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NIttany Lion Women's Volleyball Second to None

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10640085.jpegVIDEO: 2014 National Champions

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The celebration images from inside Chesapeake Energy Arena will never get old for Nittany Lion fans across the country.

As senior Dominique Gonzalez's service ace dropped to the floor on match point, Penn State cemented its place atop the college volleyball world with an unprecedented seventh national championship.

The Nittany Lions (36-3) won going away in Saturday's title tilt with a truly dominant third-set in a 3-0 sweep of BYU.

10640063.jpegSix national championships in an eight-year span is a remarkable feat for a program that has set the benchmark for success.

The list of accomplishments for five-time AVCA Head Coach of the Year Russ Rose and the program is astonishing. In addition to six national titles in the past eight seasons, the Nittany Lions have gone 42-2 in the postseason since the 2007 season. The program's cumulative record since the start of 2007 is 270-23, which includes a string of 109-straight match wins from September of 2007 to September of 2010.

All six national championships in the past eight years have a unique story and transpired under unique circumstances.
The first came in Sacramento after a five-set battle with Stanford in 2007. The '08 title run featured an epic semifinal clash with Nebraska in Omaha during an undefeated season in which Penn State lost just two individual sets.

The 2009 season's national title match victory over Texas may go down as the single greatest match in Penn State history, which also capped off an undefeated season. The '10 title came with a senior class - Blair Brown, Alyssa D'Errico and Arielle Wilson - that graduated with four national championship rings. The '13 championship came behind a stellar group of seniors who combined for 10 years worth of All-America honors.

That brings us to 2014.

Having graduated a 2013 senior class that featured All-Americans Deja McClendon, Ariel Scott and Katie Slay, the Nittany Lions entered the season with big shoes to fill. Penn State signed a standout recruiting class, but counting on rookies to step in and produce immediately is never sure recipe for success.

Led by AVCA National Player of the Year Micha Hancock, the Lions opened the season with a 16-2 mark. Still learning and growing with each passing set, the turning point of the season came on Oct. 11 when the Lions suffered a 3-1 setback to Illinois at home.

Five days later, the Lions battled past Purdue in five sets. They never looked back from there.

Penn State rattled off 16-consecutive victories in straight sets en route to the NCAA regional final match against fourth-seeded Wisconsin (3-1). The freshman duo of AVCA Freshman of the Year Ali Frantti and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Haleigh Washington complemented an upperclassman rotation of Hancock, Nia Grant, Gonzalez, Lacey Fuller, Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney.

The Lions ousted Wisconsin in a four-set match to punch a ticket to the national semifinals for the 12th time in program history. In a clash of volleyball powers in Oklahoma City, the Nittany Lions rose to the occasion in the semifinals. Behind a dominant effort from Courtney, the Lions marched past No. 1 Stanford for a date with unseeded BYU in the national championship match.

Leading 1-0 on Saturday night in the national championship match, the Nittany Lions weathered a charge from the Cougars in set two. Penn State outlasted BYU for a 26-24 win in the second frame before turning up the wick in a dominant third set.

"I thought we had a great game plan," Rose said. "I thought the players worked really hard at executing it, and we feel great about tonight's result."

In six NCAA Tournament matches this season, the Nittany Lions dropped just two total sets. And the end result sent the team to a late-night charter flight home on Saturday with a championship trophy bound for Rec Hall.

"It's pretty cool," Hancock said. "What's hitting me now is I'm not coming back to play with my girls. I've been around it for a long time. They're like a family to me."

NCAA women's volleyball is an ultra-competitive sport with 334 teams at the Division I level. Winning one national championship is a remarkable accomplishment, let alone six in eight seasons.

10640087.jpegWith that in mind, the 2014 senior class will leave Happy Valley with back-to-back national titles.

The string of success Penn State Women's Volleyball has achieved since 2007 has raised the bar. Everyone in the volleyball world expects the Nittany Lions to win. But that's what makes Rose such a masterful motivator.

The outside world expects Penn State to compete for the national title every season. But Rose just works to get the most out of his players so that they are at their best in December. Sure, there is a bit of fortune involved in a national title run in any sport, but it is no coincidence the Nittany Lions win on the biggest stage.

