Sunday, December 19, 2010

4-FOR-4: Penn State, Coach Russ Rose win again

Centre Daily Times
December 19, 2010 8:05am EST

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For a season that had been less than perfect, the ending certainly was.

Penn State players celebrate after winning the second set of their final match against California of the in the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

With one final swing, freshman Katie Slay hammered the ball into the floor to secure a fourth straight national championship.

The Nittany Lions took down California in straight sets 25-20, 27-25, 25-20 Saturday night in the Sprint Center to bring another trophy back to State College.

“The legacy we leave, we don’t want it to be about numbers,” senior Blair Brown said. “We’re thrilled to have four national championships, but the legacy we want to leave is the program’s history.”

Before the Nittany Lions came along, no school had ever won two straight titles. Instead, Brown, Arielle Wilson and Alyssa D’Errico will graduate with championship rings for each of their seasons after extending their record to 24 consecutive tournament wins.

“No one’s every done it, so I think that sums it up,” said Russ Rose, who became the first coach to earn five NCAA titles. “Especially tonight, we got a big night out of Ari and Blair. ... It was a collective effort and I feel thrilled for these guys. They worked hard, they had a lot of expectations on them early and they developed and got themselves in a great spot and pulled it off.”

Brown was big in the final set, with eight kills on her way to a match-high 18 for the night, while Deja McClendon was the other big star with 16 kills to earn tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.

“The biggest lesson I learned from the seniors is how to push through, especially when we’re having a hard time,” McClendon said. “We started out really rough this season and the girls never stopped working with us.”

Wilson also brought the hammer with 12 kills while hitting .316. In the process she also set the NCAA Division I record for career hitting percentage at .468.

D’Errico collected 13 digs while Brown had 10 and Kristin Carpenter gave out 46 aces. Slay led the blockers with seven.

Once again, Penn State’s freshmen looked like anything but newcomers to the big stage. After playing huge roles in a three-set sweep of Texas in the semifinals on Thursday, McClendon, Slay, Ariel Scott and Ali Longo all had a major impact in Saturday’s win, combining for 24 kills, 17 digs, seven blocks and three aces.

Cal outside hitter Tarah Murrey carried a heavy load, finishing with 16 kills on her 56 swings — nearly half of the team’s 121 total attacks.

“Cal wasn’t going to quit,” Rose said. “They wouldn’t have won the Pac- 10 if they had any quit in them.”

The Bears, who have lost to Penn State in each of the last four postseasons and were playing in their first final, also got 33 assists and 11 digs from AVCA national Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, 16 digs for Robin Rostratter and six blocks for Shannon Hawari.

“I thought the staff did a great job helping devise a game plan,” Rose said. “The kids listened well and played hard and we were in a great position.”

Cal got off to a good start in the third set after the 10-minute intermission, building a 10-6 lead with some high-pressure serving and erratic play for the Nittany Lions. After Rose called a timeout, the teams traded a few points before McClendon, who had an error on the point before, snuck in a kill just inside the back line.

It ignited an 8-0 run that left Penn State firmly in command. Brown had three kills during the stretch, Scott had a kill and Longo collected three service aces.

“I thought we had great contributions off the bench,” Rose said. “I thought Ali Longo, in that third game, really gave us the separation that we needed with those three aces when we started stepping points with her serving.”

Once Penn State got to its first match point at 24-17, the jitters arrived as Cal grabbed the next three points. Rose called a timeout to settle the women, setting up the final series. Brown blasted a hard spike that Rostratter sprawled to dig up, but the pass sailed straight to Slay, who drilled the ball into the floor for her only kill of the night.

“They’re big moments, but I think it’s just, go out there and play,” Slay said of dealing with the pressure. “The seniors on our team did a really great job of keeping us relaxed for the match, so when I knew I was going to be on the floor for those key moments I didn’t really feel nervous.”

Penn State led nearly the entire first set, which was capped by the big swings of McClendon and Brown. They had three and two kills, respectively, on the Nittany Lions’ final five points.

The second set was tougher, with Cal putting on a small 3-0 run for a 14- 10 lead before Penn State rallied. The Nittany Lions then had to fight off two set points, first with a block by Carpenter and Wilson on Cal freshman Adrienne Gehan. After a Lloyd kill, Slay put a roof over Murrey to deny another set point. Brown then put two kills down the line, the second with a tip to a deep corner, to secure the 2-0 lead.

Despite some ups and downs in the season, with so much new blood and a rocky 3-3 start to the Big Ten season, not to mention seeing their record 109-match win streak halted, the Nittany Lions managed to close strong — the same way they have for four straight years.

