NCAA Volleyball Tournament Central: Lions Head to Regionals

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The top-seeded and Big Ten champion Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (31-2) travels to West Lafayette, Ind., for a showdown with 16th-seeded Kentucky (22-10) in the NCAA Regional Semifinals on Friday at 5 p.m. (Live coverage on ESPN3).

8386434.jpegThe winner of the Penn State-Kentucky match will move on to face either host Purdue (23-10) or eighth-seeded Minnesota (26-7) on Saturday in the Regional Final at 4 p.m. live on ESPNU.  The Nittany Lions swept the Gophers at Minneapolis and defeated them 3-1 in Rec Hall.  The Lions swept the Boilers in Happy Valley and defeated them 3-1 in Mackey Arena on Nov. 17.

Penn State enters the weekend after sweeping Binghamton and Bowling Green inside Rec Hall in the opening two rounds of the tournament.  The Lions have won 30 of their last 32 sets.  Penn State enters the weekend attacking at a .310 clip, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Ariel Scott (3.64 kills/set) and Deja McClendon (3.25 kills/set).

Since the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament began its current 64-team setup in 1998, the Nittany Lions have advanced to the third round of the tournament all 15 years.  Penn State has played in the Regional Final match in 11 of the previous 14 seasons.

The Big Ten Conference has been tremendous throughout the 2012 season.  Having six teams remaining in the draw during the second weekend of the tournament speaks volumes about the depth of the Big Ten.  In addition to Penn State, Minnesota and Purdue in the West Lafayette Regional, Nebraska plays Washington in the Omaha Regional and Michigan and Michigan State will collide in the Berkeley Regional on Friday.

The NCAA field has been trimmed to 16 teams.  Penn State's quest for a return to the National Semifinals goes through Mackey Arena this weekend.  First up is a clash with 16th-seeded Kentucky on Friday.



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Regional Semifinals Statistical Rundown

 

Penn State

Kentucky

Record

31-2

22-10

RPI

2

19

Team Hitting Percentage

.310

.255

Opponent Hitting Percentage

.127

.180

Blocks Per Set

2.9 per set

2.5 per set

Top Attacker

Scott - 3.6 kills/set

Billings/Wilkerson - 3.0 kills/set

Top Blocker

Slay - 1.35 blocks/set

Morgan - 1.0 blocks/set

Top Defensive Specialist

Gonzalez - 3.54 digs/set

Klefot - 3.92 digs/set



 

Minnesota

Purdue

Record

26-7

23-10

RPI

9

29

Hitting Percentage

.301

.248

Opponent Hitting Percentage

.212

.191

Blocks Per Set

2.20

2.36

Top Attacker

Harms - 4.00 kills/set

Turner - 4.42 kills/set

Top Blocker

Dixon - 1.03 blocks/set

Fisher - 1.07 blocks/set

Top Defensive Specialist

Wittman - 2.82 digs/set

Cramer - 4.18 digs/set

 


Feature Story Corner
Top-Ranked Lions Takeoff for Regional Semifinals
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's volleyball team flew out of State College on Wednesday evening and landed in West Lafayette, Ind., around 7 p.m. in preparation of its NCAA Regional Semifinal matchup against No. 16 Kentucky at Purdue's Mackey Arena.

8386438.jpegPenn State's postseason run marks the 32nd consecutive year that head coach Russ Rose has led his team to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Rose and his team ended their run against UCLA in the same round that they're competing in this weekend.

Rose said that Kentucky will be anything but an easy team to play, but he's confident that his Lions are ready to compete.

"They're a team that, if they were in the Big Ten, they'd be successful in the Big Ten," Rose said of the Wildcats. "It's just the whole getting used to the surroundings and it's how you play, not who you play."

Junior outside hitter Deja McClendon has already made two trips to the NCAA Tournament in her time as a Nittany Lion. She said that traveling away from her home court can be tough during the postseason, but that she said the team is focused on the task at hand.

"We're so used to Rec Hall and we're so used to our fans but at the same time this is what we've been working for and we've done pretty well playing outside of our gym so far this year," said McClendon.

The Lions played in Mackey Arena less than a month ago and defeated Purdue in four sets. In the 2012 season, Penn State is holds an 11-1 record outside of Rec Hall.

Freshman outside hitter Megan Courtney said that she's feeling a little bit of pressure heading into her first postseason match on the road. But she said the in the weeks leading up to the trip, her teammates have been helping her through it all.

"It's just another volleyball game," said Courtney. "Inside the lines is where you've got to play it and that's what they've been telling me - to just focus."

Courtney said that she's been following the blue and white program for years, but never imagined what it'd feel like to be a part of a winning tradition come tournament time.

"Growing up, aspiring to be a Penn State Nittany Lion and watching them dominate the sport of college volleyball was just amazing," said Courtney. "Being able to experience that yourself is totally different. I embrace every moment I can of it and it's been awesome."

Penn State, which is 77-26 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, is expecting a challenging match against Kentucky.  The Lions enter the round of 16 with confidence, largely due to the high-level volleyball they have been playing in recent weeks.  Sophomore Nia Grant said that her team's postseason success in the past years resonates with their tough work ethic and hard work every week in practice.

Grant said that she and her teammates set out to win every set they play no matter what the circumstance.

"We have the no-mercy mentality," said Grant. "We want to go in there and we want to win and we want to leave. No messing around."


Follow GoPSUsports.com Media Specialist Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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