Penn State Women’s Volleyball Defeats Illinois, Clinches Share of B1G Title
Just hours after Penn State football Senior Day madness, the women’s volleyball team's six seniors said goodbye to Rec Hall in a big way, clinching at least a share of the Big Ten Championship and a 17th consecutive win, in a 3-1 (25-20, 25-17, 23-25, 25-16) victory over Illinois.
The victory marked the Nittany Lions 10th Big Ten Championship in the last 11 years, and 16th title overall.
No.2 Penn State stands in the top two of the conference standings in virtually every overall team statistic. With a 17-1 record in the Big Ten, and 26-2 overall, the Lions clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title on Saturday, and can gain sole possession of the championship next week, as the Lions face off their final two Big Ten opponents, Ohio State and Nebraska.
More than 4,000 fans were in their seats for the pre-game ceremony, as six seniors where honored before the first serve.
Senior Maddie Martin said that she did not expect a large number of fans to attend the game Saturday, as the football game let out just before the volleyball match began.
“I thought people were going to try and thaw out from the game...[but] I think that we had more than we did last night, maybe,” she said. “Our student section is always pretty loyal... we were impressed.”
First point was demanding, as Ariel Scott’s serve was sent back-and-forth over the net six times, before the ball out of bounds for Penn State’s first point of the first game.
Later in the set, Penn State let a five point lead in the first set slip to two, as the Illini (15-13) snuck up on the Lions, closing in on a 17-19 set, before Penn State pulled ahead, scoring five unanswered points, and later taking a 25-20 win in the first set.
The Nittany Lions settled into a groove in the second set, with fewer errors, while capitalizing on blocks and kills from seniors, Scott and Deja McClendon. Illinois had eight errors in the second set, compared to Penn State’s three.
The Nittany Lions took their largest lead in the second set, leading by nine.
McClendon had 18 kills and 18 digs in the win, and had the second highest hitting percentage of the night with .350.
“I thought [Ariel] Scott and Deja [McClendon] did a nice job hitting and we were our own worst enemy in a lot of situations,” head coach Russ Rose said. “I thought it was a match, but I don’t think either team played their best. I think a lot of times that’s what happens when there is a lot at stake and teams know each other well.”
The Illini took their first lead in the third set, taking the first point off of a kill by Jocelynn Birks.
Trailing by eight, the Lions looked for some inspiration on the court, as they took a timeout. The crowd helped get Penn State back on track for much of the third set.
A loud, “WE ARE” cheer, directed by the volleyball pep band, echoed through Rec Hall during, as the home team worked its way back into the match. The crowd played a large part in the win, as each Penn State kill was followed by a roar from the crowd. Many fans began to trickle in, as they were traveling through the bitter cold from Beaver Stadium to cheer on the Nittany Lions during Senior Night.
“They are such a big part of our team it was great to see everyone come out and support us and the sign that our fans made for us it was beautiful,” Deja McClendon said, referencing a sign hung in the student section that read “We love our seniors,” with each senior’s number written on the large blue banner.
Penn State bounced back within two points as the Illini, who were one point away from winning the set. A huge kill by Scott kept the set alive for one more serve, but Illinois took the second set from Penn State 25-23, on a kill by Birks.
Birks led the match in kills with 22 and hit .274 for Illinois. She emerged as the biggest threat for the Lions defense to shut down in virtually every game of the match.
Penn State managed a complete turnaround in the final set of the game, as Illinois underperformed, costing them a chance to tie the match up at two. The Lions took a seven point lead in the match and continued to keep a large distance between them and the Ilini.
Illinois had their worst set, with just six kills and had a negative hitting percentage. Their eighth error of the set granted Penn State its 25th point of the game, as the team clinched at least a share of the Big Ten Championship.
The team’s senior class is not satisfied until the title is solely their own.
“[The conference championship] will be cooler when we are not sharing it,” Martin said.
Penn State will travel to Columbus, Ohio, on November 27, to take on Ohio State, and will then travel to Nebraska, on November, 30 to take on the Cornhuskers, for the final game of the regular season.
Lindsey Smith is a senior majoring in journalism and kinesiology. To contact her, email email@example.com.