On a night when Penn State honored its two senior players in their last regular season match at Rec Hall, it was a freshman that helped them go out on a positive note.
With an array of huge blocks and kills, Megan Courtney made sure that the celebration did not stop after the pregame ceremonies, helping No. 1 Penn State to a sweep of Michigan State on Saturday night.
Courtney led the Nittany Lions with nine kills and did not commit an error, and also assisted on five blocks and added a solo block as well.
Coach Russ Rose called it the best match she has played for Penn State.
“I don’t know what’s good in his eyes but if he says it is then I guess it is,” Courtney said. “A win is a good match for me.”
Along with the performance by Courtney, Katie Slay contributed eight kills and assisted on seven blocks, three of them with Courtney.
As a team, Penn State played a clean game, hitting .304 and only totaling seven errors. Michigan State, a team that Rose considers very good offensively, hit .029 with 30 errors, allowing the Lions to get by without much of a struggle.
Courtney joins Slay and the other veterans that are collectively rolling with the biggest games nearing.
“Megan had a great match and it’s exciting because you want to peak at the end of the season and have momentum going into the postseason,” Slay said.
Although juniors Ariel Scott and Deja McClendon hit .250 and .091 respectively on Saturday, Rose is pleased that other parts of the offense are coming together despite some struggles.
At season’s end, Slay and Nia Grant are two of the top four leaders in hitting percentage in the Big Ten, and Micha Hancock led the conference in assists.
The Lions hope these pieces can remain together as they shift their attention to the coming NCAA tournament, which will prove to test the discipline of the young team.
Rose knows the nuances of the NCAA tournament, and wants the team to stay focused as they reenter tournament play.
“Everything changes,” Rose said. “The balls change, the protocol changes, everybody gets uptight about things that are insignificant in my mind. Let the kids play. The tournament is about the kids.”
But the players know the bar has been set high, and with only five players remaining that played in the 2010 championship game, there is plenty of pressure on this team to succeed.
Rose wants to make sure the team’s determination does not waver at this point, and he continues to push them to reach the heights that his past teams achieved.
“I’m hard on these guys all the time,” Rose said. “They won’t learn if I just say ‘Oh you guys played OK, that’s really nice. I don’t want you to be mad at me, let’s go get some ice cream.’
“They may not like what’s going on when they’re here but I think they understand what’s going on when they leave.”
Penn State earned the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament and will face Binghamton University on Friday at Rec Hall.