Megan Shifflett to gradation and the transfers of Darcy Dorton and Ali Longo to the College of Charleston and the University of Hawaii, respectively, also came four new additions to the 2012 Lions. Just one of those additions was the 6-foot-2 outside hitter Courtney.
Despite only having 17 collegiate volleyball matches under her belt, Courtney is proving herself to be a vocal motivator on the team and she used her competitive nature to help spark the victory over the Illini. Her friend Liz McMahon played for the blue and orange and there was no way that Courtney wanted to give her friend bragging rights.
“[Megan’s] definitely a motivator,” sophomore setter Micha Hancock said. “She likes to be really in tune with what’s going on, especially playing Illinois. She has a friend on the team and she said ‘I have a bone to pick with them, let’s beat them’ and it was cool to see her come in and want to do that.”