Penn State Dominates Northwestern for Fourth Straight Win

Story posted November 11, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Bradford Conners

In the finale of a four match homestand, the second-ranked Penn State women’s volleyball team (25-2, 15-1 Big Ten) used a balanced offensive attack and stellar defense to continue its winning ways on Saturday with a convincing 3-0 sweep of Northwestern (15-12, 4-12 Big Ten).

Penn State’s blockers were dominant all night long, and it didn’t take them long to make their presence felt. Trailing Northwestern 4-1 early on in the first set, Penn State responded with a 6-0 run that was ignited by three blocks.

The Nittany Lions maintained their lead but were unable to pull away until just past the midpoint of the first set. With Penn State leading 14-10, the line drive serve of Micha Hancock kept Northwestern scrambling, and her teammates took advantage with three straight kills.

Following a Northwestern timeout, Hancock finished off a 4-0 run with a service ace, giving the Nittany Lions a commanding lead that they would never relinquish en route to a 25-16 first set victory.

After committing nine total errors in the first game, Northwestern got off to an even sloppier start in the second game, as the Wildcats handed Penn State its first four points of the set with two hitting errors and two service errors.

Holding a narrow 8-6 advantage, Penn State would put the set out of reach by winning 14 of the next 20 points. Penn State’s receiving game was lights out during this 14-6 run, as the Nittany Lions did not give up a single point when Northwestern had control of the serve.

Leading Northwestern 24-16, Penn State’s dominance at the net continued when Megan Courtney notched her fourth block of the match to give her team a second set victory. It was a fitting way to end a first half in which Penn State compiled eight blocks and Northwestern didn’t record a single one.

Courtney was only fourth on her team in blocks coming into the match, but she said afterwards that for some reason, this just happened to be her night.

“I was feeling it,” Courtney said. “Coach [Rose] says you can have the best blocking technique in the world, but sometimes all it takes is luck.”

With the third set underway and the score knotted at 2-2, Penn State exploded with a 9-2 run, sparked by four Courtney kills and four unforced Northwestern hitting errors. The Wildcats would manage to cut the deficit as low as four but were never able to complete the comeback, as Penn State would cruise to win the third and final set by a very familiar score of 25-16.

On a night that Penn State held its annual Dig Pink event with the Side-Out Foundation in support of breast cancer research, Penn State ironically made the most of its side out opportunities throughout the entire match, winning an astonishing 77 percent of them. In another telling stat, Penn State shut down Northwestern’s attack by holding the Wildcats to a .055 hitting percentage, compared to .320 for the Nittany Lions.

Penn State is known for having a very balanced offensive attack, but its parity on Saturday was even greater than usual. No player finished with more than eight kills, but five Nittany Lions were credited with at least six kills.

Russ Rose also managed to spread out playing time, as every Penn State player appeared in the match at least once.

"We could pad the stats and give every attempt to Ariel Scott to try to break a record," Rose said. "But it's not about one player. It's about the team."

Even though Penn State outplayed Northwestern from start to finish, Scott still noted that improvements need to be made.

"It's nice to win at home, but we have to work on keeping our errors down," she said. "When we play good teams like we did tonight, it can hurt us."

After starting the season 11-0, Northwestern’s slide continues, as they are in the midst of a four match losing streak and are just 4-12 in conference play.

With the win, Penn State improves to 25-2 and will look to extend its four match winning streak on the road next weekend against Indiana and Purdue.

Bradford Conners is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email btc5082@psu.edu.