Penn State's Ariel Scott (right) embraces Katie Slay after the Nittany Lions defeated Washington in an NCAA women's volleyball tournament semifinal Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, in Seattle. (AP)
SEATTLE — Talk about silencing the home crowd.
The Penn State women’s volleyball team put on an electrifying display Thursday night at KeyArena, and another national title is in sight.
The No. 2 Nittany Lions dominated both offensively and defensively to thump No. 3 Washington 25-14, 25-13, 25-16 in the national semifinals as they moved to the doorstep of their sixth NCAA crown.
“This is the fire I think that you need to win it all,” said four-time All-American Deja McClendon, whose 11 kills on .391 hitting and 13 digs led the way. “I’m so proud of my team right now.”
Penn State (33-2) will face Wisconsin in Saturday’s championship match at 9:30 p.m. The Badgers were a surprise winner over top-seeded Texas in four sets in the night’s first semifinal.
The match will be the first All-Big Ten final in the NCAA Tournament’s history. The Lions swept the Badgers 3-0 in their two regular-season matches.
“I believe the seniors have a pretty good handle on what we need to do,” coach Russ Rose told ESPN2. “We’ll see if we can do it one more time.”
The Nittany Lions will make their ninth appearance in the finals — winning the last five trips there — and carry a 24-match win streak into the title match.
The lopsided numbers included a .488 hitting performance with 46 kills and just five errors on 84 swings. Washington hit just .117 with 28 kills and 17 errors. The Nittany Lions also held an 8-3 blocking advantage, a 45-29 edge in digs and a 5-1 ace margin.
“It was just going up and swinging hard and high,” said Hancock, who had three of those aces on some major service runs. She also had 39 assists.
Ariel Scott added 10 kills, Katie Slay had eight kills and four blocks, Nia Grant added six kills and four blocks, Megan Courtney posted six kills and nine digs and Dominique Gonzalez recorded 13 digs.
“We passed really well and I thought Micha played really well distributing the ball,” said Rose, who was named the AVCA’s national Coach of the Year earlier Thursday. “Other than the third game where we made four or five service errors, I thought we had a pretty good handle on the game this evening.”
Pac-12 Player of the Year Krista Vansant, who had 38 kills last Saturday in the regional finals, was held to a mere seven kills. Kaleigh Nelson’s eight kills led the Huskies, who were playing just five miles from their campus.
The match drew better than 17,000 fans, mostly rooting for the home team — quietly after the match’s early minutes.
After Washington had built an 11-9 lead in the opening set, Penn State took command by scoring 16 of the frame’s final 19 points. Hancock delivered a pair of aces early in the run, while Scott and McClendon each put down four kills in the frame as the Nittany Lions hit a solid .478.
McClendon was on fire pretty much from end to end.
“In my opinion she’s been our best player this year,” Rose said. “She’s a great passer, her backrow defense — she leads us in digs almost every match — (she’s) an awfully good blocker and she took some great swings tonight.”
The domination continued in the second set with an 8-0 run on Hancock’s serve. The Huskies took two timeouts during the blitz to try to turn the tide but to no avail. Another Hancock ace, two Slay blocks and two Scott kills highlighted the run. The Lions hit a whopping .583 in the set, and through the first two had just two hitting errors. Washington was hitting .095 with 13 errors.
The first two set scores for the Huskies were their lowest totals of the season for a single frame.
The final set saw a 4-0 run early for Penn State, which then iced the win with another 4-0 run late. Despite a few breakdowns in passing and a couple Husky blocks, for the most part Penn State maintained its momentum, with Washington hardly ever able to string together multiple points in a row to stoke the home crowd.
Slay finally ended the match, which ended in a tidy 1 hour, 9 minutes, bouncing a spike off a blocker’s hands to set up another date with the Badgers.
“Passing was great,” Hancock said. “Our serve-pass game was pretty good until the end. We kind of served some balls out, made some errors, but passing was on-point. We could do what we needed to do.”
Wisconsin 3, Texas 1
In the first match of the night, the Badgers stunned the defending champion Longhorns 25-19, 25-18, 26-28, 25-23 behind 17 kills and three aces for Ellen Chapman, 14 kills and 14 digs for Deme Morales, 12 kills and five blocks for Dominique Thompson, five blocks for Courtney Thomas, 21 digs for Annemarie Hickey and 50 assists for Lauren Carlini.
The No. 12 seeded Badgers will be looking for their first title, and to become the lowest seeded team to win a crown, in their second final in program history and first since 2000.
The No. 1 Longhorns were led by Haley Eckerman’s 17 kils and 14 digs, Sarah Palmer’s 16 digs, Hannah Allison’s 33 assists and Khat Bell’s 10 blocks.
Notes: Earlier Thursday, Scott was named the winner of the Senior CLASS Award, given for excellence on and off the court. The Nittany Lions’ leading hitter and three-time All-American is active in Special Olympics, and has earned Academic All-Big Ten and Big Ten Distinguised Scholar honors. Scott beat out nine other finalists in a vote of NCAA coaches, media and fans. ... In addition to Rose’s national coaching honor, Texas’ Salima Rockwell was named Assistant Coach of the Year. Rockwell is a former Nittany Lion All-American and assistant coach.
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