Penn State sweeps Washington
SEATTLE -- Penn State quieted the Washington fans -- and sent them home early.
Never mind Washington winning a national championship at home. It was second-seeded Penn State making the statement with a 3-0 victory over the third-seeded Huskies on Thursday night in the NCAA volleyball semifinals.
Deja McClendon had 11 kills and 13 digs, Micha Hancock added 39 assists, and the five-time champion Nittany Lions (33-2) rolled into the championship match.
They will face Big Ten rival Wisconsin on Saturday night. The 12th-seeded Badgers stunned No. 1 seed Texas in the first semifinal.
Penn State (33-2) never let Washington in the match, winning 25-14, 25-13, 25-16 to extend its winning streak to 24 matches and advance to its ninth title game.
"You don't know how everybody's going to play with 15,000 people. But I was confident that we had a good game plan, and the players were good listeners," Penn State coach Russ Rose said. "And, you know, some of them have been here before so they know a little bit about ignoring the noise and just going out there and doing their job."
Penn State spoke confidently before the match about being able to handle the electric environment while playing a road game in the semifinals. The Nittany Lions backed it up with one of their most impressive performances of the season after getting pushed to five sets in the regional final against Stanford.
Penn State hit .488 for the match, its highest percentage since hitting .507 against Indiana in early October. The Nittany Lions had 45 digs defensively and committed only five attacking errors.
Ariel Scott added 10 kills for the Nittany Lions, and Hancock had three of Penn State's five aces.
"I don't think it was easy, but we've been focusing on playing loose and relaxed, and we did a good job of that tonight," Scott said.
Penn State ruined what was a perfect setup for the Huskies. KeyArena was nearly sold out in anticipation of Washington playing in the semifinals just a few miles from campus. The fans were left waiting for a reason to erupt, and the Nittany Lions never gave them an opportunity.
Krista Vansant had only seven kills for Washington (30-3) after setting a tournament record with 38 in the regional final against Southern California.
"I watched six matches on them this year, and this is the most consistent they played. We kind of allowed them to be good, too," Washington coach Jim McLaughlin said. "It was the first time we hadn't responded to the adversity and we panicked a little bit and I just felt like we didn't get into good spots to pressure them."
The Nittany Lions hit .478 in the first set as Washington's defense struggled to slow down Penn State's attack. Trailing 11-9, Penn State ran off 16 of the final 19 points in the set. McClendon got most of the attempts, but Scott also had four kills in the first set.
Washington's early advantage was the only time it was ever in front. The Huskies had no answers for Penn State's towering front line of McClendon (6-foot-1), Scott (6-4) and Katie Slay (6-6). Penn State hit .488 for the match and simply hit over the top of Washington's blockers.
"We came into this game knowing we had to start out well. We knew we couldn't start out awful and win this match," McClendon said.
When McClendon wasn't at the net, she was just as important roaming the backcourt and keeping plays alive with her defense.
"I think our block did a really good job of setting up so I had a good view of the hitter," McClendon said. "Our coaches helped us a lot to basically plan where they were going to hit the ball."
The Nittany Lions also kept Vansant from taking over the match the way she did in Washington's comeback victory over USC. Kaleigh Nelson led Washington with eight kills, and the Huskies hit a season-worst .117.
Washington was trying to reach the title game for the first time since winning the championship in 2005.
"Bottom line, it was a nightmare," McLaughlin said. "It was not fun in any way, shape or form. That's part of the business."