By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com Student Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The latest string of adversity this season for the Nittany Lion women's volleyball team had come in the form of four matchups against opponents ranked in the top 20.
Three of those matches were against teams who at one point this season had, or still occupied the number one spot in the national rankings. Despite a setback against the No. 1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday, Penn State snapped its four-game losing streak with a dominant performance against Iowa Saturday afternoon at Rec Hall.
The Nittany Lions seemed determined to quell their losing streak, as they dominated Iowa from start to finish with only minor blemishes along the way. If the first set was any indication, a 25-11 win, the Nittany Lions didn't want Iowa to hang around at all. The tone was set within the first five points, as Penn State charged out to an early 5-0 lead, led by four blocks in the scoring streak.
"We did a much better job of blocking early," head coach Russ Rose said. "We did a much better job blocking throughout the match."
The Nittany Lions did block early and often, totaling 14.0 team blocks in the match and seven in the first set alone. Iowa seemingly had no answer for the Penn State defense. Individually, Haleigh Washington was on top of her game as she contributed 10 of the team's 14 blocks, for just her second double-digit blocking performance of her career. Bryanna Weiskircher totaled six blocks to match a career high mark.
"I think that the middles did a good job closing to us and we listened to the scouting report," Heidi Thelen said. "I thought the pin hitters did a good job too and we just blocked well all game."
The blocking was certainly the focal point of the match Saturday and despite the loss, it was a standout component Friday as well, with Penn State totaling 12.0 team blocks against the top-ranked Cornhuskers.
Along with the defensive presence at the net, Kendall White had arguably one of her finest weekends at the libero position. The freshman standout totaled 45 digs over the span of the two matches, punctuated by a 32-dig performance against Nebraska. White's 32 digs are the second-most in a five set match in program history during the 25-point rally scoring era and the first time a Nittany Lion has logged a 30-plus dig performance since Alyssa D'Errico did so at Minnesota Nov. 27, 2010.
White has been a solid presence all season long in the back row, but this weekend she seemed to be more in control and more effective than usual.
"She always plays hard," Rose said. "I think she has done a very good job for us and she is getting better."
The win against the Hawkeyes will certainly have the potential to serve as a catalyst for Penn State in their final six games of Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions currently sit at 18-7 on the season with a 10-4 record in Big Ten outings. Slotted at fifth in the conference standings, Penn State is a spot behind both Minnesota and Michigan State. The Nittany Lions hope to use the win Saturday to gain momentum heading into the last chunk of the regular season.
"We had a four-match losing streak and Iowa had probably a five match winning streak in the conference," Rose said. "It's good to have a victory and hopefully the players will rest and get their minds right because we have another tough weekend coming up."
Penn State is back in action once again next weekend, as they travel to Maryland and Ohio State. The Nittany Lions and the Terrapins meet at 8 p.m., while first serve from Columbus, Ohio will be at 7 p.m.