In the women’s volleyball circuit, this was close to a regular season national championship.
A crowd of 4,809 packed Rec Hall Saturday night to watch the final contest of the third annual Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic between No. 4 Penn State and No. 2 Texas.
The Nittany Lions toppled the Longhorns in three straight sets.
“I don’t think it was the cleanest match, but it was a nice win,” said Russ Rose, Penn State head coach. “We played well. It’s not the best we can play, but it was how we played today against a team that if you don’t play well, they can bounce you pretty good.”
The Lions rushed out to a lead, winning the first match of the night, 25-22. Penn State’s Deja McClendon was one of the Lions’ game-changers, being especially active late in the match and delivering the 24th and 25th points for Penn State on kills assisted by Micha Hancock.
The Lions’ hot start carried into the second match, when Penn State raced out to a short-lived 13-10 lead. After tying the second match at 14, the Longhorns’ Khat Bell used finesse to push the ball past the Lions’ defense, giving Texas a 15-14 lead. Texas, unable to cash in on the momentum shift following Bell’s kill, called timeout when Penn State took the lead, 20-19. From there, it was a wrap, as Penn State won the set, 25-21.
Prior to the third match starting, the two teams had already competed in an exhausting two sets - evident by 27 ties and nine lead changes in just over an hour of play. Following Friday night’s marathon win against Stanford - which clocked in at more than three hours of play - a match lasting less than two hours would be ideal for the Lions.
Late in the third match, Penn State’s Katie Slay and Hancock assisted for a block to put the Lions up 20-18. Texas followed by calling a timeout, just five points away from spoiling their undefeated record of 5-0.
Following the timeout, Slay and McClendon combined for a block, giving Penn State a 21-18 lead and propelling the entire gym to its collective feet. For the 24th point, McClendon delivered a kill from far south side of the court which flew to the far north side of the gym. Penn State then won the match 25-22, behind the strength of team leaders - Ariel Scott, kills (12); Lacey Fuller, digs (9); Slay, blocks (4).
This weekend marks the first time Penn State went undefeated in the Big Four. Dominique Gonzalez helped the Lions’ cause, too, adding in three digs from the libero position.
“They’re great teams, this is always a great tournament and this is a good win for us, but we always say the season doesn’t stop now,” Gonzalez said. “We have to get better every day and work on things we
need to work on.”
What’s next for Gonzalez and Penn State is out-of-conference play before starting their Big 10 schedule on September 19.
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