The Penn State women’s volleyball team was two points away from wrapping up a 3-win opening weekend of the season.
No. 19 North Carolina — and State College graduate Taylor Leath — had other ideas.
Despite a career-high 23 kills for Simone Lee, the No. 9 Nittany Lions were stunned by the Tar Heels 16-25, 25-22, 21-25, 25-23, 15-9 Saturday night at Rec Hall.
Head coach Russ Rose didn’t hold back in his assessment of his team.
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“How we lost this one was one of the worst ways that a team can lose,” Rose said. “That is to quit, and disappoint so many people that care about the program and support the program.”
How we lost this one was one of the worst ways that a team can lose. That is to quit, and disappoint so many people that care about the program and support the program.
Holding a lead at 22-20 in the second, and 23-18 in the fourth, and not closing either frame had the Lion leader in his 38th season frustrated.
“You can’t hit .548 (in) the first game and then just go to sleep,” Rose added. “I think quit’s pretty accurate.”
Ali Frantti, Haleigh Washington and Heidi Thelen each had 11 kills, with Frantti posting 12 digs and Kendall White making 17 digs. Washington also had five blocks.
However, Washington had nine hitting errors and hit .062, while fellow 2015 All-American Frantti had nine errors and hit .044.
“It’s a terrible feeling to lose, it’s a terrible feeling to lose at home,” said Lee, who also had 10 digs. “I don’t think anyone wants to experience that ever again.”
After a slow start, Leath had a huge night in her first match against the Nittany Lions (2-1), and first trip back to State College since the summer of her 2014 graduation. The redshirt sophomore led the Heels with her 18 kills and 16 digs, adding four blocks and two aces. She had a hand in the final three points of the match, with a kill, a block of Washington and one final cross-court kill to ignite a celebration.
“I think we were just determined,” Leath said. “We wanted to really show what Carolina volleyball is really going to be. We want to set a tone.”
Taylor Treacy added 11 kills, Julia Scoles had 11 kills and five blocks and Sydnye Fields posted 11 blocks for the Heels (2-1).
An 8-0 run and the .548 hitting in the frame made it look like Penn State would cruise. But the struggles began in the second set, with error after error.
Early in the third, after falling behind 5-1, Rose pulled starting setter Abby Detering in favor of last year’s starter, Bryanna Weiskircher. The change worked for a while, but not long enough.
“I thought the setter just kind of went like the scoreboard (Friday) night — just kind of went dead,” Rose said. “I thought the other setter came in and did a pretty good job, and then at the end of the match the other setter was dead.”
Detering finished with 23 assists, and Weiskircher had 28.
In the fourth set the Lions put on a 5-1 run midway through, and appeared on the verge of victory at 23-18. But North Carolina ran off the set’s final seven points, helped by four Lion errors and a block and kill for Leath, to force the fifth.
“We were at that point where we were having fun, we got all of our jitters out,” Leath said. “Every single member of our team was ready to go out there and play and we really attacked. … I don’t think we shied away from anything.”
Penn State errors and big swings for Scoles and Hayley McCorkle built an 11-7 lead in the fifth. Penn State made a small rally, but that just set the stage for Leath to close the night.
“They felt really good,” Carolina coach Joe Sagula said. “They knew, ‘OK, we’re here.’ Not like we were lucky.”
The feelings were completely different on the other side of the court.
“Hard to be there for 2 1/2 hours,” Rose said, “and see people perform at the end of the match, and at the end of the games, as we did.”
Earlier Saturday, Penn State swept Georgia Southern 25-13, 25-12, 25-7 with seven kills each for Washington and Frantti and six for Thelen, with Washington adding five blocks, part of am 8-1 blocking advantage. Bryanna Weiskircher started at setter and gave out 26 assists to go with eight digs, helping the team hit .424.
Leath also had two kills, two digs and a block as the Heels swept West Virginia 3-0.
The Nittany Lions hit the road next weekend for the Big Ten-Pac 12 Challenge in Boulder, Colo., facing Colorado on Saturday and No 10 Stanford on Sunday.