"Nothing is easy. It would be naive to think it's easy," Rose said. "But, I don't know, I just don't know how you would compare something like this. I think you embrace it for what it is. Just because I don't jump around and get all excited doesn't mean I'm not thrilled. But every day it's my job to try to make these sort of things happen."

Rose never compares national titles or thinks about past results. He looks at each team as a unique group. But in his eyes, the titles are not about him, they are about the players on the floor.

"It's about the kids tonight," Rose said. "Dom Gonzalez could easily have been the MVP in my opinion for the two matches she played here. Nia Grant was fabulous tonight. And it's a team victory. That's one of the things that we've been really good throughout the year. It's been a good team. I wouldn't say it's been great fun all the time. But we were good at the things we were good at. We were in a great conference. "

Yes, Penn State will need to replace a stellar group of leaders in Fuller, Gonzalez, Grant and Hancock for 2015, but the pool of returning talent is deep. The future continues to shine bright for a program that has set the standard for excellence.

For now, though, the Lions will celebrate a seventh national championship.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2014 NCAA Women's Volleyball Champions!

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VIDEO: Post-Match Press Conference

OKLAHOMA CITY - Head onto the floor and celebrate with the 2014 NCAA champion Nittany Lion women's volleyball team. Penn State powered past BYU in a 3-0 sweep to clinch the program's seventh national title on Saturday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Penn State is atop the volleyball world for the sixth time in the past eight years.  Enjoy sights and sounds of national championship No. 7 in Oklahoma City.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2014 NCAA Championship Post-Match Press Conference

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VIDEO: 2014 National Champions

OKLAHOMA CITY - Head coach Russ Rose, senior Micha Hancock and juniors Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney address the media after Penn State won its seventh NCAA championship with a 3-0 win over BYU on Saturday.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

NCAA Match Blog - Penn State vs. BYU

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VIDEO: National Title Match Preview with Salima Rockwell

OKLAHOMA CITY - Welcome to live coverage from Penn State women's volleyball's NCAA national championship bout against BYU inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Stay tuned throughout the match for interactive coverage from courtside as the Nittany Lions compete for their seventh national championship.

Live Blog NCAA National Championship - Penn State vs. BYU

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Lady Lions Ready for Final Non-Conference Test

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By Mike Esse, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With one game remaining on the non-conference slate, the Penn State Lady Lions (3-7) are gearing up for Big Ten play. While the first 10 games of the season have had highs and lows for Coquese Washington's young team, there is a lot to take away with one tough out of conference opponent remaining.

The Lady Lions will host South Florida (8-3) Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center before opening Big Ten play on the road against Iowa.

"If we continue to grow and improve and get confidence going through practice and through South Florida I think we can be competitive every night," Washington said. "This team is going to continue to grow and find itself."

Penn State has continued to get better in many areas as the season has progressed, something that is much more valuable than its win loss record. Especially with a younger team, games in the non-conference like Sunday's test against USF will be important moving forward regardless of the result.

"We are seeing some growth from our first game to our most recent game," assistant coach Kia Damon said. "They're not afraid to work. There has been growth in each and every player in a certain aspect of their game."

Lady Lion players acknowledge the fact that while they want the record to be showing more wins than losses at all times, what they have learned during the non-conference will help them when they enter the gauntlet of the Big Ten.

"(Non-conference play) was a learning experience so far and showed that we have to grow quickly and get our roles to together," guard Sierra Moore said. "We will be fine if we can keep maturing as the season goes on."

USF will be a good preview for the Lady Lions of what to expect in Big Ten play. The Bulls come in 8-3 with two marquee wins against Oklahoma and Big Ten foe Illinois. 

Courtney Williams leads the way for USF averaging 18.6 points per game shooting nearly 40 percent from the field. Alisia Jenkins and Tamara Taylor also average double figures 11 games into the season with 12.1 and 10.5 points per game respectively. 

A team having three players averaging double figures is not an uncommon occurrence in Big Ten play, giving the Lady Lions a chance to battle such a team at home in the final out of conference game of the season.

"You're looking at an NCAA tournament caliber opponent which is good heading into conference play because we are going to play teams of that caliber day in and day out," Damon said. "They are a fast team and athletic team so that will just prepare us for what we're going to see in conference."

