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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:

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 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.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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. previewed the match with assistant coach Steve Aird.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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, 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, 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'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'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'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's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony