Lofty expectations had it billed as a high-level, must-see volleyball match.
A crowd of 4,193, including Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and former football coach and current athletic director Tom Osborne, packed into Nebraska Coliseum for Sunday’s match between No. 1 Penn State (21-2, 11-1) and No. 4 Nebraska (18-3, 10-2).
The crowd got what it expected, as the Nittany Lions lost a tight, thrilling match to the Cornhuskers, 3-2 (25-12, 30-32, 25-19, 23-25, 10-15).
The Big Ten Network showed Heineman throwing his hands in the air at the end of the second set — a marathon that the Cornuskers came back to win after falling behind early, 20-10.
“That was a heck of a game to win there, so we’re back in it,” Nebraska coach John Cook told The Big Ten Network after the second set.
On the opposite spectrum, the Lions’ Nia Grant responded to why the Lions could not put away the fifth set victory.
“I’m really not sure [why Penn State lost the second set],” Grant said. “It just comes down to buckling down and handling business, and we didn’t finish.”
From there, both teams put on a virtual clinic of how to play like championship-caliber volleyball teams.
After trading wins in the third and fourth sets, a sudden death fifth set was forced.
In a race to the fifteenth point, the Lions came out of the gates strong, with setter Micha Hancock setting up kills for right side Ariel Scott and outside Deja McClendon to give Penn State a quick 2-0 lead.
And just about five minutes later, the Lions were in trouble.
McClendon was charged with an attack error after her attempted kill was blocked by Hayley Thramer and Lauren Cook, giving the Huskers a 10-7 lead, an advantage they would not let slip away.
The Lions ultimately lost the match, 3-2, but still remain atop the Big Ten conference, having already defeated Nebraska in Rec Hall earlier this season.
The biggest difference between that match and yesterday’s match may have been Penn State being fatigued, according to coach Russ Rose.
“I thought when we played at home, we played harder and the kids were fresher,” Rose said.
After the game, Rose also questioned his players’ toughness as a reason they lost.
“Maybe the kids will get tougher, maybe they won’t get tougher,” Rose said. “If they don’t like losing, they’ll get tougher. If their parents and boyfriends and everybody tells them ‘It’s okay, [you] tried your hardest’ then you’re missing the point of sports.”
Rose placed the blame and burden of the loss on himself, saying he wished he had prepared his team and coaching staff better leading up to Sunday.
Although the final score favors the Huskers, the box score tells a different story.
McClendon led all players in kills (20), Hancock led all players in assists (61) and Penn State’s Dominique Gonzalez led all players in digs (29) – in addition to the Lions outhitting the Huskers, .237 to .171.
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