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NIttany Lion Women's Volleyball Second to None

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10640085.jpegVIDEO: 2014 National Champions

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The celebration images from inside Chesapeake Energy Arena will never get old for Nittany Lion fans across the country.

As senior Dominique Gonzalez's service ace dropped to the floor on match point, Penn State cemented its place atop the college volleyball world with an unprecedented seventh national championship.

The Nittany Lions (36-3) won going away in Saturday's title tilt with a truly dominant third-set in a 3-0 sweep of BYU.

10640063.jpegSix national championships in an eight-year span is a remarkable feat for a program that has set the benchmark for success.

The list of accomplishments for five-time AVCA Head Coach of the Year Russ Rose and the program is astonishing. In addition to six national titles in the past eight seasons, the Nittany Lions have gone 42-2 in the postseason since the 2007 season. The program's cumulative record since the start of 2007 is 270-23, which includes a string of 109-straight match wins from September of 2007 to September of 2010.

All six national championships in the past eight years have a unique story and transpired under unique circumstances.
The first came in Sacramento after a five-set battle with Stanford in 2007. The '08 title run 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. The '13 championship came behind a stellar group of seniors who combined for 10 years worth of All-America honors.

That brings us to 2014.

Having graduated a 2013 senior class that featured All-Americans Deja McClendon, Ariel Scott and Katie Slay, the Nittany Lions entered the season with big shoes to fill. Penn State signed a standout recruiting class, but counting on rookies to step in and produce immediately is never sure recipe for success.

Led by AVCA National Player of the Year Micha Hancock, the Lions opened the season with a 16-2 mark. Still learning and growing with each passing set, the turning point of the season came on Oct. 11 when the Lions suffered a 3-1 setback to Illinois at home.

Five days later, the Lions battled past Purdue in five sets. They never looked back from there.

Penn State rattled off 16-consecutive victories in straight sets en route to the NCAA regional final match against fourth-seeded Wisconsin (3-1). The freshman duo of AVCA Freshman of the Year Ali Frantti and Big Ten Freshman of the Year Haleigh Washington complemented an upperclassman rotation of Hancock, Nia Grant, Gonzalez, Lacey Fuller, Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney.

The Lions ousted Wisconsin in a four-set match to punch a ticket to the national semifinals for the 12th time in program history. In a clash of volleyball powers in Oklahoma City, the Nittany Lions rose to the occasion in the semifinals. Behind a dominant effort from Courtney, the Lions marched past No. 1 Stanford for a date with unseeded BYU in the national championship match.

Leading 1-0 on Saturday night in the national championship match, the Nittany Lions weathered a charge from the Cougars in set two. Penn State outlasted BYU for a 26-24 win in the second frame before turning up the wick in a dominant third set.

"I thought we had a great game plan," Rose said. "I thought the players worked really hard at executing it, and we feel great about tonight's result."

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

"It's pretty cool," Hancock said. "What's hitting me now is I'm not coming back to play with my girls. I've been around it for a long time. They're like a family to me."

NCAA women's volleyball is an ultra-competitive sport with 334 teams at the Division I level. Winning one national championship is a remarkable accomplishment, let alone six in eight seasons.

10640087.jpegWith that in mind, the 2014 senior class will leave Happy Valley with back-to-back national titles.

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

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.

"Nothing is easy. It would be naive to think it's easy," Rose said. "But, I don't know, I just don't know how you would compare something like this. I think you embrace it for what it is. Just because I don't jump around and get all excited doesn't mean I'm not thrilled. But every day it's my job to try to make these sort of things happen."

Rose never compares national titles or thinks about past results. 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.

"It's about the kids tonight," Rose said. "Dom Gonzalez could easily have been the MVP in my opinion for the two matches she played here. Nia Grant was fabulous tonight. And it's a team victory. That's one of the things that we've been really good throughout the year. It's been a good team. I wouldn't say it's been great fun all the time. But we were good at the things we were good at. We were in a great conference. "

Yes, Penn State will need to replace a stellar group of leaders in Fuller, Gonzalez, Grant and Hancock for 2015, but the pool of returning talent is deep. The future continues to shine bright for a program that has set the standard for excellence.

For now, though, the Lions will celebrate a seventh national championship.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2014 NCAA Women's Volleyball Champions!

