OKLAHOMA CITY — Cinderella’s dance came to a tough end Saturday night in a straight-set loss to No. 5-seeded Penn State (21-25, 24-26, 14-25). The BYU women’s volleyball team fought valiantly, and exceeded all expectations by simply being there, but in the end the Nittany Lions proved too strong.
Penn State’s deft digging and precise passing, along with a crushing end to the second set, conspired to leave the Cougars one match short of a national championship.
“I thought we pushed them. We gave them all we could,” said BYU coach Shawn Olmstead. “We gave them a good fight.”
After dropping the first set BYU appeared to have the second set well in hand, leading 13-8 midway through. From that point on, however, Penn State kept chipping away at the lead until taking the lead back at 23-22. The Cougars managed to swap two points from there before the Nittany Lions closed with two straight points to take the set and go into the break up 2-0.
BYU never seemed to recover.
Penn State jumped out to an 11-6 lead in the third set and went on to win going away 25-14. Too many hitting errors by the normally efficient Cougars effectively stunted any hope of a dramatic comeback as the Nittany Lions went on to win their sixth NCAA championship in just eight years.
Leading the way for Penn State was Megan Courtney, named the tournament's most valuable player, and Alyana Whitney. They each finished with 11 kills. Overall the Nittany Lions managed to outhit the Cougars and surprisingly outblock them (10-7).
“I thought we had a great game plan,” said Penn State coach Russ Rose. “I thought the players worked really hard at executing it, and we feel great about tonight’s result.”
Key to Penn State’s game plan was shutting down, or at least limiting, BYU star Jen Hamson, by keeping the ball away from her side and taking her out of her usual flow. The game plan worked as the 6-foot-7 All-American finished with 14 kills, but on a .071 hitting percentage that included an uncharacteristic 11 hitting errors.
Despite Hamson being a bit off her game, Olmstead adamantly defended his star player after the match and bristled at the suggestion she may have run out of gas.
“Some of those (errors) were so out of system, anybody would have hit those out of bounds,” he said. “I think she wishes she would have kept some of those in. But run out of gas? No, that kid would lace them up right now if you asked her to.”
As to any suggestion his team was too deflated to rebound after taking the tough loss in the second set, Olmstead also took issue.
"There was a good vibe in the locker room in between sets," he said. "But then it started to slip away and (there was some) frustration. It's hard. The kids battled it off. They really did."
Standouts for the Cougars included Alexa Gray, and her nine kills, along with Amy Boswell and Tambre Nobles, who finished with seven kills a piece.
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