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NIttany Lion Women's Volleyball Sets the Standard

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VIDEO: 2013 National Champions

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Two days have passed since the 3-1 victory over Wisconsin at KeyArena in Seattle, but the image of Deja McClendon burying the championship-clinching kill and ensuing celebration will never get old.

McClendon's final point as a Nittany Lion solidified Penn State's fifth national championship in the last seven years and a record-tying sixth NCAA title overall.

9564139.jpegThe list of accomplishments for five-time AVCA Head Coach of the Year Russ Rose and the program is truly astonishing.  In addition to five national titles in the past seven seasons, the Nittany Lions have gone 36-2 in the postseason since the 2007 season.  The program's cumulative record since the start of 2007 is 234-20, which includes a string of 109-straight match wins from September of 2007 to September of 2010.

All five national championships in the past seven years have a unique story. 
The first came in Sacramento after a five-set battle with Stanford.  The '08 crown 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.

That brings us to 2013.

After an injury to setter Micha Hancock in the 2012 NCAA semifinals hindered the Lions in a 3-1 setback to Oregon, Penn State entered the season hungry to get back to the national semifinals.

The Nittany Lions opened the season with victories over Syracuse and Louisville before dropping a five-set match at Texas in the Nike Big Four Tournament.  The Lions won the final seven non-conference matches of the season before opening Big Ten play against Michigan State on Sept. 27 in Rec Hall.

The Spartans took a 2-0 lead in the Big Ten opener.  Penn State answered with two-straight set victories to send the match into a fifth.  But the Spartans prevailed, handing the Nittany Lions just their fourth loss in Rec Hall during Big Ten play in the past 10 years.

The season turned on that night, though.

"I didn't think we wouldn't be able to win the national championship because of that match, but that a lot of them needed to look at why they were unable to play their best at a key time at home against a really good opponent," Rose said.

9564143.jpegOne night later, the Lions powered past Michigan with a 3-1 victory.  They never looked back from there.  Penn State won 19-straight matches to close out the regular season en route to winning its 10th Big Ten title in the last 11 seasons.

The season closed in a strong fashion.  Rallying from one set down in front of a sold out crowd at Nebraska, the Lions stormed to a 3-1 victory in Lincoln.  Winning on the road in a tough environment sent Penn State into the postseason with a great deal of confidence.

Wins over a LIU Brooklyn and Utah opened Penn State's 32nd-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.  The Lions and Stanford remain the only two teams to have played in every postseason since the tournament began in 1981.

One week later, Penn State rallied from 1-0 down to defeat Michigan State in the regional semifinals, which set up a showdown against seventh-seeded Stanford for a trip to the national semifinals.

The Lions and Cardinal battled to a fifth set in what evolved into an epic clash among two of volleyball's heavyweights.  Penn State trailed Stanford 9-6 in the fifth before Rose used a timeout.  Out of the break, the Lions were not going to be denied.

Penn State scored the next six points in the decisive set on the way to punching a ticket to the national semifinals in Seattle.

Playing in the NCAA semis for the 11th time in program history, Penn State rolled over Washington, which was playing just four miles from its campus, with a truly dominant performance.

9564147.jpegSaturday night's national title match, the Lions' ninth all-time appearance in the final, was next.  Facing off against Wisconsin in the first all Big Ten national final, Penn State jumped out to a hard fought 2-0 lead before the Badgers rallied to make it 2-1.

Wisconsin took a 23-20 lead in the fourth and was just two points from forcing a fifth set, but the Lions were not done.  A service error from the Badgers made it 23-21.  With ice water in her veins, Micha Hancock stepped to the service line.  The junior delivered four potent jump serves, two of which dropped for aces, before McClendon's kill clinched the program's sixth national title.

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

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

With that in mind, the 2013 senior class will leave Happy Valley with two national titles.  And what makes this year's team so unique is that the Lions got so many contributions from so many different players.  Sure, senior starters Ariel Scott, Deja McClendon and Katie Slay played a central role in leading the Lions to the title, but it was a collective effort from everyone on the roster and staff.

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

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.

9564149.jpeg"I want to win every game we play," Rose said.  "So you want to get into situations where you can compete for a national championship.  I thought we had a team last year that could have won it.  We finished second numerous times that I thought we should have won it.   So we work hard.  Everybody works hard.  It's not lucky that you get yourself into this situation and you have to really appreciate it."

Rose doesn't like to compare national titles.  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.


"They're for those individuals on that team that they'll have the rest of their life to look back on the journey that existed and the hard parts that existed with it because I don't want it to be easy.  I want it to be hard," said Rose.

The players on the 2013 roster watched Megan Hodge, Christa Harmotto, Nicole Fawcett and Alisha Glass set the stage for a dominant run through the college volleyball world when they were in high school.  When they signed to play at Penn State, they didn't feel pressure to win national titles, they just wanted to carry on the tradition of excellence.

