UNIVERSITY PARK — Facing a team like ninth-ranked Stanford so early in the season provides a definite test for the Penn State womens volleyball team.
On Friday night at Rec Hall, not only were the Nittany Lions tested, it was like they had to give a dissertation.
On a steamy night in front of 5,017 fans inside the Lions den, and in a match that lasted nearly three hours, No. 4 Penn State prevailed in five gruelling sets, 25-13, 25-27, 25-23, 23-25, 15-13.
After the first set, when the Nittany Lions put on a startling run, nothing came easy. There were endless rallies leaving everyone on the court and most in the bleachers dripping with sweat from exertion and emotion.
Its worth it, said Ariel Scott, one of many with a big ice pack strapped to her shoulder after the match. She was the workhorse with 26 kills on 85 swings, accounting for nearly 40 percent of Penn States attempts.
Its doing OK, Scott said of her shoulder. I have a bunch of time to rest.
Deja McClendon also got plenty of work with 16 kills on 55 swings to go with her four blocks while Katie Slay had 10 kills and a match-high seven blocks. Micha Hancock produced 53 assists, 23 digs, four blocks and three aces and Dominique Gonzalez picked up 22 digs.
Jordan Burgess 13 kills led four Cardinal in double figures, adding 20 assists. She was joined by Brittany Howards 12 kills, 11 for Morgan Boukather and 10 for Rachel Williams. Carly Wopat had six blocks and Williams added five, and Kyle Gilbert contributed 23 digs and Burgess had 20.
How much of a marathon was it? The teams combined for 413 swings and 199 digs with a total of nine women in double figures for digs with so many points in which neither could find a put-away.
It was pretty tough, Hancock said. Some of us were winded during a play. We had to beat them in transition play. They keep the ball in play, they pepper over We need a kill. I think it challenged us.
They were playing really good defense, Scott said. You just have to keep a level head and not get frustrated. Try to get a kill the next time.
Even the fifth set was filled with drama as Penn State appeared in command with a 13-7 lead only to see the Cardinal storm back to 13-12. A Stanford error ended the run and freshman Megan Courtney pounded the ball off a Cardinal blocker to secure the nights final point.
Conditioning is how they play (today), not how they play with 5,000 people (Friday), said head coach Russ Rose. Its how do you bounce back the next day thats why playing in the Big Ten, when you have to play back-to-back nights, is a big challenge. Youre having to play great teams with big crowds on the road and having the ability to do that night-in and night-out when everybody knows what youre going to do. Thats the challenge.
Penn State was dominating in the first set, racing to a quick 4-0 with the help of two Hancock aces, and the team later had a 9-1 run to close the frame. Scott had three kills and Stanford had four more errors during the closing burst.
The Nittany Lions dug themselves a major hole in the second set, with a quick 4-0 deficit and a Cardinal lead as large as 20-12 before Penn State put on an impressive run of nine straight points for a 21-20 lead. McClendon and Scott each had a pair of kills to open the rally with Lacey Fuller serving and Nia Grant also had a kill, which was assisted by four Stanford errors. The momentum could not be sustained, however, with a Courtney error giving the Cardinal the final point for the set.
From there, it was tight the rest of the night, with a few spurts but never any signs of dominance.
We hung in there with the help of a great crowd, in a building where we need to have those great crowds, Rose said. We need to have good energy to get things done.
Texas 3, Florida 0
The Longhorns squeaked past the Gators in three tight sets in the opening match of the tournament.
Haley Ackermans 16 kills, three blocks and three aces led Texas, while Bailey Webster added 13 kills, Khat Bell had 10 kills, Hannah Allison gave out 20 assists to go with Nicole Daltons 18 and Sha- Dare McNeal had 11 digs.
Florida got 22 kills from Ziva Recek, 16 kills from Chloe Mann, 47 assists from Taylor Brauneis and 15 digs from Taylor Unroe.
The teams are back on the court today, with Florida meeting Stanford at 4 p.m. and the Nittany Lions and Longhorns facing off at 7 p.m.