Third Time a Charm as Lions Claim Title
HONOLULU-In just one hour and twenty minutes, the top-ranked Penn State women's volleyball team erased memories of five game losses in the previous two title matches by sweeping Stanford for the first NCAA volleyball national championship in school history. The Nittany Lions defeated the Cardinal 15-2, 15-10, 15-7 in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,252 fans at the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii.
"I think we had the advantage in the first game when we had 10 blocks," said head coach Russ Rose. "I think we had a great game plan and the players played with a lot of passion and enthusiasm right out of the chute. I think the players are the ones that put themselves in a position to get into this situation and I thought they handled all the distractions that normally come in a match like this as well as they possible could."
It was a perfect ending for the three seniors who had started in the previous two title matches. Each of the trio played one of their best matches of the year, including senior Lauren Cacciamani who was named the Most Outstanding Player after pounding out a match-high 20 kills with eight blocks. Also the 1999 National Co-Player of the Year, she and the rest of the team weren't about to fall behind by two games again this year.
"We did get an opportunity to watch a lot of film and we knew that we had to come out and jump on them," Cacciamani said. "We were going to try to go out there and dictate instead of having them show us what was going to go on. We were planning on going out strong and with a lot of fight."
Seniors Bonnie Bremner and Carrie Schonveld were also named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament team. Bremner dished out 37 assists with four kills of her own. She also hit .333 with six digs and a pair of blocks. Schonveld had nine kills to go with her team-high 10 digs. The outside hitter hit .368 on the night and also aided at the net with three blocks (1 BS, 1 BA).
The Lions were banking on their previous championship experience and it finally paid off. "We played well and at times we wanted to keep the ball in play and hope that they would make mistakes," Bremner said. "They're a big team that's going to get a lot of kills, but we were also hoping they would make mistakes."
The Penn State blockers created a wall that the Stanford hitters could not avoid. Fueled by Cacciamani's eight blocks, the Lions held the Cardinal to a season-low -.008 hitting percentage as 1999 Co-Player of the Year Kerri Walsh zeroed out (11k-11e-33ta). They also held 1999 Freshman-of-the-Year Logan Tom to negative numbers (7k-10e-31ta, -.097)
Redshirt-freshman Mishka Levy and sophomore Katie Schumacher each added five blocks--both with one solo and four assisted. Each of the six players that rotated to the front row recorded at least one block as Penn State ended the evening with 15 to Stanford's 10.5.
"We blocked so many balls," Rose said. "You block 10 balls and they had nine hitting errors in addition to that (in the first game) and they never got into a flow and I think some of their younger players weren't ready for that. We knew what we wanted to do and we recognized that a couple of players were going to be able to get their kills, but we had a few things that we felt comfortable about what we would be able to do to have some success."
Schumacher also added nine kills with three each from Levy and sophomore Amanda Rome.
The Lions only trailed during one part of the match. Down 3-1 in game two, the Lions rolled off three-consecutive points to resume the lead and never looked back the rest of the way. It was the first time this season the Cardinal had been swept.
The Lions end the season with a 36-1 mark with the only loss coming in the season opener to Florida on Aug. 27. It was a matter off pulling things together to end the season on a high note.
"We didn't peak at the beginning of the season, obviously," Cacciamani said. "We lost our first game so we knew we wouldn't go undefeated. We did a good job playing as a team. We progressed and got better as the season wore on. The younger people got a lot better and the older people became better leaders and got it together as well. So it was an uphill progression leading towards the end."