Women’s Volleyball Avoids Friday the 13th Scare, Tops Michigan State
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – On the infamous date of Friday the 13th, no jitters could derail the second-ranked Nittany Lions. 15-1 Penn State fought off the upset-minded 12-3 Michigan State Spartans and won in four sets inside Rec Hall. This match featured an incredible amount of excitement, anxiety and passion for volleyball.
“It was two of the top teams in the conference battling it out,” Penn State head coach Russ Rose said after the match. So right he was.
Penn State was coming off a road trip weekend last week with wins at Ohio State and Maryland. The Nittany Lions have not lost a match since dropping their home matchup against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in straight sets on September 22. Before the Spartans tonight, this was the last time a ranked opponent came into Rec Hall.
Michigan State was coming off a big home victory in four sets over the then-No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers. They also defeated the then-No. 1 Minnesota Gophers a couple weeks back to help jump them into the top-10. For all their success so far, they came into Friday night’s match with a record of just 2-3 on the road.
As a pure fan of volleyball, the first set was electric. Both teams were going back and forth with spectacular rallies and great shows of diving, effort and aggressiveness. Senior outside hitter and team leader in kills Simone Lee got off to a hot start, with three quick kills on three attempts.
Michigan State fought back hard, but what cost them was errors. They committed eight attack errors and two service errors to give the Nittany Lions 10 easy points. The Nittany Lions also hit extremely well, at a .379 clip. On the flip side, the Spartans hit a miniscule .125. Penn State ran away with the set on a 15-6 run to win 25-18.
In the second, the switch for the Spartans was turned on and the switch for Penn State got turned completely off. Outside of Lee and her nine kills by the end of the set, the Nittany Lions came out flat, uninspired and lifeless.
They hit a weak .069, while the Spartans hit a blistering .452. The Penn State dig game was off, their back row defense was out whack and the Spartans bullied them at the net. The Spartans rolled on to a 25-15 set win with all the momentum.
It was the third set that turned out to be arguably Penn State’s most exciting set of the season. The set started off much closer for both teams, each team not letting the other run away.
Then, the Nittany Lions built up momentum and began to pull away. While Lee’s hitting percentage began plummeting (.192 midway through the set), the rest of the team picked it up.
Haleigh Washington, who came into the match leading the Nittany Lions on the year in hitting percentage, picked it up to reach 11 kills and Heidi Thelen powered down a broken play for a thunderous kill. At 19-13, everything was going Penn State’s way.
Was that it for the Spartans? Not at all. They battled, clawed and scraped their way back. Penn State let their foot off the gas, couldn’t receive serves correctly and Michigan State battled back to make it a 24-24 set. Set point for both teams. And then set point two. And then three. Four. Five. Six. The score ballooned all the way up to 28-28, with each team grabbing a one-point lead but failing to capitalize and win the set. In the set alone, there were three lead changes but a whopping 11 tie scores.
“We knew we had to focus on what we had to do on our side of the net,” Lee said.
Finally, with the crowd behind them, the Blue and White found the will and effort to rattle off two straight points and take the set, 30-28. Penn State bounced back from an embarrassing second set and willed themselves to a 2-1 lead.
The sense was that whoever won the third set would win the match and that formula proved true. The fourth set was all Penn State. They were in control from the very beginning, jumping out to a 10-4 lead. The Spartans seemed to run out of gas. They were plagued from the start by errors, committing 26 attacking and 12 service errors.
Penn State got in the groove and cruised to a 25-18 set win and won the match 3-1. Simone Lee led the way with 17 kills and accounted for 19.5 points, the highest of any player in the match.
Rose lauded the performance of the Spartans, giving them credit for their battling.
“They were exactly what I thought they were going be,” Rose said. “They are where they are because the are a strong team.”
The win moved the Blue and White to 16-1 and 6-1 in the Big Ten this season. Michigan State fell to 12-4 and 5-2 in Big Ten play. The Nittany Lions also moved to 43-7 all-time against the Spartans.
Penn State will host the Michigan Wolverines tomorrow night at Rec Hall and look for the weekend sweep. Opening tip is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Matthew Harvey is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email email@example.com.