LOUISVILLE — Penn State captured the first set, 25-21, and things were looking positive.
Then the second set came.
The No. 1 Lions (33-2) quickly found themselves in a hole and that made it difficult from the beginning. After being down 3-0, sophomore outside hitter Nia Grant gave the Lions their first point 3-1. Oregon mounted a 9-4 lead.
Things then went from bad to worse — sophomore setter Micha Hancock was down on the court and the KFC Yum! Center fell silent. The Big Ten Setter of the Year was forced to head to the bench to be evaluated and senior setter Kristin Carpenter came into the match.
It was clear that the Lions were not comfortable with the sudden change as they struggled to establish a rhythm. Carpenter’s solo stuff made the set score 11-5 in favor of Oregon, but it also pumped up the Lions who looked a little off. Both squads went back and forth and Hancock eventually re-entered the match with her team trailing 16-9. In her time off the court, the Ducks enjoyed a 7-5 advantage.
The Ducks’ lead quickly grew to 20-10 before the Lions got their feet underneath themselves and started to get back into a groove. They went on a 7-0 run before the Ducks answered with a point of their own.
Soon the Ducks were up 24-22 and had two set point opportunities, but the Lions would not quit there. Thanks to a Deja McClendon kill and two double blocks by Ariel Scott and Grant, the Lions had built a 25-24 lead of their own. Both squads went back and forth from there, each with chances to put the set away.
Knotted at 28-28, sophomore defensive specialist Lacey Fuller went back to serve, but committed a service error. With a 29-28 lead, the Ducks finally capitalized and ended the set, winning 30-28.
The match is now tied at 1-1 and whoever can take two of the next three sets will face No. 3 Texas in the national championship match Saturday night.