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232NCAA Division I Championship - #1 Penn State vs. #2 Texas - Saturday 8 p.m. ET - ESPN2

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  • Volleyball ORG
    Dec 17, 2009

      Penn State Bounces Back To Drop Hawaii For 101st Straight Win And Spot In Final After falling in the first set, the Nittany Lions dominate the final three

      Dec. 18, 200

      TAMPA, Fla. - Making history has become an everyday occurrence for the Penn State women's volleyball team, but the Nittany Lions have put themselves into a position to accomplish the most elusive feat in the sport: win back-to-back-to-back championships.

      Top-seeded PSU rebounded from dropping the opening set to defeat third-ranked and 12th-seeded Hawai'i 23-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-18 Thursday evening in the semifinals of the NCAA Championship at the St. Pete Times Forum. The Nittany Lions, now winners of an NCAA-record 101 consecutive matches, are one more victory from winning a third consecutive national title.

      Penn State became the sixth team to win back-to-back NCAA titles during its historic 2008 season, and four schools won consecutive national AIAW championships before the NCAA began sponsoring women's volleyball in 1981. But none of those previous nine schools seeking a "three-peat" has been successful. In fact, only two - UCLA in both 1976 (AIAW) and 1992 (NCAA) - even returned to the title match. PSU now has the chance to add one more thing to its long list of never-been-done-befores.

      "I think the only thing special would be that we were able to win the national Championship in 2009," said Rose of the potential to win another title. "Two of the players from last year's team are playing professionally and on USA Volleyball. Two of the players from 2007 are in college coaching. This team is different. The streak is made up of a combination of three teams and a lot of great players - though some of the players are still here."

      The Nittany Lions figure to face a stiff challenge in Saturday's championship match, which will begin at 8 p.m. ET and be televised live by ESPN2. It will be the match the entire volleyball world has hoped for all season - as Penn State (the national No. 1 team for more than two years) will face second-seeded Texas, which has been ranked No. 2 during the entirety of the 2009 season.

      Thursday's match was in doubt until Penn State's block got going. The Nittany Lions - who came into the match ranked second in Division I at 3.23 blocks per set - had just one block in the opening set, and that allowed the smaller Rainbow Wahine (who didn't have a block in the entire match) to stay competitive and eventually win. But head coach Russ Rose - who became the third Division I women's volleyball coach to win 1,000 career matches - made an adjustment that made all the difference. Penn State had 14 blocks over the next three sets and held Hawai'i to hitting percentages of .103, .067 and .098. For the match, the Rainbow Wahine hit .135. The only team that held them to a lower mark this season was Texas - which beat the Rainbow Wahine in four sets in Honolulu on Sept. 5 (UH hit .129).

      "I think that we focused on mixing it up and changing the zones that the hitters were attacking out of," said Penn State senior setter Alisha Glass of the adjustments made after the opening set. "We also changed our block a little bit, made some adjustments from that standpoint."

      Glass led a balanced attack. Four-time first-team All-American Megan Hodge had a team-high 12 kills, as well as 15 digs, but she was held largely in check by the Wahine - taking 55 swings to get her kills and hitting just .145. Arielle Wilson added 11 kills on .346 hitting and six blocks, while Glass had nine kills on 13 errorless swings (.692), as well as 11 digs. The Penn State middles paced the blocking, with Fatima Balza taking part in nine and Blair Brown taking part in seven. Brown also had 10 kills, seven digs and six assists. Libero Alyssa D'Errico had a match-high 19 kills and two service aces.

      Hawai'i did use strong floor defense to keep the Nittany Lions - the NCAA leaders, coming in at .394 - to a season-low attack percentage of .276. The Rainbow Wahine had 75 digs (nine more than PSU), with five different players registering 11 or more. Libero Elizabeth Ka'aihue led the way with 18, while setter Dani Mafua had 17.

      "Hawai'i is very good," said Rose. "They didn't do anything we didn't expect them to do. We didn't know they'd do it as well as they do. They're a terrific defensive team."

      Outside hitters Kanani Danielson and Stephanie Ferrell both notched more kills than anyone on Penn State (14 and 13, respectively), but were plagued by the big PSU block for much of the night - combining to make 21 errors and both hit below .080.

      The teams went back and forth for most of the opening game until PSU got kills from Wilson and Hodge to go up 19-17. Just when it looked like the Lions would soon put the set away, the Rainbow Wahine made a statement - running off five straight points (three on kills from different players and two on PSU attack errors) to go up 22-19. Penn State would not get closer than to within two the rest of the way, and Hawai'i won the set by a 25-23 score on a crosscourt kill from the left side by Danielson. It snapped a streak of 24 straight set wins by Penn State.

      "We had 10 errors that we were responsible for in the first game and we're not going to beat anybody, especially good teams, doing that," said Rose.

      The other sets all saw Penn State start out quickly and then not get seriously challenged for much of the way en route to victories.

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