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VIDEO: Post-Match Press Conference

OKLAHOMA CITY - Head onto the floor and celebrate with the 2014 NCAA champion Nittany Lion women's volleyball team. Penn State powered past BYU in a 3-0 sweep to clinch the program's seventh national title on Saturday inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Penn State is atop the volleyball world for the sixth time in the past eight years.  Enjoy sights and sounds of national championship No. 7 in Oklahoma City.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2014 NCAA Championship Post-Match Press Conference

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VIDEO: 2014 National Champions

OKLAHOMA CITY - Head coach Russ Rose, senior Micha Hancock and juniors Megan Courtney and Aiyana Whitney address the media after Penn State won its seventh NCAA championship with a 3-0 win over BYU on Saturday.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

NCAA Match Blog - Penn State vs. BYU

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VIDEO: National Title Match Preview with Salima Rockwell

OKLAHOMA CITY - Welcome to live coverage from Penn State women's volleyball's NCAA national championship bout against BYU inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Stay tuned throughout the match for interactive coverage from courtside as the Nittany Lions compete for their seventh national championship.

Live Blog NCAA National Championship - Penn State vs. BYU

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: National Title Match Preview with Associate Head Coach Salima Rockwell

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MATCH BLOG - Penn State vs. BYU

OKLAHOMA CITY - The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team will play in the national championship match against BYU on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

The Nittany Lions practiced on Saturday morning in preparation for the match against the Cardinal. previewed the national title match with associate head coach Salima Rockwell.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

National Championship Central: Preview Day in Oklahoma City

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photo (27).jpgOKLAHOMA CITY - The fifth-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team (35-3) will play in the national title match on Saturday against BYU (30-4) at 7:30 p.m. ET (TV - ESPN2) in Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Penn State practiced for 90 minutes on Friday following a national championship preview press conference.  Take a look through Friday coverage from Oklahoma City as the Lions prep for their 10th 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, senior Dominique Gonzalez, junior Aiyana Whitney and freshman Haleigh Washington.

VIDEO: AVCA All-Americans & Micha Hancock Player of the Year
Seniors Micha Hancock and Nia Grant headlined four Nittany Lions who were recognized at the AVCA All-American banquet on Friday morning in Oklahoma City. Hancock and Grant were named first team All-Americans earlier this week, while freshman Ali Frantti and junior Aiyana Whitney were named to the second team. Frantti also earned National Freshman of the Year accolades. The most prestigious honor of the banquet went to Hancock, who was named National Player of the Year. She is Penn State's fourth National Player of the Year. Take an inside look at the ceremony.

Stat Breakdown:

NCAA Tournament_Finals_BYU.jpg
Noting Penn State in the National Title Match
- The Nittany Lions will be playing in their 10th national championship match.  Penn State is 6-3 in title matches, with victories in 1999, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013.
- Penn State's six national championships tie with Stanford for the most 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 347-21.
- 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.  The Lions beat Wisconsin in four sets during the 2013 season. Penn State beat Stanford in 2007 and Texas in 2009 in five-set matches.

Noting the BYU Cougars
- BYU is the first unseeded team to reach the national title match in NCAA Volleyball history.
- Saturday's title match marks BYU's first appearance in the national championship. The Cougars have played in the semifinals twice (1993 and 2014).
- BYU's road to the national title match has been an impressive one. The Cougars have knocked off 11th-seeded Arizona (3-1), sixth-seeded Florida State (3-1), 14th-seeded Nebraska (3-0) and second-seeded Texas (3-1) en route to the national final.
- In all, BYU has won 12-straight matches heading into the final match of the season.

What They're Saying:
- Head coach Russ Rose - "It's not about me. It's about the players. It's about Penn State. We're all doing a job and we all have different institutional expectations or personal expectations, but I thought Dom and Megan were the best two players on the court last night. And Dom flies under the radar for a number of years. And we've discussed that. And we go back to a conversation obviously that she remembers that I don't when she was 14 where we talked about the value of winning versus the value of statistics."

- Dominique Gonzalez - "They're a strong team, worked their way to get here, they deserve to be here.  That caught our attention. They play hard, they're recipient. I think that's something that we really noted.  And they have some pretty tall players up in the front row, so that's also something that we've noted."

- Aiyana Whitney on the BYU block - "I think the best strategy for that is to avoid it as best we can and try and hit high and work our way around it. I think swinging into the belly of the block, as Coach would put it, is probably not the smartest way to approach our match tomorrow."

- Haleigh Washington on the BYU block - "Being in the middle mostly, I want to focus on holding their middle so I can give my outsides and the pins an opportunity to really hit one on one, open up more shots for them, work hard in transition so there's more shots for them, and then getting one on one in the middle as well."

