Penn State volleyball: Nittany Lions sweep No. 19 Louisville

For the opening weekend, it was a pretty decent showing.

The Penn State women’s volleyball team put on big runs of points in all three sets and dominated No. 19 Louisville 25-15, 25-16, 25-13 Saturday night at Rec Hall to close the Penn State Invitational.

Micha Hancock served up eight aces, while Ariel Scott and Paulina Prieto-Cerame posted 11 and 10 kills, respectively, for the No. 2 Nittany Lions (2-0).

“It’s a good win for us,” coach Russ Rose said. “It’s a good win against a competitive team that’s at the top of their conference and ranked in the top 20.”

After an opening weekend in which the Nittany Lions eased into the season with solid play, the competition gets decidedly tougher next weekend with a trip to Austin, Texas, for the Nike Big 4 Challenge. Penn State will meet No. 1 and defending national champion Texas next Saturday, then face No. 9 Florida on Sunday. The Longhorns lost at No. 11 Hawaii late Friday night.

Penn State earned three-set sweeps in all three of the weekend’s matches — an exhibition against Polish pro team Dabrowa on Friday, then against Syracuse on Saturday morning.

“Today we had to play a different way to be successful,” Rose said. “The Polish team, we could compete with them at the net. We needed to be a little better — this was a match where we needed to do really well at the back row.”

Hancock also gave out 28 assists, Deja McClendon picked up 17 digs, and Nia Grant, Prieto-Cerame and Katie Slay each had three blocks.

As a team, Penn State hit .247, won the blocking battle 7.5-3, had a 34-25 edge in kills and a 47-32 advantage in digs.

In a personal battle, Louisville freshman Maya McClendon got the better of her older sister with eight kills to lead the Cardinals. Both struggled with their hitting. The younger McClendon had nine errors and hit minus-.028, while Deja McClendon had only two kills on just 10 swings and hit minus-.100.

“It was everything I thought it would be,” Maya McClendon said. “Adrenaline was crazy. Teammates were pumping me up. Just the fact that I was here made it that much better. This is like a second home to me.”

Katie George and Hannah Kvittle each had 10 assists and Caitlin Welch had 10 digs for Louisville. Kvittle also had a pair of blocks, as did Randi Ewing, the daughter of NBA Hall-of-Famer Patrick Ewing.

The Nittany Lions had some big runs of points in all three frames, blasting off to a 6-0 and 11-2 lead to open the match, won 13 of the last 18 points of the second set, then had an 11-3 burst early in the third.

The team’s nine total aces, against just five errors, helped put pressure on the Cardinals.

“For us to be successful, we have to serve tough,” Rose said. “I don’t think we’re as dynamic of a defensive team as we’ve been in the past. But I also feel the block at times ... can make a difference. Paulina plays incredibly hard. I’m a big fan of how hard she plays.”

On Saturday morning, Penn State breezed past Syracuse in the first official match of the season. With plenty of balance and playing time spread around, no one reached double figures in kills but nine different women had at least one. Prieto-Cerame led with nine kils while Grant and Aiyana Whitney added six each. Hancock gave out 30 aces to go with seven digs, Maddie Martin also had seven digs and Slay picked up five blocks.