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Net Presence Carries Nittany Lions in Sweep

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By Tom Shively, student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was a perfect letdown situation for the top-ranked team in the country. A weeknight home game against a team with only one conference win would have been easy to overlook, especially with a three-game road trip looming.

Instead, Penn State women's volleyball swept Indiana, 25-21, 25-16, 25-16 to push their winning streak to 16 consecutive matches. A large part of the victory came by way of the blocking success, as the Nittany Lions could rely on a timely block anytime Indiana showed signs of momentum.

Anywhere the Hoosiers tried to attack at the net, it was met with a wall of Penn State defenders. The Nittany Lions denied the overmatched Indiana hitters all night, racking up 13 blocks for the match. The Hoosiers hit at a .083 clip, in large part because of the Penn State pressure.

Tori Gorrell and Heidi Thelen were the biggest road blocks for the Hoosiers, combining for 13 blocks. Gorrell credited most of her success tonight to Thelen being a reliable teammate and putting her into positions to succeed. 

"With Heidi being a middle in the pass, it's easier to know what she's doing because we have different arm swings," Gorrell said. "Some outsides do short arm swings, some do long arm swings, but Heidi is very consistent with that on her blocking. I know where she's going and she'll talk to me and push me." 

Gorrell's play didn't go unnoticed by head coach Russ Rose, who commended her as well as Haleigh Washington for their complete efforts on the night.

"I thought Tori played a great match, she hit and blocked really well. Haleigh, as is the norm, hit better and got some blocks," Rose said.

Washington added four blocks and 10 kills, hitting at a .667 clip, leading both teams in kills and percentage.

While the Nittany Lions may have cruised to a win on the surface, nine service errors caught Rose's attention as he stressed the errors as a point to work on for the future. 

"It's a learning experience for the players. I thought we blocked well and served poorly," Rose said.

The Nittany Lions started out slow in the first two sets, trailing 10-7 in the first and 7-5 in the second before turning those frames around.

Penn State played its best volleyball in terms of hitting in the third set, registering a scorching .632 hitting percentage in the final frame, siding out at 87 percent.

Washington's four kills on four attacks set the tone for the Nittany Lions in that third set, and her leadership showed all night even as Penn State was struggling to distance itself from Indiana early in sets.

It's a quality that she has had all year and something critical to this team's success in both the immediate future and the postseason as well.

"As a leader, it's about instilling that sense of urgency, that focus and that drive that everything matters," Washington said. "It's not just when we play, it's when we practice too. We're going to have teams we play in the first round of the tournament that will be serving us tough and hitting really hard. Everybody competes and everybody goes hard." 

Rose also highlighted the importance of putting a quality effort together, as errors and mental mistakes cannot be absorbed if this team wants to make a run at a championship, a very realistic goal as things currently stand.

"Everybody cares in the NCAA Tournament, it's just how much you care," Rose said. "A 'C' effort won't get us very far in the NCAA Tournament. It certainly wasn't a great performance by everybody today but if you're trying to get some momentum going down the stretch, you'd like to think that you'd be able to start your own engines and get out there and do it."

The Nittany Lions travel to Rutgers this weekend before a trip to Minnesota and Wisconsin after Thanksgiving to close out the regular season.

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