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Penn State caps perfect season with sweep of Stanford

OMAHA, Neb. -- Penn State showed it was still the best team in the country, even on a night it wasn't playing its best.

The unbeaten Nittany Lions swept Stanford 25-20, 26-24, 25-23 Saturday night in a rematch of last year's final, staking their claim as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, teams in the history of women's college volleyball.

"I don't think it was the prettiest match to determine the national championship, but it was a match that was played very hard by both teams," Penn State coach Russ Rose said. "We hung in there defensively to give Megan opportunities to take big swings at the end."

Megan Hodge, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player for the second year in a row, pounded nine of her 16 kills in the third set as Penn State (38-0) finished off its NCAA-record 64th straight match since a September 2007 loss to Stanford (31-4).

Penn State was so dominant this season that it won every set it played until dropping the third and fourth sets of Thursday's semifinal against Nebraska.

Though the Lions' NCAA record of sets won ended at 111, their dominance did not.

Nicole Fawcett, the national player of the year, slammed Christa Harmotto's set just inside the line for the match point. Fawcett and Harmotto, eyes wide, looked at referee Margie Ray a long moment before Ray ruled the ball in, touching off Penn State's celebration on its end of the court.

"At that time, it did seem like eternity, but Megan was already celebrating so I figured we already got the point," Fawcett said. "Then it was good to see everybody rushing the floor."

Penn State spotted Stanford leads of 5-1, 13-8 and 16-12 before scoring 13 of the final 17 points of the first set, and the Nittany Lions never trailed in the second and third.

The second set was interrupted twice while officials straightened out a discrepancy between the official scorekeeper and referee.

The previous four matches between Penn State and Stanford had gone five sets.

The Lions pounced this time, not wanting to risk having to go past three sets for a second match in a row.

"Thursday night, we kind of let off a little bit in the third game, and it turned into more of a competitive match going five," Hodge said. "I think we all got it in our head that we have to get out there and play hard."

Penn State hit just .177 while becoming the sixth team to win back-to-back championships. Stanford hit .142.

Stanford, in the championship match for a record 14th time, became the first team to lose in the final three years in a row. The Cardinal lost to Nebraska in Omaha in 2006 and to Penn State in Sacramento in 2007.

"If, indeed, Nebraska's team three years ago and last year's Penn State team were one of the best ever and this year's Penn State team is the best ever, then this group of seniors should walk away with the feeling that they are one of the best teams ever," Stanford coach John Dunning said. "They need to not just be proud of what they accomplished this year but the body of work they accomplished in their time at Stanford."

Alix Klineman led Stanford with 15 kills and Cynthia Barboza added 11 kills and 15 digs.

Fawcett had 10 kills for Penn State, but she hit just .029, and Blair Brown added nine for the Lions.

Penn State setter Alisha Glass joined Fawcett and Hodge on the all-tournament team. Klineman and Barboza were all-tourney picks for Stanford, as were Jordan Larson of Nebraska and Destinee Hooker of Texas.

Rose stopped short of calling Penn State's 2008 team the greatest.

"I wouldn't compare this to the other 30 teams I've had at Penn State," Rose said. "This group had the potential to do certain things and they kept working hard and kept having to hear me talk about what their potential was. Other people can talk about those things. They can talk about records. All the records that happened, eventually people break those records, and that's fine."

Time will tell where the Lions stack up, Dunning said, but they left no doubt where they rank this year.

"They made history," he said. "Right now they have a record that continues. It's an amazing season they just finished."