With the ball bouncing all over the place, and the offense for the Penn State women’s volleyball team out of system, the Nittany Lions caught a break.
Falling backward a good 10 feet off the net, Ali Frantti hit a roll shot that bounced off a Northwestern blocker and dribbled just barely out of bounds.
Breaks have been few and far between for this year’s version of the Nittany Lions, but they got a few Friday night at Rec Hall. Behind 11 kills for Frantti to lead a balanced offense, No. 15 Penn State swept away Northwestern 25-23, 25-23, 25-16.
“I don’t think it was our best effort,” coach Russ Rose said. “But I think it was a good match against a tough opponent where we had to be ready to play.”
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Simone Lee added nine kills on .421 hitting, giving her 435 for the season to move her into fifth place for single-season kills. She passed Deja McClendon’s 432 kills in 2011. Haleigh Washington hit .538 with eight kills and Tori Gorrell added six kills as the Nittany Lions hit .379 as a team. Heidi Thelen led the blocking effort with four stuffs, and Abby Detering, Kendall White, Lainy Pierce and Keeton Holcomb posted seven digs each.
Penn State (21-9, 13-6 Big Ten) closes its regular-season schedule at 8 p.m. Saturday, hosting Illinois for senior night. Laura Broerman, Taylor Krause and Carley Muller will all be honored before the match. Symone Abbott’s 18 kills on a busy 45 swings led the Wildcats (9-22, 2-17), who hit .298 and were outblocked 6.5-4.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t know that 70 percent of their swings were going to go to the two outside hitters,” Rose said of Abbott’s workload. “We didn’t do a very good job defending it.”
Penn State also had a solid day from the service line, with five aces as a team and four from Detering, who also gave out 34 assists. The Lions made just four errors from the line in the match.
The first two sets were tight with plenty of ties (13 over the two sets) and lead exchanges (7), but Penn State pulled away for the final points of both. The Nittany Lions closed the first with a 6-3 run, and earned three of the final four points of the second, with Frantti kills locking up both frames.
“It’s been a very challenging year with deuce games,” Rose said. “The fact that we were losing both of those games is more concerning than we found a way to win.”
Penn State controlled the third from end to end. That roll-shot kill by Frantti put the Nittany Lions up 15-11, and on the next two points, a more familiar version of the team was on the court, with back-to-back blocks for the tandem of Gorrell and Thelen on Abbott.
“It’s about keeping balls in play, and whatever I can do just to tool off (use the block) and try be smart with it,” Frantti said of her off-balance-but-needed kill. “It was definitely nice tonight.”
With the end of the regular season arriving, and the NCAA tournament bracket announced at 9 p.m. Sunday, Rose is still concerned with how ready his team is for the tournament.
“The players have to make plays,” Rose said. “That’s always the key component, is people making plays. It’s not we have to come up with a new system to defend people. We actually had a game plan and (Abbott) still had 18 kills.”