For one set, an upset was brewing, the Penn State women’s volleyball team looked vulnerable.
But just for a set.
Then the program that has the most NCAA titles in Division I got its game together.
Behind a balanced offensive attack, the 16th-seeded Nittany Lions overcame a sluggish start to drop Pittsburgh 20-25, 25-16, 25-13, 25-18 Saturday night at Rec Hall in the NCAA second round.
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“We’re excited about the opportunity to advance and play another weekend,” head coach Russ Rose said after his team reached the third round for the 14th straight season and 22nd time overall.
“It was pretty intense out there,” said Ali Frantti, who posted 11 kills. “Pitt gave us a good run.”
Penn State (24-9) will get a rematch with No. 1 seed Nebraska in the regional semifinals Friday. The defending champion Cornhuskers, who won the Big Ten regular-season title and both meetings with the Nittany Lions this year, swept Texas Christian in their match Saturday.
The Nittany Lion offense was paced by 14 kills each from Simone Lee and Haleigh Washington, with Tori Gorrell adding eight. Abby Detering directed the offense to a .321 hitting effort with her 42 assists.
“It’s just like any other game, except for just a little bit more pressure,” said Kendall White, who led the team with 18 digs. “A little bit more pressure helps us play better because we know that was our last game in Rec Hall … for this season.”
The Nittany Lions had a huge blocking effort to key the defense, winning the battle 13-5.5. It was led by Washington’s six, Gorrell’s five and four each for Detering and Heidi Thelen.
Pitt (25-9) was led by 14 kills apiece for Stephanie Williams and Nika Markovic, 15 digs from Angela Seman, five blocks from Jenna Potts and 38 assists for Kamalani Akeo. The Panthers hit .147.
Pitt raced to a big 9-3 lead to start the match and never let Penn State draw closer than two. The Panthers hit .567 in the set, making just one unforced hitting error.
“I wasn’t feeling confident after the first set because I know how good of a team (Penn State) is,” Panthers coach Dan Fisher said. “I definitely think playing a hard-fought match (Friday) night (3-1 over Dayton) helped us come out the way we did in the first set. I’ve been around the sport enough to know it takes a lot to beat Penn State.”
The Nittany Lions bounced back in the second, also making just one unforced hitting error, then posted a 7-1 advantage in stuffs in the third and forced the Panthers into hitting minus-.214.
“Start of the first (set) we were all a little bit high on our block,” Washington said. “We came out of that halfway point, we made the adjustment to be a lot lower because Pitt’s contact point is low and very strong and very aggressive. If we could bring the contact point down on our blocks, and make sure we’re low and over, that was the big adjustment that we made.”
The Nittany Lions got more of the same in the fourth set, racing to a 12-5 advantage to cruise. They got to celebrate the win after a quick set to Gorrell in the middle found the floor for a kill.
“We didn’t go crazy with losing the first game,” Rose said. “Pitt’s good. It’s hard to win 3-0 all the time.”