UNIVERSITY PARK — Its not often a team can walk into Rec Hall and out-muscle the Penn State womens volleyball team.
Minnesota did just that for most of Wednesday night until Penn State found its game at the end.
Ariel Scott and Katie Slay played big when the No. 4 Nittany Lions needed it to prevail over No. 11 Minnesota 25-19, 23-25, 25-21, 22-25, 15-11.
Scott put down season-highs of 25 kills and seven blocks, while Slay pounded a career-high-tying 16 kills to accompany 10 blocks in a Big Ten showdown that lasted 2 hours, 40 minutes.
We know that everyone is good, Slay said of the conference. Going to five sets at home they pushed us. We have to rely on each other.
Deja McClendon added 14 kills and 16 digs, while Megan Courtney had 10 kills, a career-high 22 digs and six blocks in the physical battle for the Nittany Lions (13-2, 4-1).
The Golden Gophers (15-3, 3-2) got 18 kills and 22 digs from Ashley Wittman, 17 kills and nine blocks from Tori Dixon and 15 kills from Daly Santana.
Dixon was especially a handful in the first three sets when she had 14 of her kills.
Can you stop Tori Dixon? asked head coach Russ Rose, who earned career win No. 1,104, moving him within two of No. 2 on the NCAA Division I all-time wins list. I dont think anybody really stops her. I think shes an incredible talent. But 75 percent of the swings go to three hitters, so you know where theyre going, but they still have the ability to score because theyre very good.
The Gophers also were very physical. Midway through the fourth set, when Minnesota was cruising to a 15-7 lead, the Gophers had a 17-10 blocking advantage in the match.
But the Nittany Lions began to rally, and really seized the momentum when McClendon had back-to-back solo blocks on Dixon even if she didnt remember the plays.
I cant remember if it was Aiyana or someone that came out and got a couple good blocks on her, McClendon said. That always pumps us up.
When told she had those blocks, the senior laughed away her faulty memory.
We pump each other up, McClendon said. It was great.
The Nittany Lions closed to a one-point margin twice at the end of the set, but then Dominique Gonzalez missed a serve, and Micha Hancock and Nia Grant collided chasing after the ball for two quick Minnesota points to all but lock it up.
But the momentum from the comeback also lit a fire under the Nittany Lions and carried over to the fifth set.
The crowd did as much as I did, Rose said. They just didnt swear as much as I did.
Penn State leaped to an 8-2 advantage with more of those big blocks on the Minnesota big hitters. The Gophers rallied to 11-10, but two big kills from Slay and a shared block with Scott got the team to match point before a lift violation ended it although Slay was about to put down one more block when the whistle sounded.
Ariel blocked those balls, Slay said. She did a really good job of setting up the block on the pin. She was in the right spot and I just had to close to her. I think the serving was good at the end there. Kendall (Pierce) had some nice serves. We could kind of predict where the ball was going.
Penn State won the first set when Scott had 10 of her kills, then was inconsistent over the next two frames to keep the match interesting.
Hancock gave out 67 assists and Gonzalez picked up 19 digs as the Nittany Lions hit .245 and ended up winning the blocking battle 18.5-18. Penn State also held a 76-61 advantage in kills and 80-71 in digs.
It was not the teams best performance, but it was enough to prevail in a battle of muscle.
I had as long a list of things that I was disappointed by, Rose said, as I had of things that Im pleased about.
Notes: Penn State is home again Saturday night, hosting No. 19 Wisconsin at 8:30 p.m. at Rec Hall. Slays block total gave her 502 blocks for her career, putting her eighth on Penn States all-time list. The double-doubles were the fourth of the season for McClendon and third for Courtney. Rose is two wins behind retired UCLA coach Andy Banachowskis 1,106 victories. Hawaiis Dave Shoji leads with 1,118.