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On Their Way to Number Six

The #1 Penn State women's volleyball team continues its run in the 2012 NCAA tournament tonight as they take on the #16 Kentucky Wildcats inside Purdue's Mackey Arena.

Cari Greene/BSD

The Nittany Lions got through the first and second rounds of this year's NCAA tourney with relative ease, sweeping Binghampton and Bowling Green at home last weekend. The Binghampton win especially was quite impressive, as Micha Hancock served Penn State's way to a 21-0 lead in the second set (the home team went on to win that set 25-3, and won the first and third 25-11 and 25-9, respectively). Over the weekend, the squad hit .441 and averaged 12.83 kills, 12.17 assists, 3.67 aces, 10.83 digs and 2.08 blocks per set.

Five members of the Penn State squad received Mideast Region awards this week after their play last weekend: Katie Slay, Deja McClendon, Ariel Scott and Micha Hancock were named to the all-region squad, and Megan Courtney was named as Mideast Freshman of the Year (the fourth consecutive such award for a Nittany Lion, following Hancock, McClendon, Darcy Dorton, and Megan Hodge).. Unsurprisingly, coach Russ Rose was also named the Mideast Region Coach of the Year.

Looking ahead to tonight's match, Kentucky defeated Ohio State in four sets at home last weekend to make their way into the sweet sixteen--the Buckeyes being the only Big Ten team who made the tournament NOT to advance to the regional semifinals. The Nittany Lions are 5-1 all time against the Wildcats, and the two teams have faced two common opponents this year--Louisville (L, 3-1) and Nebraska (L, 3-1). Penn State, by contrast, swept the Cardinals in Louisville earlier this year, and split their series with the Cornhuskers, losing in five in Lincoln and winning 3-1 at Rec Hall.

If (when) the Nittany Lions get past the Wildcats, they'll take on the winner of a Purdue-#8 Minnesota rematch in an all-Big Ten regional final. Purdue and Minnesota only met once during conference play this season, with the Golden Gophers victorious at home 3-1. Though this rematch is at Purdue's home court, Minnesota should be favored as the higher ranked team with a new, high profile coach in USA National Team coach Hugh McCutcheon.

The regional semifinals start this evening at five pm, and you can stream our match live here. The regional finals will air live on Saturday at 4 pm, on ESPNU. We'll have an open thread for all of your volleyball needs here on Saturday.

In the meantime, Big Ten women's volleyball has really picked up, with interest beyond the traditional powers of Nebraska and Penn State. Our sister sites Hammer and Rails (Purdue) and The Daily Gopher (Minnesota) are covering the West Lafayette regional, and asked me to their sites to do Q&As about Penn State (and B1G) women's volleyball. You can find my answers to H&R's questions here, and I'll post a link to TDG's when they're up. Thanks to Juan and Chris, respectively, for having me over!

Edit: my Q&A with Minnesota is now up, here.

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