BLOG: Scott, Back Row Play Fuel Lions into NCAA Regional Final
Dec. 13, 2013
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.
Penn 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.