Sunday, December 22, 2013

Badgers volleyball: Four-set loss ends national title dream

December 22, 2013
volleyball tall 12-22
UW's Courtney Thomas tries to hit past Penn State's Ariel Scott, Katie Slay (16) and Deja McClendon on Saturday night at KeyArena in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson/AP)
SEATTLE — The University of Wisconsin volleyball team’s magical postseason ride came to an end Saturday night with a four-set loss to Penn State in the NCAA championship match.
The 12th-seeded Badgers were beaten for the third time this season by their Big Ten Conference rivals 25-19, 26-24, 20-25, 25-23 before a sellout crowd of 14,779 at KeyArena.
After knocking off top-seeded and defending champion Texas in the national semifinals on Thursday, the Badgers couldn’t hold up against the Nittany Lions, who won their sixth national title under legendary coach Russ Rose.
It was the second championship match loss for the UW program. The Badgers also were second to Nebraska in 2000.
Early on, the Badgers looked to be on the brink of being blown out, but they battled back and nearly forced a fifth set.
“I think everybody out there saw a team that wasn’t just happy to be playing in this match,” UW coach Kelly Sheffield said. “There was a lot of emotion in the locker room. They play to win, they expected to win. Probably not a whole lot of people thought we had a chance to do that but our players did.
“We fell behind 0-2 and they showed a lot of heart to come back. Penn State is a great team.”
Ultimately, it was the power serve of Penn State’s All-American setter Micha Hancock, who was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, that made the difference.
Her serves helped the Nittany Lions to big streaks in the first two sets and she was serving as they finished off the match on a 5-0 run.
“Penn State has the biggest weapon
in college volleyball in Micha Hancock’s serve,” Sheffield said. “We battled like crazy to keep it off the floor.
“There was no offense at all when she was serving. She’s one of the few elite servers and a timeout doesn’t faze here. Lord knows we’ve been trying to save them for that. But she comes right back out and rips it. The amount of pressure she was putting on our team … that’s a tough deal.”
It was tough deal all around for the Badgers, whose inspirational and unexpected run to the final match ended in tears.
“I would never give up this experience for anything,” junior Ellen Chapman said. “It was an amazing ride. It’s just so weird to think how far we’ve come this year. The journey was the whole part.
“The bigger stage you’re on, the more it hurts to lose. Being one of the only two teams left in the country still playing, that’s what hurts so much, knowing how close we were.”
The loss was the last one for the Badgers’ only senior, Annemarie Hickey, who dislocated her right shoulder late in the fourth set.
But she tried to tough it out and made several big digs down the stretch. Unfortunately, for the Badgers, she also served a ball into the net late in that set, an error that put the serve in Hancock’s hands to finish out the match.
“This team just showed a lot of heart,” Sheffield said.
“I was trying to not let it affect me,” Hickey said. “My adrenaline was going and I was trying to do as much as I could to help my team.
“It hurt pretty bad. I could feel it come out of my shoulder. It was painful, but we were playing with such high intensity and we were winning the game. I didn’t want to come out and let my teammates down, so I just worked through it the best I could.”
The Nittany Lions looked like they were going to turn things into a rout early in the second set as they raced out to a 6-1 lead behind Hancock’s serving.
Penn State led 11-5 before the Badgers began a charge that had KeyArena sounding like the UW Field House West. The Badgers went on a 9-3 run to pull even at 14.
The lead batted back and forth before the Badgers took a 22-20 advantage. Penn State answered with three straight points to go up 23-22. A service error by Courtney Thomas let the Lions tie it up but a kill by Dominique Thompson gave UW a set point at 24-23.
But Deme Morales hit her serve into the net to give Penn State the tying point and All-American Ariel Scott followed with back-to-back kills to give the Nittany Lions the set.
Even though they were in a hole, Sheffield could see his team’s confidence growing.
“They believed they were going to go to Game 5,” he said. “You could see it in their eyes, they were locked in. I didn’t need a pep talk.”
Penn State again took command early in the third set, jumping out to a 5-1 lead. But once again the Badgers showed their spunk, responding with a 4-0 run to pull even at 5.
UW then took command midway through the set with a 6-0 run to take a 17-12 lead.
Penn State tried to keep things interesting, cutting the margin to three points on three occasions, but the Badgers fought them off, getting to set point 24-19 on a tip by Thompson and winning the set on a serve into the net by Penn State.
Thompson led the Badgers’ attack with 16 kills (.314) as freshman setter Lauren Carlini continually went to her for big points.
“She’s probably one of the most underrated middles in the country,” Carlini said of Thompson. “People look at her height more than anything and think, oh, she can’t be good. She lit it up tonight and made them pay.”
The Badgers got off to another slow start in the fourth set but recovered quickly to take a 10-7 lead. Penn State responded with a 6-1 run to grab a 13-11 lead and was up 15-13 at the official timeout.
UW then ran off four unanswered points, including kills by Carlini, Thompson and Chapman to go up 17-15.
The Badgers led 22-19 after Chapman’s serve hit the tape and rolled over to hit the floor on the Penn State side. After a kill by Penn State’s Nia Grant, Morales got a kill to make it 23-20.
But a serve into the net by Hickey proved costly as it gave the serve back in the hands of Hancock. She never let it go, recording two aces as the Nittany Lions put the match away with a 5-0 run. Deja McClendon scored the match point on a kill.
Carlini and Morales were named to the All Tournament team. They were joined by Penn State’s Scott, McClendon, Katie Slay and Hancock and Washington’s Krista Vansant.
Wisconsin 19 24 25 23
Penn State 25 26 20 25
WISCONSIN — (kills-aces-blocks) — Carlini 2-0-4, Thomas 1-1-5, Morey 0-0-0, Morales 15-0-2, Nelson 7-0-9, Thompson 16-0-5, Hickey 0-0-0, Kvas 0-0-0, Chapman 5-1-3. Totals: 46-2-14.
PENN STATE — (kills-aces-blocks) — Scott 21-0-0, Grant 4-0-4, Hancock 5-3-2, Slay 14-0-3, Courtney 5-0-5, McClendon 11-0-0, Pierce 0-0-0, Gonzalez 0-3-0, Prieto Cerame 2-0-0, Fuller 0-0-0. Totals: 62-6-9.
Hitting percentage — W .172, PS .206. Digs — W 73 (Hickey 26), PS 78 (Courtney, Gonzalez 20).
Assists — W 45 (Carlini 39), PS 56 (Hancock 48). Att.— 14,779.

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NCAA Wisconsin Penn St Volleyball

Penn State's Megan Courtney (17) slams a shot past Wisconsin's Courtney Thomas (3) and Haleigh Nelson (13) in an NCAA college volleyball tournament championship final Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, in Seattle. Penn State won in four games. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

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