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VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Sweeps Washington in NCAA Semifinals

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VIDEO: Post-Match Press Conference

SEATTLE - The second-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team advanced to the NCAA championship match with a dominant 3-0 sweep against Washington inside KeyArena on Thursday.

Watch match point and hear reaction from seniors Deja McClendon and Katie Slay after Penn State punched its ticket to the national championship match for the ninth time in school history.

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VIDEO: Women's Volleyball NCAA Semifinals Post-Match Press Conference

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VIDEO: Nittany Lions Sweep Washington; Interviews

SEATTLE - Head coach Russ Rose and seniors Ariel Scott, Katie Slay and Deja McClendon address the media following Thursday's 3-0 victory over Washington in the NCAA semifinals.

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NCAA Match Blog - Penn State vs. Washington

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SEATTLE - Welcome to live coverage from Penn State women's volleyball's NCAA semifinal bout against Washington inside KeyArena.  Stay tuned throughout the match for interactive coverage from courtside.


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VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Preview with Assistant Coach Steve Aird

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SEATTLE - The second-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team is set to collide with third-seeded Washington on Thursday inside KeyArena at 9:30 p.m. ET (TV - ESPN2) in the NCAA semifinals.

The Nittany Lions practiced on Thursday morning in preparation for the match against the Huskies.  GoPSUsports.com previewed the match with assistant coach Steve Aird.

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NCAA National Semifinals Central: Practice Day in Seattle

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SEATTLE - The second-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team practiced inside KeyArena on Wednesday in preparation for Thursday night's NCAA national semifinal tilt against third-seeded Washington (9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2).

Penn State practiced for 90 minutes on Wednesday following a preview press conference.  Take a look through Wednesday coverage from Seattle as the Lion prep for their 11th NCAA semifinal appearance.

VIDEO: Wednesday Practice & Press Conference Highlights
Take a look through some video highlights of Wednesday's practice and pre-NCAA semifinal press conference with head coach Russ Rose, Maddie Martin, Dominique Gonzalez and Ariel Scott.

Stat Breakdown:

Meet the NCAA Semifinals Field
By Brian Tripp, Penn State Women's Volleyball Radio Analyst

Washington Huskies: (30-2, 18-2 Pac-12 Champions)
- Captured program's third Pac-12 Championship with 18-2 conference record
- Making 12th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and fourth NCAA semifinal in program history. 
- Head Coach Jim McLaughlin led program to lone national championship in 2005
- Defeated Penn State 3-1 in 2006 NCAA Regional in Seattle and leads all-time series 2-1. 
- Undefeated home and neutral court record this season with losses at Stanford and at Colorado
- The Huskies are 26-0 when winning the first set this season. 
- Pac-12 Player of the Year and AVCA National Player of the Year candidate Krista Vansant posted a program record 38 kills in Washington's comeback 3-2 victory over USC in the regional finals. Vansant also amassed 30 digs. She leads the team with 5.47 kills per set and a .352 hitting percentage this postseason. 
- Washington ranks sixth nationally in aces per set with 1.73. It is the best mark among major conference schools.

Texas Longhorns: (27-2, 16-0 Big 12 Champions)
- The defending national champions are making the ninth NCAA national semifinals appearance in program history. 
- Texas holds a 75-27 record all-time in the NCAA Tournament with two national championships (1988 and 2012). 
- Defeated Penn State 3-2 (25-27, 25-17, 13-25, 25-21, 15-10) on Sept. 7 in the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic. Penn State's Deja McClendon led all players with 20 kills in the match. 
- Penn State leads the all-time series with an 11-8 record. The two teams met in the 2009 National Championship match, featuring a matchup of All-Americans Megan Hodge and Destiny Hooker. 
- The Longhorns rank sixth nationally with 2.98 blocks per set. Khat Bell leads the team with 1.35 blocks per set. Molly McCage ranks second with 1.31 blocks per set. 
- 2012 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Bailey Webster is second on the team with 3.51 kills per set. Haley Eckerman is the team's top attacker with 4.13 kills per set and 4.75 points per set. 

