UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - We began the top five countdown of the best games from 2009-'10 with a national championship competition. And we are going to finish the countdown with another national title bout.
Staring at the brink of history, the top-ranked Nittany Lion women's volleyball team headed to Tampa for its third consecutive trip to the national semifinals.
The Lions weathered Hawai'i en route to a clash that was being billed as a dream matchup for the volleyball world. No. 1 Penn State was slated to meet No. 2 Texas in match for all the marbles at St. Pete Times Forum. Let's head to Tampa. The countdown has reached No. 1.
December 19, 2009 - NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship - Tampa, Fla.
A match that was built as a dream matchup did not disappoint inside St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday night. Penn State (38-0) and Texas (29-2) occupied the top two spots in women's volleyball throughout 2009. It was only fitting that the best two teams in the sport would decide the national championship in a dramatic fifth set.
After falling into a two-set deficit for the first time during the infamous 102-match winning streak, National Player of the Year Megan Hodge willed the Nittany Lions back into contention. With their backs to the wall, the Lions mustered back-to-back set victories to send the national title bout into a fifth set.
Texas built a 7-5 advantage in the 15-point decisive set, but Hodge drilled a kill and combined with Fatima Balza on a block to knot the score at 7-7. A Lion service error tied the score for the 10th time in the fifth set at 12-12. Darcy Dorton stepped up with a huge kill. A Texas attack attempt then sailed long, giving Penn State a pair of match points (14-12).
After a Texas timeout, the Longhorns drew within one, but Hodge blasted a ball off the hands of the Texas libero to clinch an improbable comeback, record third straight national championship, second straight perfect season and two fist pumps and smile from legendary head coach Russ Rose.
Texas outside hitter Destinee Hooker was astonishing for the Longhorns. Finishing with 34 kills, Hooker illustrated why she is one of the best volleyball talents in America. But the No. 1 Penn State women's volleyball team etched its place in history with an epic 3-2 (22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-13) victory over No. 2 Texas to become the first team ever to win three straight national championships.
The level of play in the latter stages of the fourth and fifth sets was as good as anyone will see in college athletics. Both teams left every ounce of their bodies on the floor. The image of Alyssa D'Errico diving to the floor point after point is something Penn State fans will never forget. This match has been re-aired numerous times since December, and it is almost impossible to turn it off.
It is hard to put all of the program's accomplishments into perspective. The 102-match winning streak was in doubt against Texas, but Penn State's collection of talent was not going to lose. It is easy to write that, but if you watched the match, you know what we mean. Penn State faced a 2-0 deficit for the first time in the winning streak, but never showed any signs of nerves. Seeing the demeanor of the Lions when faced with adversity speaks volumes about Coach Rose.
The streak lives on. Penn State will head into 2010 with a 102-match winning streak, but more importantly, the Lions will be the three-time defending champions. An incredible night in Tampa ended with an epic Penn State comeback for the program's fourth title.
We have reached the end of our summer countdown of the top five games from 2009-'10. As always, it is fun to look back on a terrific sports season. Let's hope 2010-'11 provides Nittany Lion fans with more great memories.
All-Sports Blog Top Five Games from 2009-'10
1. NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship - No. 1 Penn State 3, No. 2 Texas 2