Penn State Sweeps Princeton in Opening Round of Tournament Play
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Friday night, Penn State started off NCAA Tournament play excellently.
No. 11 Penn State swept the Princeton Tigers in straight sets (25-21, 25-20, 25-19) in the first round of the tournament. The Rec Hall crowd was electric, and the Nittany Lions were able to deliver the home crowd a fantastic performance.
Penn State fell 3-1 to Minnesota in its final regular season game, missing out on a share of the Big Ten title, but the Nittany Lions came into this contest ready to bounce back.
Princeton was riding some momentum coming off an elimination game victory versus Yale to earn the Ivy League’s title and a tournament berth, but the Tigers were heavy underdogs coming in.
Princeton did put up a fight. At one point, it looked like the Tigers may have been in position to take the third set. Penn State hadn’t blown a 2-0 lead all year, but Princeton gave the Nittany Lions a bit of a scare. Penn State didn’t take its first lead of the third set until an 18-17 go-ahead kill by Jonni Parker. After that, Penn State ended up cruising to a convincing win.
Parker commented on what allowed the team to be resilient and stay grounded every time Princeton threatened to make a run.
“There should be good matches across the country from here on out for the rest of the season,” Parker said. “When it gets to that point, you’ve really got to focus on you, and you’ve got to focus on what your team can do. Control the match, and control what you can control, and eliminate the runs from the other team. I think that’s really important.”
Jonni Parker had a stellar outing, recording a team-leading 14 kills, many of which were monstrous and powerful, bringing energy to the fans and the entire team.
Serena Gray was next in line for the Nittany Lions with 11 kills and a .450 hitting percentage. Kaitlyn Hord followed with 10 kills and a team-leading .556 kill percentage.
Hord shared what she thought was the main key to Penn State’s victory.
“I think the biggest key to tonight’s win was to stay together as a team,” Hord said. “I mean, coming into the NCAA tournament, no one wants to play their last game. No matter who you play, they’re going to want to come out, play with a lot of heart, and play with a lot of fight. I think [the key is] just weathering through it, especially the long rallies, and just playing together.”
“Control the match, and control what you can control, and eliminate the runs from the other team. I think that’s really important,” Hord said.
Hord also gave some credit to Gray’s serve.
“With Serena’s serve, we were allowed to keep them to one or two points, and I think that’s what really helped us out in the end,” Hord said.
Head coach Russ Rose gave high praise as well to Gray’s serve, which certainly had a huge positive impact on the match for Penn State.
“I thought Serena served really well,” Rose said. “The third set when we were coming back, I thought she had really good serves. I think she’s one of our better servers.”
Rose added, with a grin, that when Parker’s spin serve is on, that’s a great weapon too.
Additionally, Rose gave props to the Princeton Tigers and their four seniors, while also accrediting the performances that some of his own players had.
“I thought we competed hard against a great opponent,” Rose said. “I want to recognize the season that Princeton had, especially their four seniors that played so well together and won two Ivy championships. It’s a very tough team to play against.”
“Jonni, Serena and Kaitlyn had big nights offensively. I thought Kendall [White] passed really well and played great defense, and Keeton [Holcomb] did a really nice job passing the ball.”
Rose, Parker, Gray and the Nittany Lions will continue their championship push on Saturday when they host Towson.
Zach Donaldson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.