In a season filled with big tests, this might be Penn State’s biggest yet.
After a fast start to the NCAA Tournament saw the Nittany Lions sweep both Howard and Syracuse in dominant fashion, Penn State heads west to Palo Alto, California, looking to advance out of the Sweet 16 once again.
That journey begins on Friday night, when the Nittany Lions take on Washington in the round of 16. The Huskies are coming off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament so far, knocking off ninth-seeded Creighton 3-0 last weekend in Omaha, Nebraska.
Offensively, Washington is led by junior outside hitter Kara Bajema, who enters the weekend with 462 kills on the year, including nine against the Big East Champion Blue Jays last time out.
Another name to look out for on the offensive attack for the Huskies is sophomore Samantha Drechsel, who has scored double-digit kills in 10 of her last 11 matches, including a team high 14 against Creighton.
Defensively, junior libero Shayne McPhearson leads Washington with 488 digs.
Throughout history, the Nittany Lions and Huskies have met twice in the NCAA Tournament. The first time, in 2006, Washington defeated Penn State in the Elite Eight. Then, in 2013 the Nittany Lions got their payback, advancing to the NCAA finals with a victory over the Huskies before defeating Wisconsin for the National Championship.
If Penn State defeats Washington on Friday night, the Nittany Lions will turn their attention to the Elite Eight, and a matchup with the winner of Stanford and Washington State.
After going 2-0 against the Cougars in the regular season, top-seeded Stanford is the heavy favorite to win on its home court.
If that’s the case, Penn State and Stanford will meet for the second time this season, with the Nittany Lions looking to avenge their 3-0 loss during the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge in early September.
Stanford was led by 2017 AVCA National Player of the Year Kathryn Plummer in the previous matchup, as her 15 kills were the most of any Cardinal.
She’s continued that trend throughout the rest of the season as well, entering the weekend with 467 kills, hitting an impressive .289 for the season.
If the Nittany Lions expect to earn another Final Four appearance, the road is going to be tough, especially if they meet the top-seeded Stanford Cardinal.