UNIVERSITY PARK — The match seemed destined for a fifth set, and the Penn State womens volleyball team appeared in trouble.
But just as quickly as they dug themselves a hole, they were right back out and finally finished off Nebraska.
The No. 4 Nittany Lions rallied from 9-1 down in the fourth to upend the No. 3 Cornhuskers, riding an emotional wave to a 23-25, 28-26, 25-17, 26-24 victory Wednesday night at Rec Hall.
You get a couple of heavyweights, head coach Russ Rose said, sometimes it looks like a pillow fight and sometimes it looks like a brawl.
Behind 23 kills for Ariel Scott and 16 for Deja McClendon, with both ripping off some big kills in that final frame, Penn State got an early leg up in the Big Ten standings in the conference opener for both teams.
Katie Slay added 10 kills and four blocks, McClendon and Nia Grant led with five blocks and Micha Hancock gave out 55 assists to go with 11 digs. Dominique Gonzalez picked up 16 digs and McClendon recorded 13.
The Cornhuskers (10-2) got 12 kills from Gina Mancuso, 11 from Meghan Haggerty and 10 for Hayley Tharmer, who also had a match-high eight blocks.
Haggerty added five blocks while Lauren Cook posted four to go with 44 assists and 10 digs. Hannah Werth led with 16 digs and Mancuso had 11.
We had our chances. We missed our opportunities, said Huskers coach John Cook, whose team was coming off a loss at Iowa State last weekend. On the road youve got to take it. I thought we learned our lesson last week.
Penn State (11-1) outhit Nebraska .315 to .209 and had a 66-55 edge in kills, though the Huskers won the blocking battle 14-10.
The fourth set certainly had a crazy start, with Nebraska shooting to a 9-1 lead highlighted by back-to-back-to-back blocks of Lion swings. Penn State then responded with an 8-0 run buoyed by a McClendon ace, three kills from Scott and two from mid-set replacement Maddie Martin.
That big of a lead is going to make a team feel great and extremely confident, Mancuso said. Its very, very unfortunate that we didnt keep that lead. Its a terrible feeling right now.
Penn State crawled to an 11-10 lead not long after on a Martin kill, and a Slay kill on an athletic tip set from Hancock put the Lions in the lead apparently for good at 12-11.
After we were down we fought together like we needed to, Scott said. Deja had a really good serving run which helped us a lot and the crowd was in it. We knew that could have ended the game.
But Nebraska didnt give up, fighting back to tie it at 24-24 on a 3-0 run capped by a Penn State error, but a service miscue was followed by a Martin ace to end the match.
I came in the first game I didnt do my job, said Martin, who finished with five kills on 10 swings. So when I got a second chance I took advantage of the opportunity. I was just trying to help out the team.
She brought a lot of energy to the court, Scott said of Martin. Our game plan was to hit over the setter, which Maddie did very well.
Nebraska took control of the first set with consecutive kills from Morgan Broekhuis, Mancuso and Haggerty for a 17-13 lead and the lead was as large as 21-16 after a Paige Hubl ace. Penn State whittled away soon after on a Hancock kill and a pair of double blocks from Grant and McClendon to draw within 23-22, but the Lions could get no closer and Haggerty closed it with a kill.
Penn State held the lead for nearly all of the second set but a Husker run late tied it at 22. Penn State fought off a pair of set points before a Scott kill and a double-block from Grant and McClendon on Broekhuis iced the frame.
The Lions practically dominated the third, using a 7-1 run to take command thanks to three Husker errors and kills from Hancock, McClendon and a pair from Scott. One final hitting error from Haggerty finished the set.
Its an incredibly long Big Ten season, Rose said. I dont get too over-the-top with a victory. I also recognize that a week ago Nebraska was the No. 1 team in the country. It just means were capable of playing with some of the better teams and thats good for us to know that.
Notes: The teams meet again in Lincoln on the afternoon of Oct. 28. They split their two matches last season, with each winning in their own home floor. The Corn-huskers were facing their third of four straight ranked opponents. Nebraska will stay in town until Friday, practicing today in South Gym, instead of going home and returning to Ohio State for Saturdays match. Penn State is home again Saturday night against Iowa.
Gordon Brunskill can be reached at 231-4608.