For Washington and the coaching staff, their team has seen a wide variety of challenges thrown their way in November and December and will have all of that culminate into Sunday's home test against USF.

After USF, the Lady Lions will be on the road at Iowa and Michigan to start Big Ten play before returning home to the Bryce Jordan Center Jan. 4 to host Illinois in the Big Ten home opener.

VIDEO: National Title Match Preview with Associate Head Coach Salima Rockwell

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MATCH BLOG - Penn State vs. BYU

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team will play in the national championship match against BYU on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

The Nittany Lions practiced on Saturday morning in preparation for the match against the Cardinal. previewed the national title match with associate head coach Salima Rockwell.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Lawson Thrills Rec Hall with Clinching Win in Overtime

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10636815.jpegBy Matt Allibone, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Jimmy Lawson kneeled on the mat, trying to catch his breath, the words of head coach Cael Sanderson ringing in his ears.

The Penn State senior heavyweight had just come seconds away from handing the Penn State wrestling team a victory over No. 9 Virginia Tech. With the Lions clinging to a 17-15 lead, Lawson saw a 3-1 third period lead over Ty Walz get erased when the Hokie sophomore scored a takedown with less than 10 seconds remaining to send the match to overtime.

"Coach Cael said it after that whistle blew, 'If you want it, you need to go out there and do it,'" Lawson said. "You're not always gonna finish the match in regulation...regardless of what happened my mindset was still the same, to win the match."

With the outcome of the dual riding on which heavyweight could score first, Lawson wasted little time, using a single leg to bring Walz to the mat less than a minute into overtime for a 5-3 win and a 20-15 Nittany Lions victory.

The Penn State fans, no strangers to exciting wrestling, went into an uproar as the takedown occurred. As the crowd of over 6,300 cheered in delight, Lawson ran around the center of the mat in a circle, his arms raised and a broad smile on his face.

"[Haven't had a match] like that in a long time," Lawson said. "You've got the greatest fans in the world. When they're behind me and the coaches and your teammates believe in you, you can do great things."

While Lawson entered Friday with 45 career wins and NCAA Tournament appearance under his belt, never before had he faced the pressure of having the fate of the team rest squarely on his shoulders.

Throw in the fact that he was facing the sixth-ranked heavyweight in the country and it was his first time wrestling in a dual at Rec Hall in 11 months, it would have been natural for the Toms River, New Jersey, native to be feeling nervous.

But the fifth-year senior came out tough, trading shots with Walz throughout a scoreless first period. In the second, Walz got on the board with an early escape before Lawson scored an emphatic takedown at the end of the period for a 2-1 lead that set up the match's exciting conclusion.

"I knew the dual meet was on the line but I was excited just to see how he would react," Sanderson said. "Because that's a big moment and we need some points at heavyweight in these big matches. That's a big win for Jimmy, no question."

The win did more than just keep Penn State undefeated at 5-0 on the season. It also gave Lawson the opportunity to establish some confidence and momentum a year after going through the biggest challenge of his career.

The last time the heavyweight competed in Rec Hall, he endured a match that he would rather forget. On Jan. 19 of last season, he suffered a season ending left knee injury against Northwestern that cut short a promising 16-4 campaign.

Now, with his knee healed and having won his first two dual meets of the season, Lawson is looking to complete the goals he set for himself last year, becoming an All-American and winning a national title.

As far as he is concerned, a dual-clinching win over a top-10 opponent is a great place to start.

"My goal is to win a national championship and for me this is the first step," Lawson said. "It's been a while since I had a rush like that, a feeling like that. Up until this point, I was kind of doubting myself. This summer I had a chance to reflect and think about what I really wanted and that match was definitely what I needed to make my dream come to realization."

Although Lawson's win was the night's biggest highlight, junior 125-pounder Jordan Conaway and freshman 165-pounder Garett Hammond also gave huge performances.

Conaway opened the match with a 7-5 win over fifth-ranked Joey Dance, and Hammond dominated Chris Moon with a 17-2 tech fall that gave the Nittany Lions a 14-9 lead after being tied 9-9 at the half.

In a tight-knit match that went down to the wire, every point mattered for Penn State. While close meets are somewhat new for this squad, it is an experience that will benefit the Lions moving forward.

"Obviously, we had some great performances from these three (Conaway, Hammond and Lawson)," Sanderson said. "Virginia Tech came in and they were shooting right away and they came to win. That's a solid team right there." 

National Championship Central: Preview Day in Oklahoma City

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photo (27).jpgOKLAHOMA CITY - The fifth-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (35-3) will play in the national title match on Saturday against BYU (30-4) at 7:30 p.m. ET (TV - ESPN2) in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Penn State practiced for 90 minutes on Friday following a national championship preview press conference.  Take a look through Friday coverage from Oklahoma City as the Lions prep for their 10th national championship match appearance.

VIDEO: Friday Practice & Press Conference Highlights
Take a look through some video highlights of Friday's pre-national championship press conference with head coach Russ Rose, senior Dominique Gonzalez, junior Aiyana Whitney and freshman Haleigh Washington.

VIDEO: AVCA All-Americans & Micha Hancock Player of the Year
Seniors Micha Hancock and Nia Grant headlined four Nittany Lions who were recognized at the AVCA All-American banquet on Friday morning in Oklahoma City. Hancock and Grant were named first team All-Americans earlier this week, while freshman Ali Frantti and junior Aiyana Whitney were named to the second team. Frantti also earned National Freshman of the Year accolades. The most prestigious honor of the banquet went to Hancock, who was named National Player of the Year. She is Penn State's fourth National Player of the Year. Take an inside look at the ceremony.

Stat Breakdown:

NCAA Tournament_Finals_BYU.jpg
Noting Penn State in the National Title Match
- The Nittany Lions will be playing in their 10th national championship match.  Penn State is 6-3 in title matches, with victories in 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013.
- Penn State's six national championships tie with Stanford for the most in NCAA history.  The Cardinal have won six titles and played in the final match 14 times.
- Penn State's combined record in seasons when it reached the national championship match is 347-21.
- In Penn State's three setbacks in the national title match, the Lions played five-set matches in 1997 (vs. Stanford) and 1998 (vs. Long Beach State).  The Lions dropped a 3-1 decision to Long Beach State in their first trip to the title match (1993).
- In the Lions' five national title match victories, they knocked off three opponents (Stanford in 1999, Stanford in 2008 and Cal in 2010) in straight sets.  The Lions beat Wisconsin in four sets during the 2013 season. Penn State beat Stanford in 2007 and Texas in 2009 in five-set matches.

Noting the BYU Cougars
- BYU is the first unseeded team to reach the national title match in NCAA Volleyball history.
- Saturday's title match marks BYU's first appearance in the national championship. The Cougars have played in the semifinals twice (1993 and 2014).
- BYU's road to the national title match has been an impressive one. The Cougars have knocked off 11th-seeded Arizona (3-1), sixth-seeded Florida State (3-1), 14th-seeded Nebraska (3-0) and second-seeded Texas (3-1) en route to the national final.
- In all, BYU has won 12-straight matches heading into the final match of the season.

What They're Saying:
- Head coach Russ Rose - "It's not about me. It's about the players. It's about Penn State. We're all doing a job and we all have different institutional expectations or personal expectations, but I thought Dom and Megan were the best two players on the court last night. And Dom flies under the radar for a number of years. And we've discussed that. And we go back to a conversation obviously that she remembers that I don't when she was 14 where we talked about the value of winning versus the value of statistics."

- Dominique Gonzalez - "They're a strong team, worked their way to get here, they deserve to be here.  That caught our attention. They play hard, they're recipient. I think that's something that we really noted.  And they have some pretty tall players up in the front row, so that's also something that we've noted."

- Aiyana Whitney on the BYU block - "I think the best strategy for that is to avoid it as best we can and try and hit high and work our way around it. I think swinging into the belly of the block, as Coach would put it, is probably not the smartest way to approach our match tomorrow."

- Haleigh Washington on the BYU block - "Being in the middle mostly, I want to focus on holding their middle so I can give my outsides and the pins an opportunity to really hit one on one, open up more shots for them, work hard in transition so there's more shots for them, and then getting one on one in the middle as well."