Wisconsin Badgers: (27-9, 12-8 Big Ten)
- The Badgers continue a trend of low seeds qualifying for the national semifinals. Wisconsin was seeded 12th in this year's tournament and reached the Final Four without facing a ranked opponent. Unseeded Michigan advanced to the semifinals in 2012 and 12th seeded Florida State reached the round of four in 2011. 
- Wisconsin is making its second national semifinal appearance and holds a 33-16 record in the NCAA tournament all-time. The Badgers advanced to the 2000 national championship match, falling to Nebraska 3-2. 
- The Badgers led the Big Ten in digs per set with 15.68 and ranked second in the conference in assists per set with 13.12. 
- True freshman setter Lauren Carlini anchors the Badgers with 11.15 assists per set, 1.01 kills per set and 2.85 digs per set. Carlini was last year's high school Gatorade National Player of the Year and this year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year. 
- In its four NCAA tournament wins, Wisconsin is hitting .323 with 16.50 kills, 16.36 digs and 2.50 blocks per set. 
- First-year head coach Kelly Sheffield has helped the Badgers increase their overall win total by ten and by seven in Big Ten play from last season. He is just the fifth coach in NCAA history to lead a team to the national semifinals in the first season at the helm. 
- Penn State was the only Big Ten team to sweep the Badgers twice this season.

Photo Gallery:
NCAA Semifinals Travel Day
NCAA Semifinals Practice Day

Feature Story Corner:

Nittany Lions Benefit from Road Experience
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
After hosting the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament, the Nittany Lions saw the advantages of having a venue cheering in their favor, but as they advanced to the national semifinals, they learned that they will face the host team of the tournament and will have to fight against an opposing home crowd.

9553585.jpegFinishing regional rounds with wins against Michigan State (3-1) and Stanford (3-2), No. 2 Penn State advanced to play against No. 3 Washington. The Nittany Lions will face the Huskies in the KeyArena in Seattle and will have to make the necessary adjustments to block out any distractions that come along with a big crowd cheering against them.

"They won their conference and only lost two matches. Being the home team with the home crowd is certainly going to challenge some of our players," head coach Russ Rose said.

The Nittany Lions have always thrived off of filling up Rec Hall, with fans in blue and white. However, when they open up the semifinals in the KeyArena, they will be in an arena that can seat over 17,000 people.

"Washington's earned the right," Rose said. "They won their conference and there's still a lot of pressure on teams to host. It takes a commitment by the university to host an event like that and it's a pretty heavy weight on the coaches and the players."

Last Saturday, Washington rallied against No. 6 USC in five close sets (26-28. 23-25, 25-22, 25-18, 17-15). Securing the match point for the Huskies meant that they would be returning home to continue their season.

"I'm sure there's a lot of relief associated when they scored that last point at the end and they knew that they would be going home to play," Rose said.

The arena is just five miles away from Washington's campus, which means there will be a strong contingent of purple filling the seats.

"I would hope that it's like our campus and everyone has gone home," Rose said. "Volleyball fans will be there - they'll have a lot of fans and I'm sure it will be a partisan crowd as we would expect it to be. They have great fans that are passionate about their team that will make a lot of noise, but I don't think they'll be as personable as the fans that we see in the Big Ten in some of the venues along the way."

Although it may be a challenge for the Nittany Lions, they have used the 15 road matches throughout the regular season to help them prepare in venues where the majority of the crowd rooted for the opposing team.

"It makes it all the more exciting," Rose said. "The antes a little bit higher - the kids should be thrilled about that. We've played in matches with big crowds. This might be a bigger crowd but it's just a different color. We've played with red as the predominant color and now we'll see purple."

Playing in a close match against Nebraska at the end of the season proved to the players that they could handle a loud crowd cheering for the other team. Having this experience behind them gives the players the confidence to handle the challenge and not let it be a determining factor.

"I kind of like playing with a little bit of adversity," Deja McClendon said. "I think that gives you something to strive for. You know it's just a different color out there."

Despite the dominant color of shirts expected in Seattle, the players know the amount of support that every blue and white fan will give as they travel to the national semifinals.

A Tough Journey Makes a Tough Team
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A barnburner. That is how Penn State women's volleyball coach Russ Rose described the matches in the NCAA Tournament thus far. After rallying to defeat both Michigan State and Stanford, the Nittany Lions are on the road again to Seattle to take on No. 3 Washington.

9553575.jpegFrom a challenging Big Ten slate and plating against 16 ranked foes to a fight-'til-the-finish fifth set in the NCAA Regionals, this tough journey has made the team stronger.

Junior setter Micha Hancock said that the team's tough journey has taught the players that they cannot start slow or have a lead and then give it away.

"Playing harder teams as you go along helps you as a team feel like you're building up to your peak," senior outside hitter Deja McClendon added. "Playing these tough matches has helped us as a team." 

When the regular season ended, the Nittany Lions began the post season with wins against LIU-Brooklyn and Utah. The following weekend, they defeated Michigan State and Stanford.

These matches made the Nittany Lions a tougher team because they were able to learn from the intense competition. Rose said both Michigan State and Stanford played the game emphasizing their strengths, which caused stress for Penn State. Rose also noted that this week in practice, the team will be working on eliminating errors after the high number of errors made last weekend.

"We didn't play especially well in the first game against either Michigan State or Stanford, but I also attribute that to the fact that those teams played very well," Rose said. "We made 11 errors in the first game against Stanford. We had 23 hitting errors that we hit out of bounds or into the net, not counting the 13 balls that they blocked, so we're certainly going to address that a little bit in practice to make sure that we value the ball a little bit more make a little bit better decisions."

McClendon said she's noticed the amount of errors the team has made against good teams, and reducing errors is definitely a takeaway from the Stanford match. Hancock said after watching the Stanford film, she noticed that the team also needs to focus on making serves. After big plays, a missed serve is a momentum killer. Hancock said the team needs to improve on keeping the ball in play to allow the team to play defense and get more points.

"All four of the matches that we played in the tournament to date have stressed us out in different ways and made us play better," Rose said. "We look forward to representing Penn State and the Big Ten in this year's final four."

Next up for the Nittany Lions is a match against third-seeded Washington on Thursday night.

Washington is 30-2 this season, led by offensive efforts from junior outside hitter Krista Vansant. Against USC in the regionals, Vansant had 38 kills and 30 digs. She was also the MVP in the Pac-12.

"She's killer, she's an awesome player and these are the matches that we look for. I can't wait to play," McClendon said. "She's an amazing all around player and if we can get a good hand on her, I think we'll do well."

But the team is not one-dimensional. There are other players that make them successful.

Junior outside hitter Kaleigh Nelson is the Huskies' second leading point scorer with 352 kills this season. Rose said sophomore outside hitter Cassie Strickland plays the game hard, has a great jump serve and has no fear in how she plays the game.

Rose said that all of the teams that have made it thus far in the tournament are well balanced, Penn State included.

"There have been matches where Deja or [Ariel] Scott or Katie Slay have really stepped up, Megan Courtney has [also] had a couple of matches where she was our key offensive player. Nia Grant did that in an earlier match," Rose said. "When you have the ability to have multiple players who can do that, it kind of takes the pressure off of one player who has to perform well or the team suffers. That, to me, is one of our strengths."

Despite the tough competition ahead, Hancock said the team feels much more confident this year going into the national semifinals. 

"Our road to the tournament this year, we had to earn it," Hancock said. "Stanford and Michigan State were two [teams] we had to battle against and we have a lot more confidence getting to those games together and grinding it out."

Match Day
With the Wednesday festivities over, it is now time to focus on match day in Seattle.  The Nittany Lions will practice mid-day on Thursday before the 9:30 p.m. (ET) first serve against Washington.  Stay tuned for much more coverage from the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: Women's Volleyball Travel Day to Seattle

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SEATTLE - The second-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team traveled to Seattle on Tuesday in preparation for Thursday's NCAA semifinal match against Washington.

Penn State departed the University Park Airport at noon.  The Nittany Lions arrived shortly after 2 p.m. PT before practicing at the University of Washington's Alaska Airlines Arena on Tuesday night.  Take a behind the scenes look at the travel day to the NCAA semifinals.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Clutch Fifth Set Sends Lions to NCAA Semifinals

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions women's volleyball program is no stranger to postseason battles among heavyweights in the sport.

Penn State added another chapter to its storied legacy of NCAA Tournament success with a dramatic fifth-set rally to knock off Stanford for a spot in the national semifinals.

9545683.jpegWith the match tied at 2-2 after Stanford claimed the fourth set, Penn State built a 4-2 lead on a solo block from Megan Courtney in the fifth.  However, Stanford was not done.

The Cardinal scored five-straight points to go on top by a 7-4 margin.  Stanford led, 9-6, when head coach Russ Rose used a timeout.  Out of the break, the Nittany Lions were not going to be denied.

Senior Deja McClendon pulled the Lions to within two (9-7) with a kill.  McClendon's big play kick-started a 6-0 scoring spurt that put the Nittany Lions on top by a count of 12-9.  Stanford got as close as 12-10, but Courtney finished off a superb 9-2 rally to punch Penn State's ticket to Seattle for next week's NCAA national semifinals.

"I thought it was a great match of two teams that have great respect for each other," Rose said.  "They are a terrific opponent."

Like they have done so many times under Rose, the Lions made big play after big play with their season on the line.  Additionally, Rose is a master at keeping a team loose when it is down in a tight situation.  Following the timeout when the Lions trailed 9-6, Penn State looked like a team feeling no pressure.

The senior leaders - McClendon, Ariel Scott and Katie Slay - were outstanding for the Nittany Lions on Saturday.  Named the MVP of the Lexington Regional, McClendon finished with 21 kills, 16 digs and four blocks.  Scott tallied a match-high 22 kills.  Slay notched nine kills on .438 hitting and finished with 10 blocks.  She also had two kills and three blocks during the 9-2 run in the fifth frame.

"I thought tonight, our seniors really carried the day," said Rose.  "I thought Katie Slay, AScott and Deja were exceptional at the things they needed to do to enable the team to be successful.  It was a team effort."

When Penn State needed them, the seniors stepped up and were not going to let the season end.

"I thought we would come back in the fifth game," said Rose.  "I was disappointed how we gave so many points away in the fourth and fifth game, but Stanford can do that.  Stanford is very talented.  It's hard to explain how good some of their players are."

The Nittany Lions move into the NCAA semifinals for the second-straight season and sixth time in the last seven years.  Penn State will play at either 7:30 or 9:30 p.m. ET on Thursday inside Key Arena in Seattle.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Scott, Back Row Play Fuel Lions into NCAA Regional Final

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Behind 15 kills from Ariel Scott and strong play in the back row, the second-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team rallied from 1-0 down to roll past Michigan State, 3-1, for a spot in the NCAA regional finals on Friday night inside Memorial Coliseum.

9543979.jpegPenn State stormed out of the gate for a 5-1 lead in set one, but Michigan State answered with a 6-2 scoring spurt to square the set at 7-7.  Michigan State went on to a 25-22 set victory while limiting the Nittany Lions to just .179 hitting.

The Spartans opened the second set with a 4-1 edge, but the match turned on a Micha Hancock kill.  Hancock's kill kick-started a 6-1 scoring run, which put the Lions up, 7-5, and Penn State never looked back in a dominant second set.  The Nittany Lions attacked at a .368 clip en route to a 25-17 set victory, but it was the play in the back row from Lacey Fuller, Dominique Gonzalez, Megan Courtney and Deja McClendon that paved the way in the second set.

"Every time I come in I just want to give the team energy, and kind of be as confident as I can," Fuller said.  "Sometimes I can tell that they are a little nervous because it's a big game.  A lot of pressure I guess.  I try to just be energetic and help them the best I can."

The story was much of the same in the third frame, as Penn State used a quick start to roll to another 25-17 set victory and a 2-1 lead in the match.  The fourth set was tight throughout, but senior Ariel Scott was too much for Michigan State, and the Nittany Lions held off a Spartan rally to clinch the match and a spot in the NCAA round of eight with a 25-23 victory.

"I thought they (Michigan State) played really hard, and forced us to challenge ourselves in a lot of areas we need a little work in," head coach Russ Rose said.  "I'm pleased we were able to win the match, and would hope that we can get better effort from some individuals tomorrow."

Scott, who reached 15 kills for the seventh time this season, attacked at a .351 clip.  The New Jersey native put Penn State up by two tallies on three different occasions in the latter half of the fourth set, and she had five of her 15 kills in the fourth set, alone.  McClendon added 14 kills, while Courtney notched 10.

The back row play was superb for the Nittany Lions, especially in sets two and three.  Gonzalez finished with 16 digs and Courtney had 14.  Fuller and McClendon provided a big spark for the Lions.  The duo combined for 18 digs on the night, including several clutch plays in sets two and three.

"I thought Lacey (Fuller) came in and made some great defensive plays that really gave us a spark and gave us some confidence," Rose said. 

The Nittany Lions did not play their best volleyball on Friday night, but they made big plays when they needed to.  The senior trio of McClendon, Slay and Scott stepped up when the match was on the line, as did Fuller, Gonzalez, Courtney and the back row.

Penn State moves into the NCAA regional final for the second-straight season and seventh time in the last eight years.  Tune in Saturday at 4 p.m. (TV-ESPNU) for the NCAA regional final from Lexington, Ky.

Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

NCAA Volleyball Tournament Central: Lions Head to Regionals

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The second-seeded and Big Ten champion Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (30-2) travels to Lexington, Ky., for a showdown with Michigan State (23-11) in the NCAA regional semifinals on Friday at 5 p.m. (Live coverage on ESPN3).

9540572.jpegThe winner of the Penn State-Michigan State match will move on to face either No. 7 Stanford (26-5) or No. 10 Minnesota (29-6) on Saturday in the regional final at 4 p.m. live on ESPNU.  The Nittany Lions split with the Spartans during the regular season, winning at East Lansing, but dropping the conference opener at Rec Hall.  Penn State's 3-1 setback to Michigan State was its lone loss during conference play.  The Lions swept Minnesota in 2013, winning 3-2 in Happy Valley and 3-0 in Minneapolis.

Penn State enters the weekend after sweeping LIU Brooklyn and Utah inside Rec Hall in the opening two rounds of the tournament.  The Lions have won 33 of their last 36 sets.  Penn State enters the weekend attacking at a .314 clip, led by All-Big Ten outside hitters Ariel Scott (3.18 kills/set) and Deja McClendon (2.92 kills/set).

Since the NCAA Women's Volleyball Tournament began its current 64-team setup, the Nittany Lions have advanced to the third round of the tournament all 15 years.  Penn State has played in the Regional Final match in 12 of the 15 seasons.

The Big Ten Conference has been tremendous throughout the 2013 season.  Having seven teams remaining in the draw during the second weekend of the tournament speaks volumes about the depth of the Big Ten.  In addition to Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota in the Lexington Regional, Nebraska plays American in the Lincoln Regional and Illinois, Purdue and Wisconsin are all still alive in the Champaign Regional.

The NCAA field has been trimmed to 16 teams.  Penn State's quest for a return to the national semifinals goes through Memorial Coliseum this weekend.  First up is a clash with Michigan State on Friday.

VIDEO: NCAA Regionals Preview Interviews

Regional Semifinals Statistical Rundown


Feature Story Corner

From the eyes of head coach Russ Rose

Lions to Face Michigan State in Regionals
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's volleyball team defeated two teams last weekend that they hadn't seen this season. This weekend, however, will be very different. The Nittany Lions will face a very familiar foe in the NCAA regional semifinals on Friday.

9540568.jpegNo. 2 Penn State (30-2) will play Michigan State (23-11) for the third time this season on Friday. Minnesota, another Big Ten squad, is also still alive in Penn State's quarter of the bracket. This means that there is a possibility that the Nittany Lions will face the Golden Gophers on Saturday. Having already played these teams this season helps in match preparation, head coach Russ Rose says.

"[Seeing these teams again] removes the communicating with other schools trying to find information on [teams]," Rose said. "We played  [Michigan State] a month ago. We are at least familiar with them, as well as Minnesota."

