The women's volleyball team has begun its defense of the 2014 NCAA championship. This weekend the Lions hosted three teams in the Penn State Classic in State College.
Friday Night vs. Buffalo
The Lions jumped out to an early lead in each of the first two sets. After gaining a 7-4 advantage in the first set, Russ Rose's squad allowed the Bulls to even the score at 13 apiece. Ali Frantti started a rally for the defending national champions when she smashed the ball cross-court for a kill that started a 5-1 scoring streak. Buffalo fought hard but was unable to close the gap, losing the set 25-18.
The second set unfolded in similar fashion with the Lions grabbing a 7-1 lead out of the gate. Buffalo was able to close the gap at 8-4 but from that point the dominant home team poured on runs of 5-1 and 7-2. The set ended 25-12 and the Bulls were reeling on the road against the #1 ranked team in the country.
The third set was much more competitive. The teams were tied at 7 points each when the Lions made a run, taking the score to 12-8. Buffalo responded with a run of its own to tighten the score at 13-12. From that point the home team showed the dominant force that was on display in the first two sets. Using runs of 4-0 and 7-2, the match ended with a third set score of 25-16. The score of the final set was not indicative of the competitiveness on display. The visiting Bulls fought valiantly, calling a timeout to stem the tide of the late Nittany Lion run, but was unable to stop the surge.
Aiyana Whitney (11), Megan Courtney (8), and Haleigh Washington (7) led the winning Lion's offensive kills. Keeton Holcomb, playing only two sets in her first college match at the libero position, led the team with ten digs. The diminutive 5'5" freshmen Holcomb from Bellville, Texas played extremely well and would garner a position in the starting lineup for the double-header on Saturday.
Saturday Afternoon vs. Stony Brook
Using a 7-2 run, the Lions created an early 10-5 lead in the first set. The Sea Wolves of Stony Brook called timeout at that point to regroup. The tactic was successful as the teams swapped points 5-4 coming out of the stoppage. The effect was momentary, however, as the Lions resumed the dominant play with a 9-3 run, taking the score to 23-13. Stony Brook used its second timeout in an attempt to once again regain momentum. This time it did not work, as the Lions scored the next two points, taking the set 25-13.
The second set unfolded in similar fashion with Penn State dominating the majority of play. Taking the set once again with a score of 25-13, Russ Rose's team left for intermission with the swagger it played with in winning the national title the previous season.
The third set was much more challenging for the home team. With ties at 13 and 17 apiece, it was clear that Stony Brook was laying it all on the line against the superior Lions. Late in the set PSU's talent and experience came to the fore as Ali Frantti had three kills in a row to open a lead of 20-18. Using another run of 4-1, the Lions held off the valiant effort of Stony Brook for the 25-20 set win.
Kathy Fletcher led all players in the match with 13 kills for the scrappy Sea Wolves. Ali Frantti (10) and Megan Courtney (11) paced with Lion's kill total. Keeton Holcomb for the second time in two career games led the Lions with 9 digs, tying the total of a very active Megan Courtney.
Saturday Night vs. Villanova
Prior to the game there was a ceremony commemorating the 2014 National Championship. The banner was lifted to the rafters inside of Rec Hall, joining the other six NCAA National Championship banners previously won by Russ Rose-coached teams.
The third match of the Penn State Classic was much more challenging for the home team. Facing a determined Wildcat team (2-1) coached by Penn State graduate Josh Steinbach, the Lions were pushed to the limit in each of the three sets.
The teams traded points early in the first set before PSU began to pull away, taking a 13-10 lead. At this point Villanova used its first timeout in an effort to regroup. It was clear that the visiting team wanted to keep the Lions from using the momentum to roll to an easy first set win. The stoppage afforded the Wildcats time to gather itself, and the runaway force was halted but the 'Nova wasn't able to close the gap to less than three. Penn State won the set 25-20. For only the second time in three matches, PSU allowed its opponent to score 20 points in a set.
Following the match Penn State coach Russ Rose spoke of the challenge his team faced.
The good thing for us is that we had to grind tonight and we did a nice job with that.
The second set saw the two teams knotted at 14 and again at 23. It was clear that the visiting team from Philadelphia was intent to put all of its chips into the center of the table, leaving nothing in the tank in an attempt to defeat the talented Lions. Haleigh Washington stopped the Wildcat effort at this point with a block, taking the score to 24-23. The set was won on a Villanova error on the following point, 25-23. This was the first time on the season that the Lions truly faced adversity with the possibility of dropping a set.
The Wildcats would continue to lay it all on the line, taking an 11-9 lead in the third set. The Lions fought back but Villanova once again led at 17-14. With a determined scrappy effort the national champions were able to tie the set at 17 and then take a lead at 19-17. The visiting team took the next point to cut the lead to one at 19-18 but that was as close as it would get. Fittingly the match ended on a serve from the talented newcomer Keeton Holcomb, who played exceptionally well all weekend. The Lions won the set 25-21, taking the match and the Penn State Classic title as well.
Megan Courtney once again was the star of the match. With 16 kills and 13 digs, she showed the skills that would earn her the Penn State Classic Tournament Most Valuable Player award.
The third match of the weekend proved to be the toughest. Villanova was able to score twenty points or more in all three sets, allowing the Lions a chance to test its resolve early in the season. Russ Rose spoke of the value in this challenging win for the team.
With this team, between the new players and the youth, they don't need to go out and play the best team in the country to find out the things that they need to work on.
Next weekend the Lions will be able to see how it matches up against the best team in the country not named Penn State, when it hosts #2 Stanford. PSU will also host #24 Colorado in what will be a pair of matches that are part of the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge.