Junior Simone Lee had a career night with 30 kills as Penn State women’s volleyball bounced back from a lackluster non-conference slate, knocking off the number one team in the nation in five sets.
Penn State was riding a ten-match winning streak, having dropped three non-conference matches near the beginning of the season, and played the match in front of a white out crowd. The now-eleven match streak features the team finally finding balance on offense; the Minnesota match saw four players (Lee and fellow juniors Heidi Thelen, Haleigh Washington, and Ali Frantti) all log double digit kills.
In league play, Penn State led the conference in kills per set (14) and hitting percentage (.370) headed into Wednesday’s match, and they’ve found their setter in junior Abby Detering. Overall on the season, PSU was hitting at .309 for the year—including the three-loss swing.
That offensive firepower showed; in not a single set during the epic match did the team hit below .250 (they won sets 1, 4, and 5, hitting .261, .250, .317, .294 and an amazing .588 in all five sets), while holding the Gophers, who are coached by former head of the US women’s volleyball team Hugh McCutcheon, to enough below their average (.179, .367, .300, .057, and .375)—that fifth set number is even more impressive, considering the Gophers were hitting well themselves.
While Lee is rightfully getting many accolades for her performance on the night (30 kills is a milestone not easily duplicated), Washington has turned her game up for Big Ten play; headed into the night she was second in the conference in hitting percentage with a .422 season mark (8th in the nation), and she hit .700 against Minnesota, who simply couldn’t stop either her or Lee (who hit at a .333 clip).
Coming into tonight’s match, both PSU and Minnesota were unbeaten in conference play, along with Wisconsin. This was the Gophers’ first week atop the polls, previously #2, as they jumped up with Nebraska’s loss last week to Ohio State. The Huskers dropped to #3; the Badgers are #2 in the nation. The Big Ten, as Coach Russ Rose has indicated, is purely a gauntlet for any team, and winning the conference is in some ways more difficult than winning a national title.
Next up for the Nittany Lions is a home match against Rutgers on Saturday, followed by a swing through the state of Indiana to take on the Hoosiers and the Boilermakers next weekend.