Penn State Women’s Volleyball Takes Down Pitt, Advances to NCAA Regionals

Story posted December 2, 2017 in Sports, CommRadio by Tom Shively

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In an all-Pennsylvania affair in the NCAA second round, the Penn State volleyball team upended the Pittsburgh Panthers, 25-20, 23-35, 25-22, 25-19, to advance to the regional semifinals.

The Nittany Lions are the No. 1 overall seed in the bracket, enjoying the comfort of their home arena at Rec Hall in their first two matches. The Nittany Lions will host all the way up until the national semifinals in Kansas City, should the team make it that far.

It was a matchup of major conference champions, as Penn State won the Big Ten for the first time since 2014 and Pitt took home a share of the ACC title along with Louisville.

The first set was an ultra-competitive one, as three lead changes and 11 ties occurred. The teams were separated by no more than a point up until the Nittany Lions took a 15-13 lead. The Panthers would draw close again at 19-18, but the home team was too much in the end. The Nittany Lions went on a 6-2 run to end the set, culminating with a Heidi Thelen kill to clinch a 1-0 advantage.

The Nittany Lions outhit the Panthers in the first set, totaling 21 kills to 14 for Pitt.

“We had a good game plan for what we wanted to do early,” Penn State head coach Russ Rose said. “Both teams wanted to win, and I thought our size wore them down a little bit at the end.”

The second set started similar to the way the first set ended, with Nittany Lions jumping out to a 5-1 lead on a Bryanna Weiskircher service ace. The Panthers clawed back, however, and took a brief lead at 10-8 before the teams leveled out at 11 apiece.

However, tied at 16, the Panthers went on a critical 4-0 run to push their lead to 20-16. The Nittany Lions made a couple of hitting errors and seemed a little bit stunned at how well the Panthers were attacking, but they rallied for three straight points to pull within one.

A critical service error by Weiskircher followed, giving the Panthers a 23-21 lead before a Nittany Lions timeout.

Following a Penn State point, Emily Sciorra came in as a substitute and followed with a service error of her own, putting the Nittany Lions on the brink of losing the second set. The Panthers would go on to win the second set two points later to even the match at one.

“It was a big gut check,” Rose said. “We hung in there at critical times. We’re gonna do some things well and other teams are going to do things better than we do. We had to try to find a way to transfer that to what it is we do well.”

The Nittany Lions found their groove in the third set, riding a 3-0 run to an 11-8 lead, prompting a Pitt timeout. Two points later, Pitt called timeout again, the deficit having stretched to 13-8. Haleigh Washington had the kill or block on four of the five points.

“Haleigh is an amazing player, so just giving her the ball nine times out of 10, you know she’s gonna score,” senior Abby Detering said. “Getting that lead and having her scoring and doing so well had the team so pumped up.”

The Nittany Lions would keep a comfortable distance for most of the remainder of the set, fending off a late Panther rally to win by three and take a 2-1 lead.

Penn State’s most complete effort was the fourth set, as the Nittany Lions controlled the Panthers the entire time en route to a six-point victory and a trip to the regionals.

Penn State finished with 17 blocks, 14 of which came in the third and fourth sets.

The Nittany Lions will play next on Friday night back at Rec Hall against the Missouri Tigers, who upset No. 16 Wichita State.

 

Tom Shively is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email shivelyt97@gmail.com.