The Nittany Lions Claw Their Way Through Top-Five Matchup Against UCF To Advance in NCAA Tournament

Story posted December 3, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Molly White

Despite a slow start, the Nittany Lions battled back from an 0-1 set disadvantage and won three straight to advance to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament.

Both teams entered the contest coming off sweeps in the first round of the tournament, the No. 4-seed Nittany Lions (25-7, 13-7) had the favor over the No. 5-seed Knights (28-1, 19-1)

The Knights came out firing on all cylinders, dominating the first set with a 25-18 victory over the Nittany Lions, with the help of 2021 All-American McKenna Melville.

In her final season with the Knights, Melville leads the American Athletic conference with 539 kills on the season, tallying 20 more through four sets against the Nittany Lions.

“She kept me on my toes all night, but the block did a really good job helping set up defense around it, they made my life pretty easy tonight,” Maddy Bilinovic said on Melville., “She's an awesome player and she definitely gave me a run for my money.”

With a mixture of sloppy mistakes by Penn State, and a stellar defensive performance by Central Florida, they escaped the first set with ease, seemingly setting the tone for the rest of the match.

The Nittany Lions are 4-6 when trailing after the first set this season, and they added another win to that through perseverance.

Penn State quickly bounced back, capitalizing on UCF’s errors and shutting down its opponents offensive weapons. They tallied 11 blocks to Central Florida’s eight, essential numbers for them after keeping the final three sets within four points.

Kashauna Williams was signed, sealed and certainly delivered for the Nittany Lions, adding another 17 kills as she helped extend her final season with Penn State. Zoe Weatherington was on Williams’ heels tallying 16 and hitting above .500 on the day.

“It’s easy for me to just throw the ball up and they can just get their feet there and put the ball away,” Seleisa Elisaia said. “It’s pretty easy for them to score points.”

Elisaia, the third-ranked setter in the Big Ten in assists, had a dominant performance adding 48 to her name - her new single-game record.

Penn State’s defensive performance signed off its insurance, guaranteeing success throughout the contest. Bilinovic in the backcourt tallied fifteen digs, alongside Elisaia and Cassie Kuerschen trailing her with ten a piece.

The match was a marathon, not a sprint for the Nittany Lions as the home-court atmosphere and excellent team chemistry allowed them to cross the finish line as victors.

“I think one of our biggest strengths is working through adversity,” Allie Holland said, who earned eight kills and put up three blocks on the match. “Just relying on each other to stay calm and composed will help us out in the long run.”

With Katie Schumacher-Cawley in the driver’s seat for the first time for Penn State, the Nittany Lions are on their way back to the regional round of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019.

Penn State, extending its out-of-conference win streak, will now take on the top-ranked reigning National Champions, the Wisconsin Badgers.

Molly White is a third-year majoring in journalism. To contact her, her email is