Sunday, December 16, 2007

Penn State Beats Top-Seeded Stanford

By JANIE McCAULEY – 11 hours ago
Associated Press

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
Penn State's Blair Brown, center, leaps in the air between teammates Megan Hodge, left, and Alisha Glass (6) after the winning point was scored to clinch the Nittany Lions' NCAA championship

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Russ Rose calmly reminded his team that just because Stanford suddenly had all the momentum, in no way did it mean Penn State still couldn't pull off a national championship by winning Game 5.

The scrappy Nittany Lions did just that against the favored Cardinal. And they played near-perfect volleyball in an amazing NCAA run, capturing their second national title while dropping only two games in six tournament matches.

Third-seeded Penn State even found a way to stun top-seeded Stanford on Saturday night, getting 26 kills from Megan Hodge and 19 from Nicole Fawcett against the very same school they beat for their first title in 1999.

"It hasn't really sunk in yet that we won," Hodge said. "It's surreal. I'm on a high."

A day before her 21st birthday, Fawcett served on match point and Penn State capped its 26th straight victory on another powerful kill by MVP Hodge, winning 30-25, 30-26, 23-30, 19-30, 15-8 exactly three months to the day after losing a five-game thriller to the Cardinal — the last defeat for the Nittany Lions.

"We just talked coming in about how we were going to win," Fawcett said. "So, we just had to go back to how we were playing in the first two games. There was no way we were going to lose it."

Penn State's Christa Harmotto, left, goes to block the shot of Stanford's Bryn Kehoe during the finals of the Women's Division I NCAA volleyball championship in Sacramento, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 15, 2007. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

"We didn't really want to look at the momentum," said Glass, Penn State's sophomore setter who recorded 65 assists, seven kills, 11 digs and contributed on two blocks. "We just wanted to start from the beginning of Game 5. We wanted to win a national championship. We said, 'We're here. This is the goal.' "

It was a classic for volleyball fans considering each side had three first-team All-Americans. Trailing 4-3 in the decisive game, Penn State (34-2) scored six straight points and got two kills each from Christa Harmotto and Alisha Glass for a 10-4 lead and Stanford called timeout.

National and Pac-10 player of the year Foluke Akinradewo and Pac-10 freshman of the year Alix Klineman each had 18 kills for the Cardinal (32-3), who tried to become the first team since UCLA in 1991 to rally from a two-game deficit to win.

"This is why we take the court every day and work hard in practice, so we can win a national championship," Akinradewo said. "It's worth taking the risk."

Stanford fell short for the second straight season, missing a chance to give senior starters Bryn Kehoe and Franci Gerard another title after winning when they were freshmen in 2004.

Penn State coach Russ Rose had no intention of shutting down Stanford's stars. What his team did was keep points alive by chasing down tough loose balls and hitting the floor for athletic digs to end Stanford's 12-game winning streak and deny the Pac-10 its sixth title in seven years.

"Anything can happen in a short game, but I was confident if we got to Game 5 and had enough offense we could do some things," Rose said.

Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
Bryn Kehoe, #4, of the Stanford Cardinals goes up for the ball against Penn State Nittany Lions Nicole Fawcett, #1, during the 2007 NCAA Division I women's volleyball championship game Saturday, Dec. 15, 2007, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California.

Stanford, which barely advanced out of the semifinals after a 3-2 win over Southern California on Thursday night, was seeking its seventh title in 16 seasons. Now, after five straight championships by the Pac-10, 2006 winner Nebraska and Penn State are bringing more parity to the college game.

The Cornhuskers were the only other team to beat Penn State this season. The Nittany Lions are 31-0 when they win the first game of a match and this was only the fifth time they had to go the distance to win — and fresh legs could have been a factor in this one. Penn State breezed past California 3-0 on Thursday.

Fawcett had served into the net on game point in Game 3, but made up for it later.

This marked the third time these teams met in the championship, with Stanford winning in 1997 and Penn State two years later. These are the only two teams to make all 27 NCAA tournament fields since its inception in 1981.

Stanford freshman libero Gabi Ailes extended her own single-season digs record to 533 with 10 digs Saturday.

Sacramento Bee Staff Photo
Stanford Cardinals Alix Klineman, #10, attempts to get the ball as she is backed up by teammate Gabi Ailes, #9.

In the opening game, the teams combined for five service errors among the first 14 points. Fawcett's kill made it 26-23, then she had a key block for her team's 29th point and the game-winning kill.

Kate Price, Penn State's senior outside hitter, chased down several tough saves along the right sideline.

"They had some rallies we thought were over," Stanford coach John Dunning said. "People were celebrating in the stands but they were still going on."

Rose, in his 29th season at the school, was national coach of the year and Saturday's triumph was his 925th career victory.

The championship drew 13,631 for a total of 26,679, the second-highest attendance mark in NCAA volleyball history behind Omaha, Neb., last year (34,060).

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