SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Russ Rose calmly reminded his team
that just because Stanford suddenly had all the momentum, in no way
did it mean Penn State still couldn't pull off a national
championship by winning Game 5.
The scrappy Nittany Lions did just that against the favored
Cardinal. And they played near-perfect volleyball in an amazing
NCAA run, capturing their second national title while dropping only
two games in six tournament matches.
Third-seeded Penn State even found a way to stun top-seeded
Stanford on Saturday night, getting 26 kills from Megan Hodge and
19 from Nicole Fawcett against the very same school they beat for
their first title in 1999.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet that we won," Hodge said. "It's
surreal. I'm on a high."
A day before her 21st birthday, Fawcett served on match point
and Penn State capped its 26th straight victory on another powerful
kill by MVP Hodge, winning 30-25, 30-26, 23-30, 19-30, 15-8 exactly
three months to the day after losing a five-game thriller to the
Cardinal -- the last defeat for the Nittany Lions.
It was a classic for volleyball fans considering each side had
three first-team All-Americans. Trailing 4-3 in the decisive game,
Penn State (34-2) scored six straight points and got two kills each
from Christa Harmotto and Alisha Glass for a 10-4 lead and Stanford
"We didn't really want to look at the momentum," said Glass,
Penn State's sophomore setter who recorded 65 assists, seven kills,
11 digs and contributed on two blocks. "We just wanted to start
from the beginning of Game 5. We wanted to win a national
championship. We said, 'We're here. This is the goal.' "
National and Pac-10 player of the year Foluke Akinradewo and
Pac-10 freshman of the year Alix Klineman each had 18 kills for the
Cardinal (32-3), who tried to become the first team since UCLA in
1991 to rally from a two-game deficit to win.
Stanford fell short for the second straight season, missing a
chance to give senior starters Bryn Kehoe and Franci Gerard another
title after winning when they were freshmen in 2004.
"This is why we take the court every day and work hard in
practice, so we can win a national championship," Akinradewo said.
"It's worth taking the risk."
Rose had no intention of shutting down Stanford's stars. What
his team did was keep points alive by chasing down tough loose
balls and hitting the floor for athletic digs to end Stanford's
12-game winning streak and deny the Pac-10 its sixth title in seven
"Anything can happen in a short game, but I was confident if we
got to Game 5 and had enough offense we could do some things,"
Stanford, which barely advanced out of the semifinals after a
3-2 win over Southern California on Thursday night, was seeking its
seventh title in 16 seasons. Now, after five straight championships
by the Pac-10, 2006 winner Nebraska and Penn State are bringing
more parity to the college game.
"The goal going into next year is to win the championship and
not lose three years in a row," Stanford's Cynthia Barboza said.
The Cornhuskers were the only other team to beat Penn State this
season. The Nittany Lions are 31-0 when they win the first game of
a match and this was only the fifth time they had to go the
distance to win -- and fresh legs could have been a factor in this
one. Penn State breezed past California 3-0 on Thursday.
Fawcett had served into the net on game point in Game 3, but
made up for it later.
"We just talked coming in about how we were going to win,"
Fawcett said. "So, we just had to go back to how we were playing
in the first two games. There was no way we were going to lose
This marked the third time these teams met in the championship,
with Stanford winning in 1997 and Penn State two years later. These
are the only two teams to make all 27 NCAA tournament fields since
its inception in 1981.
Stanford freshman libero Gabi Ailes extended her own
single-season digs record to 533 with 10 digs Saturday.
In the opening game, the teams combined for five service errors
among the first 14 points. Fawcett's kill made it 26-23, then she
had a key block for her team's 29th point and the game-winning
Kate Price, Penn State's senior outside hitter, chased down
several tough saves along the right sideline.
"They had some rallies we thought were over," Stanford coach
John Dunning said. "People were celebrating in the stands but they
were still going on."
Rose, in his 29th season at the school, was national coach of
the year and Saturday's triumph was his 925th career victory.
The championship drew 13,631 for a total of 26,679, the
second-highest attendance mark in NCAA volleyball history behind
Omaha, Neb., last year (34,060).