OKLAHOMA CITY - Making its seventh NCAA semifinal appearance in the past
eight seasons, the fifth-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (34-3) is
primed for a matchup against No. 1 Stanford (33-1) on Thursday (9:30 p.m. ET on
Penn State practiced in Oklahoma City on Tuesday evening and again on Wednesday in preparation for the showdown against the Cardinal. The Nittany Lions marched past UCLA and Stanford in the regional round of the NCAA Tournament to punch a ticket to the national semifinals.
The Nittany Lions and Cardinal battled to a five-set match on Sept. 5, with Stanford notching a 3-2 victory. Both teams have improved since the early-season meeting, and head coach Russ Rose is looking forward to the matchup.
"It's great to still be playing," Rose said. "Our roster is a little different than the roster we had on the floor when we played them last. Certainly, they are much improved from the video I just saw (of recent matches)...They are setting really quick right now to the pins. And it's a veteran team."
In a matchup pitting two of the sport's best, Penn State and Stanford are the only two programs that have appeared in the NCAA Tournament during each of its 34 years in existence.
"This is Stanford and Penn State," Rose said. "They have been champions six times, and they haven't been to the final four in six years. This program is ready to get back where they have been before. They had the No. 1 recruiting class a few years ago, and these girls are juniors right now. They are hungry and very good."
The winner of the Penn State-Stanford match will move on to the national championship match against either BYU or Texas on Saturday in Oklahoma City.
"It's going to boil down to the teams that play the best; it's not always the best players," said Rose. "I think if we play our best, we have a chance. If we don't play our best, we got hot at the right time last year and had a veteran team."
Wednesday was open practice day for all four teams remaining on the draw. Penn State practiced for 90 minutes on Wednesday afternoon following a preview press conference. Take a look through Wednesday coverage from Oklahoma City as the Lion prep for their 12th 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, Micha Hancock and Nia Grant.
Ending a Career Where It Started
By Samantha DelRosso, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An emotional, motivated Micha Hancock sat at the podium on Monday afternoon inside the Rec Hall Media Room reflecting on a stellar career wearing Penn State Blue and White.
The senior setter, competing in her final collegiate matches this week, took a deep breath, as she thought about the kind of legacy she would leave behind at Penn State.
Hancock's accolades include AVCA First Team All-America honors, All-Big Ten honors, the 2013 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, 2013 Big Ten Setter of the Year, an ESPY nomination and much more.
But what does it all mean to her?
"It's crazy for me. I never dreamt of being at a program like this," Hancock said. "I had no idea what Penn State was about. It hasn't really hit me. I'm still saying goodbye to things here. You spend four years with most of the same girls, they're family. It's emotional for sure. I feel like a girl that had great teammates, worked hard and accomplished some cool things. I feel really blessed."
There are many 'lasts' approaching for Hancock. This weekend will be her last time traveling with the team, her last time in the national semifinals and her last time suiting up in the Blue and White. And what better place to experience these final moments as a Penn State women's volleyball player than in Oklahoma City, 14 miles from where she grew up.
The Edmond, Oklahoma, native is looking forward to ending her collegiate career at home, but said she isn't letting that get in the way of the task at hand.
"I definitely am excited. I don't really know how it feels and I'm not going to know how it feels until I step foot on Oklahoma soil again," Hancock said. "For me, the most important thing is trying to win one game at a time. It's awesome that I'm at home, but it also kind of creates a distraction. And I'm not willing for that to be a distraction for me."
She plans to keep her emotions at bay by relaxing, staying focused and taking it one day and one practice at a time. Although the stakes are higher, her mental preparation for this match does not differ from any other match.
"I am going to focus on the same routine I've been doing all season. Talking to the freshmen, talking to my team, [telling them] how important practice is, how important [the start of the game is]. Keep it normal," Hancock said.
Hancock's preparation will continue until Thursday evening, when the Nittany Lions take on Stanford in the NCAA semifinals. These two programs, rich with tradition, are familiar foes this season. Earlier in the year, the No. 1 seeded Cardinal defeated Penn State in five sets. But both teams have gained experience and Stanford will be seeing a different lineup from Penn State with the addition of Haleigh Washington in Penn State's starting lineup.
As a senior leader, Hancock will help Washington and the other freshmen prepare for this match. She stressed the importance of letting the freshmen play their game. She plans to lead them one point at a time, by encouraging them to get excited, play with emotion and above all else, have fun.
"The final four is mostly about fun. You're there for a reason, so if you have fun, it's definitely going to help you out," Hancock said.
While many seniors' goals this week are to pass their finals and graduate this weekend, Hancock's week will be different.
"[My goal is] to win. That's basically all," Hancock said. "[My goal is] to play some good volleyball against Stanford, hopefully get the W and see what comes about whoever we play."
Hancock is scheduled to graduate this Saturday, but will be unable to attend the commencement ceremony in Happy Valley. She said considering what's ahead this week, she is not disappointed about missing her college graduation.
A fierce competitor since the day she stepped on campus, Hancock's legacy speaks for itself as she closes in on the final days of her Penn State career.
With the Wednesday festivities over, it is now time to focus on match day in Oklahoma City. The Nittany Lions will practice mid-day on Thursday before the 9:30 p.m. (ET) first serve against No. 1 Stanford. Stay tuned for much more coverage from the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship, including live blog coverage from Chesapeake Energy Arena.
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