They got a wake-up call, and they answered it.
After sprinting out to a two-set lead against Michigan (16-8, 4-6) on
Saturday, No. 1 Penn State (20-1, 10-0) allowed the match to extend to five sets, nearly fumbling it away.
“Every team is extra fired up when they play us, so you just have to match people’s energy and commitment to the event,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “I thought that [Saturday] we controlled the first two games and then Michigan played a little harder.”
Entering the fifth set tied at two, with the Nittany Lions’ perfect Big Ten record at stake, Penn State regained control of the match and won the set, 15-10, in front of 1,252 fans packed in Cliff Keen Arena.
For the night, the Lions’ 3-2 final score does not quite do justice to the domination they exhibited in the box score.
Penn State tallied seven solo blocks and 28 blocks assists, while Michigan had just two blocks and 17 block assists, and Penn State’s .232 hitting percentage towered above the Wolverines’ .152.
Outside hitter Deja McClendon, who registered 16 kills — including three in the deciding fifth set — said that although Michigan played hard, the Lions somewhat “let up” after the second set.
“I think we came out really strong in the first and second games and then kind of let up,” McClendon said. “Michigan came out really, really hot and started playing a lot better and I don’t think we adjusted quick enough. But after that, we pushed hard through to the end.”
With the win, McClendon, a 2011 All-American, broke out of a mini-slump, as she was hitting just .225 in the previous four matches.
Against Michigan, McClendon registered team-leading numbers in both hitting percentage among those with 15-plus attacks (.387) and digs (29).
McClendon’s team-high 29 digs accounted for 41 percent of the Lions’ total digs. Meanwhile, Michigan’s leader in digs, Ally Sabol, registered 18, or just 23 percent of the Wolverines’ total.
McClendon, who averaged 8.6 digs per match in 2012 entering Saturday, credited the increased performance to everyone but herself.
“Honestly, I think it has to do with the people around me,” McClendon said.
Assistant coach Kaleena Davidson and libero Dominique Gonzalez were the two people McClendon credited for her defensive impact on the court.
While Rose was mum on much of his team for its performance during Saturday’s match, citing a few players as having played “up-and-down”, McClendon got Rose’s full endorsement.
“Deja played well,” Rose said. “I thought she passed and played well throughout the whole match.”
Other key contributors were right-side hitter Ariel Scott, who led the team with 18 kills, and the blocking combination of Megan Courtney and Katie Slay, who registered a combined five solo blocks and 15 block assists.
“We did a really good job of (blocking) and we’ve been doing a lot of work on that in practice,” said Scott, who tallied five block assists.
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