Omaha, Neb. — The top-ranked Penn State women's volleyball team (37-0) earned the right to defend its NCAA title with a hard-fought five-game victory (25-17, 25-18, 15-25, 22-25, 15-11) over No. 4 Nebraska in front of a raucous NCAA-record crowd of 17,430 fans Thursday (Dec. 18) night at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb. The crowd was the largest ever to witness an NCAA collegiate volleyball match.
The Nittany Lions will meet No. 2 Stanford for the NCAA title in a rematch of last year's championship match on Saturday (Dec. 20) at 7 p.m. CT (8 p.m. ET) live on ESPN2. The Cardinal outlasted No. 3 Texas in five games in the first NCAA Semifinal contest on Thursday.
Senior outside hitter Nicole Fawcett (Zanesfield, Ohio) and junior outside hitter Megan Hodge (Durham, N.C.) each set season highs with 24 and 23 kills, respectively, against the Huskers. Sophomore opposite Blair Brown (Purcellville, Va.) provided eight kills on .400 hitting as senior middle hitter Christa Harmotto (Aliquippa, Pa.) posted seven kills. As a team, Penn State attacked at a .305 clip.
Junior setter Alisha Glass (Leland, Mich.) dished out a season-high 60 assists as senior libero Roberta Holehouse (Joppa, Md.) led four Lion players in double-digit digs with a season-best 22. Hodge collected her 28th career double-double with 12 digs as sophomore defensive specialist Alyssa D'Errico (Byron, N.Y.) picked up 11 digs and Glass added in 10 digs for her 13th career double-double.
Each squad posted eight blocks and three aces, as Fawcett tallied two aces and junior Kelsey Ream (State College, Pa.) notched one. On the blocking front, Harmotto and Glass each recorded four stuffs as Hodge, Brown and sophomore middle hitter Arielle Wilson (Broadview, Ill.) all posted two blocks.
Nebraska opened the fifth and decisive game with a kill, which was quickly answered by Fawcett, and a Husker block, which was answered by a Harmotto kill. Following a Lion service error, a solo Glass block, a Fawcett kill off a great D'Errico dig and a Harmotto slide kill gave Penn State the 5-3 lead to cause a Nebraska timeout. A Harmotto and Glass block made it 6-3 but Nebraska responded with three consecutive kills to knot the score at 6-6. The teams traded kills before a Husker kill off the block put them ahead 8-7 heading into the side switch. A Hodge kill out of the back row evened the score at 8-8 but a Husker overpass kill and a Lion attack error gave Nebraska the 10-8 lead. Out of a Penn State timeout, the Nittany Lions claimed the next four points on a Fawcett kill, a Hodge and Wilson block, a Nebraska attack error and a Fawcett ace to go up 12-10 and force a Nebraska timeout. Out of the break, a Hodge kill and a Nebraska attack error made it 14-10 in favor of the Lions, and following a Husker kill, a Hodge put-away ended the game, 15-11.
The teams traded points eight times to start the match before a Fawcett kill, a Ream ace and a Nebraska attack error, all aided by great Ream defense, pushed Penn State ahead 11-8. The Huskers responded with a kill but a Nebraska service error and a Fawcett kill gave the Nittany Lions the 13-9 advantage. A Husker kill and block brought Nebraska within two at 13-11 but a monster Brown kill pushed Penn State up 14-11. A Husker kill and block trimmed the Lion lead to one at 14-13 before another Brown kill gave Penn State the 15-13 lead heading into the television timeout. Out of the break, a quick ball to Hodge on the outside along with a Husker attack error put the Nittany Lions up 17-13 and the teams traded points before a Hodge overpass kill made it 19-14 and forced a Nebraska timeout. Out of the break the squads exchanged points twice before a Hodge kill out of the back row gave Penn State the 22-16 lead and forced another Husker timeout. A Nebraska net violation on an attack pushed the Nittany Lions up 23-16 and following a Husker put-away, a Wilson kill and a Fawcett put-away between the blockers gave Penn State the game, 25-17. Hodge and Fawcett led the Lions with six and five kills, respectively.
Nebraska sprinted out to the 6-2 lead in the second game behind three kills and two blocks. But a Fawcett kill pulled Penn State within three and following a Lion error, two Hodge kills, one coming after a diving Holehouse dig, pulled Penn State within two at 7-5. The squads traded points twice and a Fawcett kill brought the Lions within one at 9-8. A Husker block and kill pushed them back ahead 11-8 before a Nebraska attack that went long and a Wilson overpass kill pulled Penn State within one at 11-10. The teams traded points and a Fawcett kill knotted the game at 12-12. Following another exchange of points, a Wilson and Brown block along with a Husker attack error put Penn State ahead 15-13 heading into the television timeout. Out of the break, a Nebraska kill was quickly followed by Lion kills from Hodge and Brown and a Harmotto and Brown block to push Penn State ahead, 18-14, to force a Nebraska timeout. The Huskers responded with two kills but followed that up with consecutive errors to give Penn State the 20-16 lead, and a monster Hodge solo block extended the Lion lead to 21-16 and forced another Nebraska timeout at 21-16. Out of this break, two Husker attacks sailed long to give Penn State the 23-16 lead but the next Nebraska attack just clipped the line to pull the Huskers within six at 23-17. Another Hodge kill pushed the score to 24-17 and following a Lion service error, a Fawcett kill gave Penn State the game, 25-18. Hodge led the Lions with seven kills in the stanza and Fawcett chipped in four as Penn State attacked at a .444 clip while holding Nebraska to .129 hitting.
The Huskers again took the early lead in the third set, going ahead 8-4 on a kill. A Fawcett kill off the block pulled Penn State within three at 11-8 but Nebraska claimed the next four points to go up 15-8 on an ace. Out of the television timeout, a Fawcett kill halted the run at 15-9 but a Nittany Lion blocking error and a Husker block put them up 17-9 and forced a Penn State timeout. Out of the break, a Nebraska kill off the block and a Nittany Lion attack error pushed the Husker advantage to 19-9 and forced another Penn State timeout. A Lion error along with a Nebraska kill and block gave it the 22-9 lead before a Fawcett kill and Husker attack error pulled the Lions within 11 at 22-11. The teams traded points twice before a Glass and Harmotto block along with a Fawcett kill made the score 24-15, but a Nittany Lion attack error ended the game, 25-15. Fawcett posted six kills in the game for the Lions as Hodge added in three.
A Glass and Harmotto block put Penn State up 3-1 in the fourth game but two Husker kills knotted the score at 3-3. Another Glass and Harmotto block along with a Nebraska attack error put Penn State up 5-3 and the teams traded points before a Wilson kill gave the Lions the 7-4 lead and forced a Nebraska timeout. Out of the break, two Husker kills pulled them within one at 7-6 but a Fawcett kill and ace pushed Penn State up 9-6. The teams traded points three times and a Husker attack error gave the Lions the 13-9 lead. But Nebraska scored seven of the next eight points to bring the crowd alive and take the 16-14 lead. Out of a Penn State timeout, the squads traded points three times before a Hodge kill pulled the Lions within one at 19-18 before a Harmotto slide kill evened the score at 19-19. A Nebraska kill and ace put it up 21-19 and forced a Penn State timeout. Out of the break, both squads executed an amazing rally, capped by a Hodge kill down the line to pull the Nittany Lions within one at 21-20 and force a Husker timeout. Out of the break, the teams traded points before consecutive Nebraska kills put them ahead 24-21. A Fawcett kill quickly followed but the Huskers took the game on a kill, 25-22.