The University of Washington women’s volleyball team couldn’t provide any sort of counter, any way to momentarily slow Penn State. The Huskies (30-3) were outclassed, outplayed and swept by the No. 2 Nittany Lions, 14-25, 13-25, 16-25, in the NCAA’s second semifinal match Thursday night at sold-out KeyArena (14,975) that lasted just one hour, 21 minutes.
It felt longer to UW coach Jim McLaughlin.
“The bottom line is, it was a nightmare. It was not fun in any way, shape or form,” McLaughlin said.
The statistics provided an ample snapshot. Penn State (33-2) outside hitter Deja McClendon led all players with 11 kills and tied libero Dominque Gonzalez with 13 digs while also adding three blocks. Right hitter Ariel Scott pounded 10 kills, helping Penn State crush the Huskies in hit percentage, .488 to .177, and advance to the NCAA Final Four championship Saturday for the second time in four years.
Echoing around the Key were “We are Penn State!” chants unfamiliar to West Coast ears.
“They beat us in every phase,” McLaughlin said. “Fundamentally. Transition. Coaching. They did a good job and we didn’t . . . it stinks. It hurts. It sucks. I don’t know how to explain that.”
It was an efficient, mechanical bludgeoning that left no doubt as to who deserved to move on. Penn State committed just a single attack error in each of the first two sets Thursday en route to its 24th straight win, the nation’s longest active streak. At no point did the Huskies hold a lead during the second or third set. Rarely did the pro-UW crowd have a reason to get excited.
“I don’t think it was easy, but we’ve been focusing playing loose and relaxed, and we did a good job of that tonight,” Scott said after the Nittany Lions advanced to their ninth NCAA Finals appearance in program history.
The Nittany Lions controlled the net by out-blocking the Huskies, 8-3 and held Pac-12 Player of the Year and All-America hitter Krista Vansant to seven kills in 28 attempts, a mark well below her season average.
“We just worked really hard all year long for this, and it just sucks when you don’t play your best,” Vansant said, voice wavering as tears fell. “I know I could have played so much better tonight.”
In set one, the Huskies rushed to a 10-6 lead before Penn State responded with a 6-1 run, forcing McLaughlin to use his first of many timeouts. It mattered little. No series of adjustments created any problem for a Penn State attacking front tall enough to moonlight as a formidable NBA backcourt.
“I watched six matches on them this year and this is the most consistent (they’ve) played,” McLaughlin said. “We kind of allowed them to be good too, I thought. They really played well and they were better in the environment than we were.”
Scott (6-foot-4) and McClendon (6-1) engineered a 19-4 run, helping the Nittany Lions breeze to a commanding first-set rout, 25-14. UW’s 13-25 loss in the second set was its worst of the season.
Tone set, the packed KeyArena was muffled, and the Huskies, done.
Badgers advance to Finals
No. 1-ranked Texas won’t have a chance to repeat as national champions.
In the opening semifinal match, the Longhorns, who entered with a 23-game winning streak, couldn’t recover after dropping the first two sets to No. 2 Wisconsin, 25-19, 25-18. Texas responded by taking the third set, 28-26, but couldn’t sustain the momentum, falling 25-23 in the fourth set.
That set up an all-Big 10 championship game at 6:30 Saturday night at the Key.