- Russ Rose - "It's all about what the players do. I've been fortunate that the university has allowed me to be who I am. And I haven't had to play games to make other people happy that I could do my job the way I want to do it.  And if we go a different direction and somebody wants something different, then that's how it is. It happens to coaches every day. So before I came to Penn State, I was accepted at BYU to get my EDD. So I received a teaching assistantship. I was ready to go. I met with the resident bishop and then I got the Penn State job."

Feature Story Corner

Link: Lions Rise to the Occasion, Top No. 1 Stanford

Match Day
With the Friday festivities over, it is now time to focus on national title match day in Oklahoma City.  The Nittany Lions will practice mid-day on Saturday before the 7:30 p.m. (ET) first serve against BYU.  Stay tuned for much more coverage from the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Pinstripe Bowl Preview - Adrian Amos

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Pinstripe Bowl Previews - James Franklin | Miles Dieffenbach | Mike Hull | Akeel Lynch

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - continues its series of interviews leading up to Penn State's trip to New York for the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College (Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN). Today, we talk with senior safety Adrian Amos, who is scheduled to graduate on Saturday.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Nittany Lions Prepping for Final Non-Conference Stretch

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Off to the program's best start since the 1995-'96 season, the Nittany Lion basketball team (10-1) is focused on finishing the non-conference portion of the schedule in a positive manner.

Penn State will begin its final two-game stretch before the Big Ten opener (Dec. 31 at Wisconsin) against Drexel (2-7) on Saturday inside Allentown's PPL Center (2 p.m.). The Lions will then closeout the non-conference slate at home on Monday against Dartmouth (4 p.m.).

After knocking off George Washington last Sunday (64-51), the Nittany Lions were off during final exams week. The team shot around in the gym on Wednesday before a full practice on Thursday. Thanks to it's 10-1 start, Penn State received votes in the Associated Press poll this week. While it's great news for the direction the team is headed, head coach Patrick Chambers is not focused on anything but getting better this week. The Lions know they still have plenty of work to do.

"We are in unfamiliar water right now," Chambers said. "The great thing is, though, our staff has been there before. We can continue to keep them humble and hungry and stay on task of getting better...They know about the Top 25 stuff. They know about the projections of the NCAA Tournament. They see all that stuff. But we've got to say, hey man, it's December 18th. That stuff really doesn't mean much right now. It's great for the fans, great for the University and great for recruiting. There are a lot of positives, but we've got to stay on task and continue to get better."

Chambers highlighted how challenging the final two non-conference games usually are. Playing at a neutral site is never easy without the benefit of a homecourt advantage, and the final game of the non-conference slate is always up against the team's holiday break. Nonetheless, the Lions are focused at the task at hand and understand the importance of taking momentum into the Big Ten season.

"This week, (with more time) we can really get back to the drawing board and focus on making better habits," senior guard D.J. Newbill said. "Rebounding, some of our schemes, defending the basketball, cleaning up some of our offense, really it has been about working on everything."

After playing at Bucknell in November, the Lions will visit the Lehigh Valley on Saturday. During the past three seasons, the Lions have done their best to play games scattered across Pennsylvania, whether it be Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Chambers sees games in a variety of locations as way to energize the fan base across the state.

"I'm just trying to engage with the fan base," Chambers said. "I know we have a great alumni base in the Lehigh Valley, so it was a no-brainer to go down there. Students are going home (for break), so I thought it was a good time to do it...Moving around (the state) can only help (with awareness)."

Drexel enters Saturday's game on a three-game slide after dropping contests to University of Sciences (54-52), La Salle (65-55) and at Buffalo (80-70). Prior to the three-game skid, the Dragons tallied two-straight victories against Cornell (61-59) and Southern Mississippi (59-36).

Junior guard Damion Lee is Drexel's top offensive threat. Lee is the lone Dragon player averaging double-figures, but he has been superb thus far during the 2014-'15 season. Lee is averaging 20.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The scoring leader in the CAA, Lee has five 20-point games this season, including 32 markers against USC. As a team, the Dragons are averaging 56.7 points per game.

The Nittany Lions and Dragons will be meeting for the fifth time on Saturday afternoon. Penn State leads the all-time series, 4-0. The two teams have not met since the 1992-'93 season.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony