Penn State Women’s Volleyball Rebounds to Defeat Michigan
After falling in their Big Ten opener the night before, the No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2, 1-1 Big Ten) bounced back to knock off the No. 10 Michigan Wolverines (10-3, 0-2 Big Ten) in four sets on Saturday night to notch their first Big Ten victory.
A day after dropping the opening set for the first time all season, the Nittany Lions got off to a much stronger start on Saturday to set the tone early. Holding a slim 10-9 advantage, Penn State strung together four straight points behind the serve of Micha Hancock to gain some separation with a 14-9 lead. Michigan would trim the deficit to 17-14, but the Nittany Lions rebounded with two straight points to widen their lead to five.
Michigan coach Mark Rosen called timeout to try to put a damper on Penn State’s momentum, but the Nittany Lions picked up right where they left off. Consecutive kills from Hancock, Nia Grant, and Megan Courtney enabled the Penn State lead to balloon to 22-14, and the Nittany Lions never looked back, cruising to a 25-16 first-set victory.
The second frame was a tight battle, with neither team leading by more than two for the majority of the set. With the Wolverines leading 16-15, though, a kill from Lexi Erwin and two consecutive blocks enabled Michigan to jump out to a 19-15 advantage.
Sensing that the second set was starting to slip away, Penn State coach Russ Rose used a timeout, and his team responded with a 4-0 run to even the score at 19. However, the Wolverines were able to answer back, as two straight kills from Molly Toon sparked a 5-0 run to give Michigan a commanding 24-19 lead.
Penn State staved off one set point, but a kill from Toon on the following point secured a 25-20 second-set win for the Wolverines. Toon notched six kills in the second game and led all players with 10 kills as the teams entered the halftime locker room with the match knotted at one set apiece.
Much like in the first two sets, both sides traded blows in the early stages of the third game, with neither team gaining a decisive advantage. Then, with Penn State holding a 15-13 lead, the Nittany Lions ripped off four straight points behind the serve of Lacey Fuller to pull ahead by six.
The Nittany Lions gave Michigan new life with two straight hitting errors to make it 19-16, but the Wolverines were unable to draw any closer. Deja McClendon had been leading Penn State’s offensive attack all night, but with the scoreboard reading 20-17, it was a play on the defensive end---an emphatic block by McClendon---that brought the Rec Hall crowd to life and helped the Nittany Lions carry on to a 25-19 third-set win.
Being 25 points away from nailing down its second win over a Top 10 team this season, Penn State jumped on the Wolverines right away in the fourth set. Hancock started off the game with two aces, and Penn State took control early with a 4-1 lead.
Michigan would hang around for a bit, but with the Nittany Lions leading 8-6, they mustered a 4-0 run to open up a 12-6 advantage. The Wolverines responded by winning the next point, but any thoughts of a comeback were short-lived.
Penn State exploded with a 5-0 run, capped off by two straight plays in which Ariel Scott and Katie Slay teamed up to reject kill attempts by Toon. After the match, Russ Rose discussed how Penn State’s defense was finally able to hone in on Toon once it became predictable that the ball was going to her.
“It was a match-up where they were having a little trouble passing, and she was really the viable option to get the swing, and it was favorable for us,” he said. “I see why they set her so much; she’s a great attacker.”
Trailing by double digits for the first time all night at 17-7, Michigan answered the 9-1 Nittany Lion run with an 8-4 run of its own, but the Wolverines could never trim the deficit any lower than six. With Penn State leading 23-17, consecutive kills from Courtney and Scott sealed the deal for the Nittany Lions, who sent the Rec Hall faithful home happy with a 25-17 third-set win and a 3-1 win overall.
Penn State’s attack was nearly flawless in the fourth game, registering just one error while posting a .406 hitting percentage. The Nittany Lions also dominated the play at the net in the final set, tallying five blocks while Michigan failed to record any.
Toon notched a match-high 19 kills on the night, and Scott and McClendon paced the Nittany Lions with 15 apiece. McClendon, Hancock, and Dominique Gonzalez all contributed double-figure digs for Penn State, led by McClendon with 13.
“It was a good team effort for us against a very good Michigan team,” Rose said after the match. “It was nice for us to be able to bounce back from yesterday’s effort.”
The Nittany Lions will resume Big Ten play on Thursday when they travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana.
Bradford Conners is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.