Penn State Volleyball

Penn State women’s volleyball cruises in NCAA opener

The Penn State women’s volleyball team defended its home court in its NCAA first-round matchup against LIU Brooklyn. Penn State (23-9) overwhelmed the Blackbirds (16-15) Friday night 25-8, 25-16, 25-6 to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

The Nittany Lions got out to a hot start, starting the game on a 11-1 run behind three kills from Simone Lee and two each from Heidi Thelen and Tori Gorrell. Penn State never looked back, taking the first set 25-8.

Lee led Penn State with 12 kills on the night, bringing her season total to 467. Lee is closing in on No. 4 on the single-season kills list for the Nittany Lions. She only needs two to tie Ariel Scott, who had 469 in the 2012. Three would tie her with Megan Hodge for third all-time. But Lee was not focused on her season total.

“No (it was not on my mind), I don’t even know what the numbers are,” Lee said. “I just want to help the team win every night.”

Gorrell hit .625 with five kills and Thelen added eight kills as the Nittany Lions hit .403 as a team. Lee had four blocks, Abby Detering dished out 28 total assists and had a team-high three aces, and Kendall White anchored the defense with 18 digs.

The second set wasn’t as strong for the Lions as they only led 17-13.

“For a couple games, it’s hard to generate much energy because we go on serving runs,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “I thought Kendall White was really good tonight, she was in the right place and did a nice job.”

One-third of the swing attempts were from Lee, who said the gameplan was to spread the swings around.

“Heidi had a good night with 12 swings and Clare (Powers) hit .600 tonight,” Lee said. “Our main our goal to spread it around and we don’t want to give an easy scouting report to the other team.”

Penn State then turned on the jets to start the final set with a 7-0 run before a Blackbird timeout. Strong serving from Detering allowed Penn State to extend the lead to 13-0 before LIU scored its first points of the set.

But the Nittany Lions did not let up and won the final set 25-6. Opportunities were given to Nia Reed and Powers to make an impact late in the game. Reed had one kill on two swings and Powers had three kills on five swings.

“It was nice for Clare to make a positive contribution and the players wanted her to be at the press conference,” Rose said.

“I think it’s a great experience for me to get in,” Powers said. “Obviously, I haven’t had that much time this year. I’m blessed to be here so I love every minute of it.”

Penn State will face in-state rival Pittsburgh (25-8) in the second round at 6:30 p.m. in Rec Hall Saturday and Rose expects a tough battle. The Panthers took out Dayton (30-2) in four sets.

“We’re going to have to up our level from tonight,” Rose said. “They beat teams we lost to this year. They beat North Carolina and Michigan. I think (coach) Dan (Fisher) does a good job. I think they’re players play well and I like their energy.”