"I think it's more just of a tradition, and that's why we came here," said junior Dominique Gonzalez.  "We were getting recruited right around that time Coach was talking about, all those great players who came through the program, and they just left a great mark for us, and we just want to follow in their footsteps."

"You watched those girls when we were younger playing final fours and winning national championships," Scott added.  "And when you're a volleyball player, that's what you strive to do.  You want to go to the best programs and play and be the best player you can be."

With a strong corps of talent returning in 2014 and a superb recruiting class coming into the program, the future is very bright for Penn State women's volleyball.

For now, though, the Lions are setting the standard for success as they celebrate a fifth national championship in seven seasons.



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

VIDEO: NCAA Championship Post-Match Press Conference

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VIDEO: 2013 National Champions


SEATTLE - Head coach Russ Rose, senior Ariel Scott and juniors Micha Hancock and Dominique Gonzalez address the media after Penn State won its sixth NCAA championship with a 3-1 win over Wisconsin on Saturday.




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VIDEO: 2013 NCAA Women's Volleyball Champions!

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SEATTLE - Head onto the floor and celebrate with the 2013 NCAA champion Nittany Lion women's volleyball team after knocking off Wisconsin, 3-1, inside KeyArena on Saturday.

Penn State is atop the volleyball world for the sixth time in program history.  Enjoy sights and sounds of national championship No. 6 in Seattle.




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NCAA Title Match Blog - Penn State vs. Wisconsin

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SEATTLE - Welcome to live coverage from Penn State women's volleyball's NCAA title bout against Big Ten foe Wisconsin inside KeyArena.  Stay tuned throughout the match for interactive coverage from courtside.

 



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VIDEO: NCAA Title Match Preview with Assistant Coach Steve Aird

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NCAA Title Match Central

SEATTLE - The second-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team is set to collide with Wisconsin on Saturday inside KeyArena at 9:30 p.m. ET (TV - ESPN2) in the national championship match.

The Nittany Lions practiced on Saturday morning in preparation for the match against the Badgers.  GoPSUsports.com previewed the national title match with assistant coach Steve Aird.




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National Championship Central: Preview Day in Seattle

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VIDEO: National Title Match Breakdown with Steve Aird


SEATTLE - The second-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team will play in the national title match on Saturday against Wisconsin at 9:30 p.m. ET (TV - ESPN2).

Penn State practiced for 90 minutes on Friday following a national championship preview press conference.  Take a look through Friday coverage from Seattle as the Lions prep for their ninth 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 and seniors Maddie Martin and Ariel Scott and junior Dominique Gonzalez.



Stat Breakdown:

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Noting Penn State in the National Title Match
9558600.jpeg- The Nittany Lions will be playing in their ninth national championship match.  Penn State is 5-3 in title matches, with victories in 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.
- Penn State's five national championships ranks second behind Stanford 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 311-18.
- 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.  Penn State beat Stanford in 2007 and Texas in 2009 in five-set matches.


Meet the Wisconsin Badgers
By Brian Tripp, Penn State Women's Volleyball Radio Analyst

Quick Facts:
- As the 12th overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin is the lowest seed to reach the championship match. The previous lowest was Stanford at No. 11 in 2004.
- Wisconsin is attempting to win its first volleyball national championship. The Badgers fell 3-2 to Nebraska in the 2000 championship match held in Richmond, Va., It was the only other time the program reached the tournament's final weekend.
- Wisconsin is 9-0 in neutral court matches this season, including non-conference tournament victories at the Pepperdine Classic, the North Dakota State Classic and NC State Tournament.
- The Badgers have won nine of their last 10 matches, including six-straight.

Projected Starters:
- Setter: #1 Lauren Carlini
was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year after setting the Badgers to a 12-8 conference record. In Big Ten play, Wisconsin out-hit opponents .223 to .192. Carlini tied a career-best with six blocks against Penn State on Oct. 12 and is the only freshman to set a 5-1 offense among the top-25 teams in the country. She was last year's high school Gatorade National Player of the Year.
- Outside Hitter: #3 Courtney Thomas moved to outside hitter after Carlini recovered from an early season injury and posted a career-best 2.38 kills per set this season on .173 hitting. The junior has led the Badgers in kills eight times this season and tied for a team-best five blocks against Texas on Thursday.
- Libero: #4 Annemarie Hickey took over as the team's libero on Oct. 5 against Nebraska. The 5-8 senior is averaging a team-best 3.86 digs per set with 22-straight matches of double-figure dig totals. Her serving helped the Badgers to seven consecutive points in a crucial first set victory in Thursday's semifinal win over Texas.
- Defensive Specialist: #6 Taylor Morey provides defensive depth for Kelly Sheffield's Badgers averaging 2.65 digs per set. The transfer from Notre Dame recorded 9 digs against Texas Thursday night. Yet, the sophomore has been charged with 35 serve reception errors this season.
- Outside Hitter: #7 Deme Morales
is the shortest attacker in the Big Ten at 5-7. The junior is averaging 2.75 kills per set this season on .182 hitting. She is among six Badgers with at least 20 service aces this season and ranks third on the team with 2.78 digs per set. Morales totaled a career-high 20 kills against Purdue in the NCAA regional final to propel the Badgers to the national semifinals.
- Middle Blocker: #13 Haleigh Nelson
was one of two Badgers to be named to the Big Ten's All-Freshman team. The middle blocker leads the Badgers in blocks with 155, an average of 1.10 per set. She is also second on the team with a .316 hitting percentage, while averaging 1.74 kills per set.
- Middle Blocker: #14 Dominique Thompson comes from an athletic family with Big Ten roots. The redshirt junior middle blocker leads Wisconsin with a .323 hitting percentage and ranks second with 1.00 blocks per set. Thompson posted 10 kills and two blocks against Penn State on Nov. 15 in Madison.
- Outside Hitter: #20 Ellen Champman
led the Badgers offensively with 17 kills against Texas. Chapman also notched three service aces in the four-set victory. The junior has 12 or more kills in each NCAA tournament match and leads Wisconsin in kills this postseason. Her season average of 3.57 kills per set is tops among all players in Saturday's championship match. 

