By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 1 Nittany Lions don't like to lose. In fact, for Penn State's Deja McClendon, just the thought of losing is what drives her to keep pressing when the match is on the line.
After a season-opening loss to Oregon on Friday, McClendon was motivated to
power through any situation in order to win on her home court - even when she
and her teammates trailed by two sets the following evening against No. 2 USC
in Rec Hall.
"I think I just didn't want to lose," said McClendon. "The feeling of losing at home is horrible and I don't ever want to do that again."
The sophomore outside hitter did everything in her power on Saturday night to make sure her team walked off of their home court as winners. After losing their first match of the season for the first time since 2005, a young squad of Nittany Lions reminded their fans that they never say die.
On Saturday, the Lions clawed to a five-set comeback victory over the No. 2 Trojans that had more than 6,100 Penn State faithful on their feet.
USC came out strong at the net and the Lions committed 17 errors in the first two sets, dropping both games 25-21. In the third set, Penn State jumped ahead early with a 7-2 lead and won out 25-20 behind a strong hitting percentage of .443. The Lions dug themselves a hole in the fourth, trailing the Trojans 16-8 at one point, but timely blocking and a 12-4 run in Penn State favor put the home team in position to win the match tying set 25-22.
Sending the match into a fifth and final set, Penn State came out swinging and jumped to an 11-2 lead behind a solid team effort. The Women of Troy answered back with a four-point stretch, but four more Nittany Lion kills secured the win for the defending national champions.
Penn State head coach Russ Rose said that those spectators and loyal fans were what made the difference on Saturday.
"It was the best crowd for a women's volleyball match that I have seen in 33 years so I want to just take the first sentence to applaud the crowd and the student section and the band especially for keeping the building alive," said Rose.
A student section of more than 2,000 stormed the court after McClendon dished out the match-winning kill, surrounding the Nittany Lions in celebration of what was truly a comeback to remember.
Rose utilized 13 of the 17 Lions on the roster this weekend, trying to further solidify a cohesive lineup. The Penn State head coach still has some holes to fill but with such a young squad of athletes roaring back in fine fashion in their second match of the season, Rose said he was rather pleased.
"I thought a couple of people stepped up in a huge way and it was a nice collective team effort so I feel a lot better than I did yesterday obviously," said Rose. "Even when we were down 2-0 I thought we were playing a lot harder and we were playing better than we were [Friday] and that's what you have to do in a long season like this."
McClendon led the Lions with a match and career-high 25 kills, followed by sophomore middle hitter Katie Slay with 12 and freshman outside hitter Nia Grant who racked up 11 of her own in her collegiate debut.
Freshman Micha Hancock settled in nicely at setter for the evening and proved
to be a powerful threat to the opposing team. Hancock tallied 45 assists and
seven kills, recording an impressive six service aces with her booming lefty
Hancock said that her night in Rec Hall was unlike any she'd experienced before.
"I got chills during the match, like when we'd get a good play," said Hancock. "This is only my second Penn State match - I've never been here, I've never watched a match here so [Friday] night was my first and the second one was just a good fight, it was a good win for us."
Hancock replaced junior Kristin Carpenter at setter, and Carpenter walked onto the floor sporting the libero jersey to begin Saturday night's match. Although this was a surprising move to some, Coach Rose said that it was the best option for his team.
"I think [Carpenter]'s our best ball-handler so I just made the decision to take the setter who won the national championship last year and make her the libero and put in the freshman," said Rose.
Thirty-three seasons and five national championships later, Russ Rose seems to know how to guide a talented group of athletes to a tradition of winning.
The youthful Nittany Lions travel to Pittsburgh on Friday to take on Miami (Ohio) and Pittsburgh.