By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Russ Rose's number-one ranked Nittany Lions defeated the ninth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in four sets (25-19, 25-22, 23-25, 25-16) Wednesday night to improve to 20-1 (10-1 Big Ten) on the season.
"I thought it was a typical Big Ten match," Rose said. "These were two really good teams that were playing hard throughout the match."
Penn State's dominant presence at the net was the difference early on in the match, as the Nittany Lions recorded seven blocks in the opening set.
A front line of seniors Haleigh Washington, Heidi Thelen, Ali Frantti, and Simone Lee all contributed in holding the Badgers to just a .022 hitting percentage through one set. Penn State, however, had offensive struggles of their own, as they hit just .125 in the opening set as a team.
When Wisconsin scored four of their first five points off of Penn State hitting errors, it seemed like the Nittany Lions would be in for a long night offensively perhaps having to rely on their blocking and defense to escape with a victory.
With the Nittany Lions trailing 16-9, Rose opted to make a move that changed the entire match. Redshirt junior Nia Reed entered the match for Frantti, who at the time had just two kills on 17 attempts with four errors.
Reed provided the offensive spark the Nittany Lions needed and then some, turning in eight kills on nine attempts in just the second set, including four in a row to clinch a close second frame with a 25-22 win.
"Coach is always telling me to be ready," Reed said. "As a designated hitter, I'm always ready, so the game plan was just to go up, go in and take big swings."
Reed would find the floor only three more times for the rest of the match, but finished with a career high 11 kills.
"Nia is a tank," Washington said. "She goes into practice everyday and works so hard. To see a result like that is just phenomenal. You love just seeing your teammates succeed."
Also with a career night was Lee, who made her impact defensively Wednesday night with 18 digs. Sophomore libero Kendall White also chipped in a game-high 21 digs to anchor the Penn State back row.
"It's great seeing your teammates succeed, especially when you have such great passing out of Simone, so it's great to see Simone pass well," Washington said.
The third Nittany Lion to turn in a career day on Wednesday night was Washington. Early in the fourth set the senior middle blocker became just the seventh Nittany Lion in Penn State women's volleyball history to reach 1,000 career kills and 500 career blocks.
Although Penn State hit just .241 for the match, the Nittany Lions sided out on nearly 63 percent of their attempts, compared to the Badgers side out rate of just 52.6 percent. Wisconsin also committed 15 service errors to just five for the Nittany Lions.
The Nittany Lions will head back out on the road on Saturday night for a matchup with Illinois. Rose and his team will look to knock off the Illini for the second time this year and remain at the top of the Big Ten.