By Will Desautelle,
GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Top seeded Penn State continued its postseason run Friday afternoon, advancing to the NCAA regional finals with a straight set win against Missouri.
While the Nittany Lions had their moments of struggle during the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, Penn State ultimately defeated Howard and Pittsburgh in four sets each. Come regionals though, Penn State dominated in nearly every aspect of the match to complete their first sweep of the postseason against the Tigers (25-17, 25-18, 25-19).
Seniors Simone Lee and Ali Frantti led the way for the Nittany Lions with 15 kills and 11 kills, respectively. Senior Haleigh Washington also chipped in nine kills, while Tori Gorrell had five kills and three blocks. Lee, Washington, and Gorrell all hit .500 for the match, while Frantti was right behind the trio at .455.
Despite the Tigers being unseeded in the NCAA Tournament, they entered the matchup playing their best volleyball of the season defeating No. 19 Kansas and No. 16 Wichita State to advance to the NCAA regionals. Penn State head coach Russ Rose and the Nittany Lions did not take them lightly.
"To beat two ranked teams to get here is a great recognition of a strong team and program and we knew that we were going to have to play well to advance," Rose said.
One of the top storylines coming from the match was the disparity in hitting percentage, which was in heavy favor of the Nittany Lions. Penn State hit an efficient .432 for the match, while Missouri hit just .212.
A big reason for the efficiency came in Penn State's aggression from behind the service line.
"I think you always have to serve tough especially get to the tournament," Lee said. "It's just something that we have to do. We work on serving every single day, so we should be able to serve tough in big matches like we did this afternoon."
The aggressive serving put Missouri frequently out of system throughout the match, which prevented them from getting top hitters Kira Larson and Alyssa Munlyn as involved as they normally are. Larson finished with eight kills on 18 attempts, while Munlyn found the floor just once on 12 attempts.
"If you don't serve tough you're going to be at the mercy of the other team's offense," Rose said. "Nobody gets this far in the tournament without having good offensive players. The impact of the serve was great, but the most important component was we only had one service error."
Four different Nittany Lions recorded at least one ace, including two each from setters Abby Detering and Bryanna Weiskircher. Penn State had six total aces to just one error all afternoon.
"That was really the best part of the equation from where I was sitting because when you're getting good pressure and not making mistakes it certainly enhances your chances of being in the game," Rose said.
While the sweep looks nice, the Nittany Lions still believe there is still plenty of room for improvement for tomorrow's regional final matchup.
"Our passing should have been a lot better tonight, but we got lucky with some plays," Frantti said. "When we go to the elite eight that can't happen, so we've got to clean up some of the errors that we're making."
Regardless of result, tomorrow will be the last match at Rec Hall for the seniors on this team. The opportunity for a final outing at Rec Hall comes in a quick turnaround, as Penn State preps for Michigan State Saturday at 8 p.m. with a trip to the NCAA national semifinals on the line.
"We'll come up with a game plan against teams that we played earlier [in the season], but everybody is hot at this point in time so you're playing people when they're in the same mindset as you are," Rose said.