What They're Saying:
Head Coach Kelly Sheffield:
- On the win over No. 1 Texas: "We believed that we could win this match. I think that's a big part of anytime you go into anything. This has been a team that no matter who we played we believed, the players have believed that there's a way to win."
- On freshman setter Lauren Carlini: "She is 18 years old and she was born for this and the bigger the crowd, the more moxie that comes out of her, the more confidence. She doesn't lean on me.

Outside Hitter Ellen Chapman:
- On her team: "Our back court is the best back court in the country, and I never doubted them. I don't think anyone doubted them for a second."

Outside Hitter Deme Morales:
- On being undersized: "I think before it used to really like bother me when I was younger. But going through all this and going up against huge blockers...it fires me up. I just have to keep going at them. It just fires me up. It's more like a motivator."



Feature Story Corner

Link: Nittany Lions Show Great Poise on Big Stage


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



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Lions Show Great Poise on Big Stage

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VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Post-Match Interviews


SEATTLE - From the time wheels touched down on the Sun Country Airlines 737-800 at 2:26 p.m. PT on Tuesday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the second-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team has had a smile on its face.

9557624.jpegThe 19 players on the roster and coaching staff know it is a reward for a team to make an appearance in the final weekend of the season.  The senior members of the roster have been to this weekend three times in their Nittany Lion careers, but they cherish the opportunity to compete on college volleyball's biggest stage.

While the stakes are higher than any other matches on the schedule, you wouldn't know it watching the Nittany Lions.  They practiced loose on Tuesday night on the campus of the University of Washington, and again at KeyArena during Wednesday's open practice.  The story was the same during the morning hit-around on Thursday.

Then came Thursday's NCAA semifinal bout against Washington, a team playing just four miles from its campus in front of a crowd clad in purple.

The Nittany Lions competed exactly how they had practiced - energetic, upbeat and with big smiles on their faces.  Led by a superb night from the trio of senior starters - Ariel Scott, Deja McClendon and Katie Slay - Penn State marched past Washington in just 81 minutes.

The vast majority of the 14,975 fans crammed inside KeyArena on Thursday were loud supporters of the Huskies, but the Nittany Lions weren't fazed.

They executed head coach Russ Rose's gameplan to perfection, and they had fun every second they were on the floor.

"It was a ton of fun.  I honestly can't describe the energy in here," McClendon said.  "Even though our fan section was a little bit smaller, they put up a huge fight, and they cheered us on really hard."

Penn State's corner of the arena was a boisterous group of supporters, including nearly 60 members of the Penn State Seattle alumni group and Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Jordan Hill.

No strangers to loud atmospheres in Big Ten venues, Penn State has a knack for thriving on the big stage.  That starts with the great attitude on the floor.

"I think we play better with our backs against the wall," McClendon said.  "We have nothing to lose, and I really hope we come out the same way during the next game."

"It's just a good time.  I know as a senior I only have a couple matches left, and now just one match left with these girls," Slay said.  "I just want to make the most of it and be in the moment."

Washington jumped out to a 10-6 lead in the opening set, but the Nittany Lions were truly dominant from there.  Penn State closed set one on an 18-4 run, and they never looked back.  The Lions attacked at a blistering .488 clip, while committing just five errors.  The great offensive night was a byproduct of superb passing.

"I thought we handled the ball really well, had a really solid game plan, and especially the seniors and Micha played a great match," head coach Russ Rose said.  "To control the ball, it gives you opportunities to do some things."

The Nittany Lions will practice on Friday evening in KeyArena to prepare for the program's ninth trip to the NCAA title match.  Penn State will meet Wisconsin in the first all Big Ten national championship match on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.


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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.

 



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