We've been waiting all season for a performance like last night's over the University of Washington.
The Nittany Lions put together their year's most dominating performance against one of the best teams in the nation on their home court yesterday, and left the home team reeling as Penn State absolutely steamrolled the Pac 12 champs, 25-14, 25-13, 25-16, in front of the largest crowd the Lions have seen all year, a majority of whom were cheering for their opponent.
After falling behind the Huskies 10-6 early, junior Micha Hancock stood behind the service line for the second time--to the chagrin of those in purple. The Lions rallied behind her booming serve, soon up with a significant lead they would never again relinquish--on their way to the arguably most dominating performance by a Nittany Lion women's volleyball squad of a legitimate-top 5 opponent since the insanely talented 2008 team was on the court.
In addition to Hancock's stellar performance behind the line, PSU's trio of starting seniors (Deja McClendon, Katie Slay, and Ariel Scott) all came up big for the Lions last night, hitting at .391, .727 (side note: holy crap), and .556 respectively. Sophomore Megan Courtney also hit over .500 on a night that saw Penn State nearly quadruple their hitting percentage from their elite eight five-set squeaker over Pac 12 runner up Stanford.
To give credit where credit is due, Washington didn't play horrible. They weren't making tons of unforced errors, though they did hit .117 as a team. The Lions were able to hold Pac 12 Player of the Year Krista Vansant to only 7 kills and 9 digs (.179 hitting on the night), after 30 of both in UW's win over USC, but a lot of that was because Penn State was just so darn effective. The hitters in white found holes between and around blocks, and out-dug the Huskies 45-29--which meant that even when Washington was able to extend points (typically what teams who play a powerful offensive attack like PSU try to do, to wear them down), it wasn't enough.
Nothing was stopping this Penn State team on this night, unlike the semifinals a year ago. Every piece was clicking, and by the end, the hometown crowd was cheering every UW point like it was a championship-winning one--because, in some ways, it felt like just getting a point off of PSU was an accomplishment when they were playing this lights-out.
Up next, the Nittany Lions will take on Big Ten foe Wisconsin, who dominated a seemingly-uninterested #1 Texas team in four sets last night. The Badgers, playing in their first final since 2000, were undersized compared to the Longhorns, and hadn't yet played a ranked team en route to their final four appearance--but it didn't seem to matter, as Texas made uncharacteristic error after error, and the Badgers capitalized.
After winning the first two sets pretty decisively (and forcing a Texas change at setter), the Badgers' nerves looked like they started getting to them in the third, as the errors started piling up--letting Texas think they'd have a chance. The 'Horns fought off two match points before winning the third set and forcing a fourth, which was the best-looking set of the match. Both teams played well in the fourth set, but the Wisconsin lead was too much for the defending national champs to withstand, and the Badgers pulled off the unlikely upset.
Penn State and Wisconsin have already met twice in the 2013 women's volleyball season, with the Lions sweeping both matches. Despite last night's dominating performace, PSU's road to the NCAA finals has been a tougher one than that of the Badgers, and the seniors' will to bookend their Nittany Lion careers with national titles and the familiarity with the title game can only help Penn State more in the matchup--despite the unlikly odds of beating a team three times in one year.
The Penn State-Wisconsin match will tip off at 9:30 pm on Saturday, and will be airing live on ESPN2. DVR the wrestling and watch the ladies, won't you?