Penn State Overcomes Slow Set Starts to Sweep Rutgers

Story posted March 13, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Matthew McLaughlin

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s resiliency was on full display Friday night in Rec Hall as the Nittany Lions defeated Rutgers in straight sets, though there were moments of doubt in this match.

Through each set, the Nittany Lions fell behind within the first 10 points. As niche a stat that may be, this has been a theme throughout the season. Oftentimes, this squad has been forced to battle back from early deficits, and while this team has come through in the clutch, it’s not a recipe for success down the stretch of this season.

In the postgame press conference, junior libero Jenna Hampton touched on the constant deficits.

“Something we have been struggling with is getting a lead,” Hampton said. “I think we did a good job of keeping focus.”

However, it wasn’t all doom-and-gloom. Penn State put on an offensive showcase of its athleticism and depth at all six positions. Despite the Scarlet Knights battling throughout the second set, the Nittany Lions kept their momentum rolling, thanks to great team play and energy from the limited capacity crowd at Rec Hall.

Junior middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord briefly described the importance of those big momentum swing plays.

“Those 10-foot line kills, those types of moments make you want to keep rolling,” Hord said. “Those really powerful plays keep you going.”

Hord dominated up front with 12 kills while also stuffing the Rutgers front unit for four blocks on the night.

Speaking of Rutgers, head coach Russ Rose gave the Scarlet Knights credit in the postgame for their tight play.

“Rutgers is a team that can put a lot of pressure and put a lot of big swings,” Rose said.

As for his own squad, Rose had mixed reactions to the win.

“I thought we got some really good performances from the middle… [but] I thought we made a lot of service errors that we’re concerned about,” Rose said. “But we had some great performances from Kaitlyn [Hord] and Serena [Gray].”

Meanwhile, Jonni Parker continued her fantastic season with eight kills and three blocks, which proved crucial in the second and third sets. She was also a huge component in the middle of the floor. Scooping up six digs, Parker set up other teammates and swung the momentum of the game by keeping the ball alive.

One big reason for this defensive turnaround was communication. Hampton mentioned the emphasis on defense and communication in the postgame.

“It’s definitely been something we’ve been really focusing on going into this game,” Hampton said. “We’ve also been doing a lot better communicating.”

As for Annie Cate Fitzpatrick, the freshman phenom once again put together a stellar outing to add on to her incredible season. Racking up 11.5 points, Fitzpatrick attacked the Rutgers defense for seven kills and two service aces.

“I thought our serving wasn’t very good, but I thought AC [Fitzpatrick] had her best blocking night,” Rose said.

However, the most important takeaway from her outing was bouncing back from two service errors. That type of bounce-back attitude is exactly what this team needs, and the fact that an incoming freshman is playing like a veteran in this regard well represents how the culture has been built in University Park.

While it wasn’t pretty, the Nittany Lions earned the win with tough, gritty play when the serves weren’t going their way, which is one of the key ingredients to a championship team. The Scarlet Knights will get a chance to avenge this loss on Saturday, March 13 at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall.

Matthew McLaughlin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mem6936@psu.edu.