The Big Ten has seven teams left in the tournament, which is the most of any conference (PAC-12 has four). Rose said the strength of the Big Ten comes from its challenging schedule.

"These schools are a lot tougher having played back to back nights against good teams on the road, on football weekends, and tough travel conditions. I'm a big believer that the conference makes us all stronger. Everybody [in the Big Ten] cares," Rose said.

Rose said without even factoring in the fact that Michigan State beat Penn State at home earlier in the season, Michigan State proved its talent after beating Kentucky at Kentucky in the second round of the tournament. He said the Spartans are a good team because of how they are put together. The team plays hard and they are coached very well.

"They had some great wins this year and one of those was beating us when we were No. 1 in the country. I shouldn't have to say much to our players about the strengths and merits of playing Michigan State," Rose said. "The record this year is 1-1, so this match gives [the teams] the opportunity to play another match. And Deja needs to upgrade her winning record in the state of Kentucky." 

Although the Nittany Lions have seen the Spartans play before, they know it will be a challenge facing off against the talented players on the Michigan State squad.

Senior outside hitter Lauren Wicinski has tallied 400 kills this season. Rose said she is a "terrific offensive player." Senior middle blocker Alexis Mathews has 139 blocks this season and touches close to 11 feet.  Rose said that when Mathews is "on", it causes the team a lot of problems.

"In the first match [against Michigan State], [Chloe] Reinig was very good. In the second match, [Allyssah] Fitterer was somebody that we didn't have an answer for, so I think they're all good," Rose said.

This year's tournament is the last shot for the seniors. Rose said that the seniors have a lot invested in this program, even those who haven't played very much.

"Maddie Martin has won some matches for us during her career when she was healthy and we need her. Erica Denney is a really good volleyball player with a great mind who has run into some physical challenges. And Maggie Harding, nobody cares more about what we've got going on," Rose said.

It's an win or go home postseason event, and Rose knows it will be a challenge against a familiar Big Ten foe.

"It's how you play, not who you play. When you get to a Regional, all of the teams are hungry, all of the teams are putting behind that they're tired or that they're sore, or that they have academic woes to worry about," Rose said. "Everybody is fired up about the possibility of competing for a National Championship."

The Nittany Lions will face the Michigan State Spartans at 5 pm on Friday in Lexington, Ky. (ESPN3).

From the eyes of the players

Nittany Lions Motivated to Compete in NCAA Regional Semifinals
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
As the Penn State women's volleyball team advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals in Kentucky, the players are bringing more motivation than ever to close out a strong season in the quest to bring home a national championship.

Sophomore Megan Courtney played in the tournament last year and was on the court when the team faced a loss in the national semifinals. Having that experience behind her has helped the outside hitter prepare for what the rest of this tournament will bring.

9533602 (1).jpegFalling short of their goals last year left a feeling that they have not been able to forget. Instead, the players have used that as their strongest motivator as they continue to advance in the tournament.

"Last year I was happy to be in the final four and play for Penn State, but losing in the final four and losing with the teammates that I've been with the entire time is a feeling I never want to feel again," Courtney said.

Learning from last year's championship season, Courtney and her teammates are determined to continue battling through the tournament to a different feeling this time around with her teammates - a feeling of success.

"We also have teammates - like Deja (McClendon) and Katie (Slay) who have experienced the winning and also the losing so they know what it takes and what we have to do to get to that point and not have that feeling again," Courtney said. "That's basically what's driving me because that feeling is the worst feeling in the world and they know what it's like when that feeling is the best feeling in the world."

In order to reach that "best feeling in the world", the Nittany Lions know that they will all have to work together as one team. They will have to put each player into the position where they can play their best and help each other to make the best plays, instead of relying on just one player.

"The really good thing about our program is that one player doesn't have to carry the weight of the team all the time," Courtney said. "If Deja's having a great day defensively, then it's my job to have a great day offensively - it's like a give and take. If Slay is blocking well, we have to put Slay in a position where she can do what she's good at."

After their win against Utah in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the players saw exactly what makes the team work together. They will use that match to help build their confidence as they continue to advance.

