Leading by nearly double digits in the second set, it appeared as if Penn State was going to take a commanding lead in the match and in the Big Ten.
Up 18-10 on the road at Nebraska on Sunday, the Lions had quieted the more than 4,000 Cornhusker fans and it seemed as if everything was under control.
Then something changed.
A combination of Lion errors and Husker attacks and aces allowed the home team to rally back in the set and eventually knot things up at 20-20.
The then No. 1-ranked Lions had three set-point opportunities, but could not shut the door. Both squads fought back and forth exchanging points, until junior outside hitter Deja McClendon committed an attack error and the Huskers won a marathon second set, 32-30.
It was a lost opportunity and coach Russ Rose knew that his team had not capitalized on a chance to take the crowd out of the game and force the Huskers to play mistake-free the rest of the way.
“I think when we had big leads, the crowd wasn’t very instrumental,” Rose said. “They were fighting and we had flashes of kids at two or three times that lost focus. You try to weather the storm and I thought we could’ve won the match in three [sets]. We were serving to win the second game, but Nebraska plays hard, it’s a program that has terrific talent.”
Ultimately, the Lions fell to the Huskers, 3-2, despite having won the third set 25-19. They could not put Nebraska away in the fourth and dropped the fifth stanza 15-10 to suffer their second loss of the season –– both away from Rec Hall.
Even with the loss, the No. 3 Lions (21-2, 11-1 Big Ten) still find themselves in first place in the conference. Ironically enough, Ohio State helped out the Lions over the weekend by defeating the Huskers, 3-1, on Friday night.
That was the Huskers’ second conference loss of the season and because of it, still allows the blue and white to remain one game up in the conference.
The Lions control their own fate with only eight matches remaining –– six of them at home. If the squad can win out the rest of the season, it will bring another Big Ten regular season championship to Happy Valley.
“I still think that we have a good chance [of winning Big Ten], but it’s in our control so we have to make sure we manage ourselves,” sophomore outside hitter Nia Grant said. “We have to worry about what we have to do.”
The Lions will look to regroup as they prepare for a four-match home stand that starts with No. 10 Minnesota on Friday night, keeping in mind they cannot slack with crucial games in the coming weeks.
“Honestly, it all comes down to what we do,” McClendon said. “We have to work hard every day at practice and all the teams in the Big Ten are extremely competitive. We just can’t give them opportunities.”
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