LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It was not how Deja McClendon dreamed her homecoming would end, without a national championship.
The Louisville native was psyched all season about the opportunity to play in her hometown, not once, but twice.
The No. 1 Nittany Lions (33-3) began their season at the Active Ankle Challenge in Louisville in late August with three clean sweeps over Morehead State, Western Kentucky, and Louisville.
After earning a 29-2 record during the regular season and a 19-1 mark in conference play — one that rewarded the Lions with a Big Ten championship — the hope of accomplishing their goal of winning a national championship was still in the realm of possibilities.
Four more wins, including a 3-1 win over No. 8 Minnesota put the Lions in the national semifinals for the fifth time in the past six seasons, and McClendon had a chance to win her second national championship in front of her family and friends.
Unfortunately for the Lions, the No. 5 Oregon Ducks had other ideas and played spoiler to McClendon’s homecoming. However, Oregon head coach Jim Moore was not certain how his squad pulled off the upset victory.
“Penn State’s awesome. I have no idea how they won that match because they were really good,” Moore said. “Russ [Rose] is the best, and so a lot of congratulations to them, and they are a phenomenal team, but I really like these guys sitting to my right [Alania Bergsma, Liz Brenner and Katherine Fischer]. They’re special, and I think tonight they proved how tough they were.”
McClendon did not have her best offensive performance of the season, but still managed 14 kills and nine digs on the night.
She got going early with three kills and four digs in the first set, the only one the Lions would claim. In a marathon second set, McClendon lead the squad with six kills and also contributed three digs but could not help the Lions take a 2-0 lead.
In the remaining two sets, McClendon kind of tapered off, only adding five kills and two digs to the squad’s efforts.
“It’s such a hard thing for Deja to be playing at home. She wants to do so well,” Rose said. “I thought she had some flashes where she was doing really well, and then the fourth game she kind of fizzled and burned and got aced two or three times and had a couple hitting errors. Her desire to want to do well is very high and [Oregon] was an opponent that wasn’t going to allow that to happen.”
McClendon and her fellow junior teammates have already won a national championship as freshmen. However, they will have to wait another season for the opportunity to earn their second crown — one that if they win, would send them out the same way they entered the program, as national champions.