"Especially for Megan who played really well in that match, I think it's good for our younger players to be confident going into the next match," McClendon said. "I think for the seniors it's good to know that we can be consistent because that's our job as older players."

For the six seniors, this tournament is their final chance to prove they have the high level of confidence to play at their best, the consistency between the players needed to advance, and the determination to get the job done with this group of girls.

"There's definitely an urgency because it's our last chance," Slay said. "This is the seniors' last chance to play with a lot of the younger girls on our team so there's definitely an urgency because I want us to do well. I know we can do well if we play together. It's really exciting in that regard because the possibility for greatness is there."

As the Nittany Lions are on the road for the first time during the national tournament, they will play Michigan State for the third time this season. Since the players have already matched up against them during Big Ten play, they know that the Spartans have made some adjustments, but they also know of a few things to look out for.

"They're still a little bit different and changed a few things," McClendon said. "But it does help knowing how we played against them in the past and what matchups their going to go to as well as their go to player - we know her pretty well."

In their last meeting against Michigan State, the Lions won, 3-0 (25-14, 25-18, 25-20).

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Courtney's Offense Provides Spark In Victory

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By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State women's volleyball team played its final home match of the season against Utah on Saturday, and the Nittany Lions knocked off Utah in a 3-0 sweep to advance to the NCAA regional semifinals.

9533602.jpegSophomore Megan Courtney said she had a 'gut feeling' that the team would play well together against Utah. She called the match Penn State's 'statement game'.

"You could see it in all my teammates' eyes. We had to show anyone who's watching what we're made of," Courtney said. "We didn't really make a statement game [against LIU] and I think today we all knew this had to be our statement game."

Courtney led the team to victory with her offensive efforts, tallying 17 kills on .556 hitting. She recorded four kills in the first set and five kills in the second. In the final frame, Courtney tallied eight kills.

"When [Courtney] plays well, she can score points in a number of ways," head coach Russ Rose said. "I think she's one of our better blockers and tonight she was the match's best offensive player. And I thought she passed really well."

The Nittany Lions logged 21 more digs than Utah. Utah middle hitter Erin Redd-Brandon said it was frustrating to take her biggest swings and have the Penn State defense dig the balls up.

"Everyone understands how good [Penn State] is at the net, but what they are very, very good at is their floor defense," Utah head coach Beth Launiere said.

Utah middle hitter Bailey Bateman attributed the fact that the team had trouble reading where the set was going to go to Penn State's good passing.  She said when there's a perfect pass, there are three or four hitters coming at the other team at once. If the pass isn't perfect, the team is a little bit out of system and the setter is down to two hitters or one, which makes it easier to read where its going.

"And [Hancock] is a great setter. She knows what she's doing, so it gets a little difficult to read," Bateman said.

The No. 2-ranked Nittany Lions had an early lead in the first set, leading the Utes 5-1 and forcing a Utah timeout, and later led Utah 13-4. In the first frame, senior Katie Slay hit at a .750 hitting percentage and senior Deja McClendon tallied 6 kills on .455 hitting.

"It's always good to have a nice little lead, it gives you a little bit of comfort," junior libero Dominique Gonzalez said. "But you can't relax because you know these teams play really good teams all season long and they're capable of coming back."

In the second frame, Penn State was off to another good start with a five-point lead before Utah called a timeout. The timeout sparked a small offensive run for the Utes, but Penn State came back with a 6 point run, making the score 14-5. The Nittany Lion offense continued to dominate through the end of the set with a final score of 25-15.

Penn State came out strong again in the third set, giving the Nittany Lions a four-point lead in the beginning of the frame. Utah came within two points of Penn State at 5-3, but kills from Courtney and Scott and an ace from senior Maddie Martin advanced the score to 12-6. Utah continued to fight at 17-10, but the Nittany Lions could not be stopped. The final four points of the set were kills by Courtney. The final score was 25-11.

This was the final match in Rec Hall for the Penn State seniors. McClendon finished with nine kills and a match-high 16 digs. Senior Ariel Scott tallied eight kills and senior Katie Slay led the team in blocking with five blocks.

Penn State will play Michigan State on Friday in Lexington, Ky., in the NCAA regional semifinals.