Nittany Lions Come from Behind to Defeat No. 17 Illinois in 5 Sets
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—Whether they like it or not, the Penn State women’s volleyball team is making a name for itself with slow starts and fast finishes, as well as a taxing travel schedule in conference.
Weary bodies and all, the host eighth-ranked Nittany Lions came from behind Wednesday night in front of a less than capacity Rec Hall crowd to defeat the visiting No. 17 Illinois Fighting Illini in five sets (18-25, 24-26, 25-15, 30-28, 15-13). Despite playing Friday in Ann Arbor and Sunday in East Lansing against the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans, respectively, head coach Russ Rose’s team battled adversity to emerge with a key conference victory over a top-25 opponent.
“That’s just a part of being in the Big Ten Conference,” sophomore outside hitter Jonni Parker said, noting the difficulty of long road trips during conference play. “You have competition day after day. You’ve got to get in and prepare to be mentally ready and focus.”
Parker, who led the team with 17 kills, battled the elements of fall sickness like many of her teammates. With countless members of the Nittany Lions feeling under the weather after a long weekend of flying and busing, coach Rose accommodated for his team accordingly.
By changing the team’s workout schedule to include afternoon weight room time instead of their usual morning lifts, Rose hoped to give his team some rest. Still, there’s no denying the impact of a late start on a school night.
“It’s tough, playing at 8 o’clock and finishing at 10:30 at night,” Rose said. “More and more students [from the student section] leave after every game, so it’s the price you’re paying for TV.”
With a less than raucous student section behind them, the Nittany Lions quickly fell behind two sets to none on the heels of great performances by the Fighting Illini’s senior outside hitter Jacqueline Quade and junior outside hitter Megan Cooney, who had nine and seven kills through the first two sets, respectively. Quade would finish the night with 18, while Cooney would finish with 13.
Despite obligations with the Big Ten Network that prevented coach Rose from speaking with his team after the second set, the Nittany Lions sprung to life in the third by jumping out to a quick 11-1 lead. The Nittany Lions hung on for a third set victory, which was followed by a gut-wrenching fourth.
Down 28-27 with Illinois serving, senior libero Kendall White let a serve from Quade go long, tying the game up at 28. After back-to-back kills by Parker, Penn State set the scene for a winner-take-all final set on home court.
With what was left of the crowd behind them, the Nittany Lions battled for a nail-biting 15-13 win in the fifth with the winning point coming from sophomore middle blocker Serena Gray.
“The fifth set is just really fast,” said sophomore setter Gabby Blossom, who led the team with 58 set assists. “We just carried the momentum that we had the last two sets and competed. When you get to the fifth set, it’s about heart.”
Andrew Destin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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