- Russ Rose - "It's all about what the players do. I've been fortunate that the university has allowed me to be who I am. And I haven't had to play games to make other people happy that I could do my job the way I want to do it.  And if we go a different direction and somebody wants something different, then that's how it is. It happens to coaches every day. So before I came to Penn State, I was accepted at BYU to get my EDD. So I received a teaching assistantship. I was ready to go. I met with the resident bishop and then I got the Penn State job."

Feature Story Corner

Link: Lions Rise to the Occasion, Top No. 1 Stanford

Match Day
With the Friday festivities over, it is now time to focus on national title match day in Oklahoma City.  The Nittany Lions will practice mid-day on Saturday before the 7:30 p.m. (ET) first serve against BYU.  Stay tuned for much more coverage from the NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Lions Rise to the Occasion, Top No. 1 Stanford

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10634520.jpegVIDEO: Megan Courtney One-on-One Interview

The Nittany Lion women's volleyball team added another chapter to its storied legacy Thursday night on the sport's biggest stage.

Like clockwork, the Russ Rose-led Nittany Lions routinely find a way to peak when the stakes are highest.

Going toe-to-toe with No. 1 Stanford, the Nittany Lions used a gritty effort to knock off the Cardinal, 3-1, to earn a spot in the national championship match for the 10th time in program history and sixth time in the past eight years.

Heading into Thursday's national semifinal bout, the Nittany Lions knew they would be in for a slugfest against the top-ranked Cardinal. In five of the last eight meetings between the two schools, the matches have gone five sets.

While it did not go five sets, Thursday's match was no different. Neither team led by more than four tallies following Penn State's decisive 25-16 victory in set one. But the Lions clawed their way to big swings, pivotal digs and timely blocks en route to set victories in the third and fourth frames after Stanford evened the match at 1-1 with a 25-23 win in set two.

"Well, as is the norm, when we play Stanford, it's always a great match with players having to step up and make plays and grind, and every year we find ourselves in that situation with them," Rose said.

Junior outside hitter Megan Courtney was the star among stars on Thursday, notching 23 kills on .321 hitting, along with 16 digs and five blocks. When the Lions needed a big play, senior setter Micha Hancock went to Courtney. And time after time, Courtney buried kills to lift the offense.

"Playing Stanford, there's a big tradition of Penn State-Stanford, and it goes way back further than any of us have played," Courtney said. "Coach has really instilled us the tradition. It's a grind. Stanford is a great team. They're the No. 1 team in the country. Well deserved."

"She had a good rhythm tonight," Rose said. "Took some great swings. Had a lot of confidence. She took a couple of swings I'm sure she'd like to take back. But she plays the full game. She's our best volleyball IQ individual. And the expectations are really high for her."

AVCA Freshman of the Year Ali Frantti was also superb for the Nittany Lions, especially early. Frantti had six kills on .750 hitting in the first set en route to a 16-kill performance in her first outing at the NCAA semifinals.

"I thought Megan was the offensive star of the night. And Ali really battled and did a great job," Rose said.

While Courtney and Frantti provided a boost offensively, Thursday's win was a byproduct of the work from every Penn State player who stepped on the floor. That's what makes this team unique and special. The Lions got contributions from all 10 players who participated in the match. Credit the leadership from Hancock as the team's floor general for keeping the unit focused from start to finish.

"I thought we had a nice game plan, and sometimes the ball rolls your way, and we had a real good effort tonight," said Rose.

Penn State is headed back to the national title match for the second-straight season. The Lions will battle with unseeded BYU on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Post-Match with Megan Courtney

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OKLAHOMA CITY - The fifth-seeded Nittany Lion women's volleyball team powered past No. 1 Stanford inside Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday for a 3-1 victory in the NCAA semifinals.

Junior Megan Courtney fueled the Lions with 23 kills. Hear from Courtney following the match as Penn State punched a ticket to play in the NCAA title match for the 10th time in program history.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Post-Match Press Conference

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Head coach Russ Rose and Megan Courtney, Micha Hancock and Ali Frantti address the media following Thursday's 3-1 victory over No. 1 Stanford in the NCAA semifinals.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

NCAA Match Blog - Penn State vs. Stanford

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VIDEO: NCAA Semifinals Scouting Report with Salima Rockwell

OKLAHOMA CITY - Welcome to live coverage from Penn State women's volleyball's NCAA semifinal bout against No. 1 Stanford inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Stay tuned throughout the match for interactive coverage from courtside.

Live Blog NCAA Volleyball Semifinals - Penn State vs. Stanford

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony


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