Time is running out and the season is winding down.
With just more than three weeks remaining in the regular season, the No. 3 Nittany Lions are alike many other teams in the country in the sense that they are competing for a spot in the NCAA tournament. They also share a commonality with a few top programs that control their own fate.
Short of a complete and utter meltdown, the Lions (21-2, 11-1 Big Ten) will be in the tournament competing for the program’s sixth national title at the end of the month into December. But how they get into the postseason is still uncertain.
The Lions own a one-match lead in the Big Ten over Nebraska with eight matches remaining on their regular season slate –– six of them are at home where the team is 9-0 this season. If the squad wins out, it would be crowned Big Ten champions and get the automatic berth into the NCAA tourney. Another loss could put a damper in those hopes of the 17 Lion players.
When No. 10 Minnesota (19-4, 10-2 Big Ten) visits Rec Hall tonight at 8, it will mark the beginning of a four-match home stand for the Lions. Penn State also hosts Wisconsin on Sunday at 2 p.m. before having a few days off.
Head coach Russ Rose is aware that his team cannot be lackluster like it was at times in the match at Nebraska –– a common problem that last season’s team experienced –– if it wants to capture the conference title.
“The teams we have coming in [this weekend] are very good and I thought that weekend [when Penn State played both teams on the road], we played terrific against two teams that are very talented,” Rose said. “We lost at Wisconsin last year, and it probably was the reason we weren’t co-champions of the Big Ten.
“We lost to Minnesota a few years earlier based on the fact that Minnesota is really good, they’ve been in the top ten all year.”
When the Lions visited the Golden Gophers and Badgers earlier this season, the results were the same –– 3-0 clean sweeps. Now as the squads prepare for round two, the Lions are hopeful that they can continue their success at home.
The Nits have not dropped a home match to either the Gophers or Badgers in the last seven tries respectively. If they want to keep that streak intact, the squad realizes that playing consistently will be important this weekend.
“We just have to work on our consistency this weekend,” sophomore outside hitter Nia Grant said. “Against Nebraska we won [the] first game, lost the second, won the third, we just have to work on being consistent, staying focused, and coming out and winning. That’s all we have to do.”