“It’s a testament to what Coach Rose does with us every day,” said Brown, who missed her graduation ceremony on campus to play in the match. “We’re very well prepared for matches and tonight I felt like we knew what was going on out there.”

Read more:

Penn State wins 4th straight NCAA volleyball title

By ERIC OLSON- AP Sports Writer
December 19, 2010 12:03am EST

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Penn State volleyball team might not have been as dominant from start to finish as the previous three editions, but that didn't matter in the end.

Penn State won its fourth straight title Saturday night, sweeping upstart California in three sets behind the power of Blair Brown and Deja McClendon and a gutsy performance in the key second set.

Blair Brown and Erica Denny (AP)

Brown had 18 kills and 10 digs and McClendon added 16 kills for the Nittany Lions (32-5), who won 19 of their last 20 matches and extended their record number of consecutive national titles.

Penn State won 25-20, 27-25, 25-20. After Katie Slay put down an easy kill to finish the match, she turned her back to the net and welcomed her teammates with open arms as they mobbed her.

"We had some ups and downs throughout the year, so it was a big challenge for us," Penn State coach Russ Rose said. "We never lost hope. We always felt that if we could get ourselves into certain matches that we could win those matches."

The Golden Bears (30-4), who won each of their previous five tournament matches by sweeps, lost 3-0 for the first time since Penn State beat them in last year's regional final. Penn State has beaten Cal four straight years in the postseason, all by sweep.

McClendon, the national freshman of the year, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the final four.

"I'm so pleased about how Deja played this weekend, and Blair had big numbers for the second match and led the match in points," Rose said. "Katie Slay did what we asked of her, blocked some balls. We came out strong in the first game. The second game was going back and forth and we were fortunate enough to win that game, and that's where most of the momentum really came from."

The Nittany Lions, who won their fifth title in program history, had new faces in the lineup and, unlike their unbeaten teams of the past two years, showed signs of vulnerability during the season. Their NCAA-record winning streak ended at 109 in September, and they battled through ups and downs in Big Ten play.

Rose, their 32nd-year coach, said before the tournament that he wouldn't have considered his team to be the favorite. But the Lions, the No. 4 national seed, again were best at the end.

They dominated Texas in Thursday's semifinals, posting a three-set sweep, and Saturday's victory ran their record NCAA tournament win streak to 24 matches in a row. They won 18 of 19 sets in the tournament.

Penn State's six seniors finished their careers 142-7 and having never finished a season without winning the national championship.

"The legacy we leave, it's not about numbers," Brown said. "We're thrilled to have four national championships. But the legacy we want to leave is the program history, working hard in practice, going hard. We didn't want to lose that along the way. The most important thing for us was the tradition of the program."

Penn State put itself on the cusp of the title in a hard-fought second set that was tied 16 times.

Seventh-seeded Cal twice was a point away from winning the set, and tying the match, but couldn't finish.

Ariel Wilson and Kristin Carpenter blocked Adrienne Gehan to tie it 24-all, but Cal setter Carli Lloyd, the national player of the year, answered with a kill to put Cal up 25-24.

Slay and Carpenter blocked Tarah Murrey to tie it 25-25, and consecutive kills by Brown won the set for the Lions.

Kristin Carpenter (5) sets Arielle Wilson (7) during the second set of their final match in the NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship, Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010, in Kansas City, Mo. Penn State won the championship 3-0. (AP)

Penn State took control of the third set after Ariel Scott's kill broke a 12-all tie during an 8-0 run for the Lions.

Cal fought off match point three times before Penn State won it. McClendon looked to have the deciding kill when she hammered a monster drive, but the Bears somehow were able to get the ball back over the net. Slay was there to dunk it and set off the celebration.

Carpenter finished with 46 assists, and Wilson added 12 kills for the Lions.

Murrey had 16 kills, and Lloyd had 33 assists and 11 digs.

"Cal is not hanging its heads," Murrey said. "Every single day we've worked so hard, and we're going to miss all the things we've been through. I know it's going to make us stronger. I know our team is going to be so strong next year and I'm going to do a great job of leading this team next year."

With nine freshman on the roster - national rookie of the year McClendon and blocking star Slay among them - and a sophomore in setter Carpenter, the Nittany Lions are well-positioned to challenge for titles for years to come.

Rose said it's too early to make predictions about whether Penn State can make it five in a row.

"We'll celebrate this great event with these girls," Rose said. "I have a cigar in the future, and I'll worry about what's next when I have to worry about what's next."

Read more:

No comments: