By Tom Shively, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The tension was palpable in Rec Hall Saturday night, as Penn State found itself locked in a battle with visiting Northwestern in the first set.
The margin had never been more than three points in either direction and the Nittany Lions found themselves down 23-21 and on their heels.
Head coach Russ Rose called a timeout, ushering the team over to the bench to talk strategy and allow the Nittany Lions to regroup before the final push in the frame.
"(Northwestern) has competitive bright kids and they were in the right position," Rose said. "We just needed to get a side out and earn a real point. That's what happened."
It turned out all right for the Nittany Lions, as they turned around and won five of the final six points to ultimately take the set, 26-24.
In a set featuring 10 ties and two lead changes, the Nittany Lions came up big when they needed to in order to ensure the start they wanted.
The set ended on an unusual play, as libero Kendall White dug out a Northwestern attack and the ball floated back over the net into open court for the kill. It was her lone kill, but part of a standout first set performance.
won on kind of a fluke play," Rose said. "It's something you can appreciate but
you can't practice."
White finished with a game-high 13 digs on the night, including a couple of remarkable efforts in the third set off of rocket attacks from the Northwestern front line.
The second set was a much less heart-wrenching one for the Penn State faithful, as the Nittany Lions cruised to a 25-14 victory behind dominant performances from Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington up front. Lee and Washington paced the Nittany Lions in kills, tallying 12 and 10, respectively.
Penn State played a perfect set in terms of execution, not committing a single error for the duration of the set. The Wildcats committed six in that same span.
"I thought we played much cleaner for the remainder of the match," Rose said. "Other than the three missed serves in the last game, I thought we played well. I thought we passed well and we had good cross-court defense."
The third set was more of the same, as Penn State handled the Wildcats by an identical 25-14 margin.
The Nittany Lions kept their play clean yet again, only committing four errors.
Symone Abbott was the focal point for the Wildcats coming into the game, as she led the Big Ten in kills at 214. Penn State kept her in check for the most part, allowing 12 kills but only at a .219 hitting clip. The Nittany Lions have now held down Ali Bastianelli of Illinois and Abbott on back to back nights, two of the more elite hitters in the conference.
"(Abbott) is a terrific offensive player," Rose said. "We didn't do a great job stopping people's big slide hitters, but the goal is to win. Sometimes you are willing to give up points somewhere if you're trying to get them somewhere else."
Tori Gorrell put together a consistent performance as well on the Penn State side, converting all seven of her attacks.
"I don't really think about it," Gorrell said. "If I hit well, then I hit well. It all contributes to the team so if I play well, it helps."
The Nittany Lions appear to be back on track after last weekend's hiccups and are now back in the driver's seat in the Big Ten at 13-1 overall and 3-1 in the conference.