Wednesday night’s match between #1-ranked Penn State (17-0, 5-0) and up-and-coming Ohio State (2-3 in the Big Ten, 14-4 overall) had fans across the country wondering whether the Nittany Lions might be poised for a fall. After all, Penn State lost a set last Friday to Iowa, in Rec Hall, and the Buckeyes had swept those very same Hawkeyes (25-17, 25-20, 25-22) on Oct. 3rd. Not only that, in last year’s November 28, 2008 match in Columbus, against Penn State’s undefeated National Championship squad, Ohio State nearly took a set from Penn State, losing the third set 30-28 .
As it turned out, the Nittany Lions did lose another set — which may qualify as a “slip” — but the team didn’t fall, as they defeated the Buckeyes 3-1 (25-17, 23-25, 25-15, 25-13). Penn State registered 57 kills (to 46 for the Buckeyes), hit .353 (to .132 for Ohio State), and totaled 18.0 team blocks (to 4.0 for Ohio State).
In the process, Penn State won its 50th consecutive Big Ten match, breaking its own Big Ten record, and extended its NCAA-record for consecutive match victories to 81 (second-best is Florida’s 58).
Still, it was Penn State errors that let Ohio State back into the match after Penn State dominated the first set. After Penn State grabbed an early 6-2 lead, a combination of Penn State mistakes and some nice play by the Buckeyes allowed Ohio State to tie the second set at 14 apiece, and ultimately take the set 25-23.
Blair Brown, who has excelled throughout much of the season, had a particularly tough night, hitting -.158 for the match, with 4 kills and 7 hitting errors on 19 attempts. In an interview with Bill Landis posted today on The Daily Collegian Online, Rose commented on Brown’s importance to the team:
“Blair needs to get going to take some of the pressure off of Blair. . . . For us to be able to win without one of our All-Americans not playing well is a tribute to the other players.”
Rose also stressed that comparisons to last year’s squad, and how they might, or might not, have handled a particular challenge, aren’t relevant. “Too many people want us to be last year’s team. . . . Last year’s team has their pictures on a lot of peoples walls, but this is a different group and they need to do some things to have the opportunity to get better.”
Penn State was led by Senior OH Megan Hodge (18 kills on .366 hitting, 12 digs and 2 blocks), Freshman OH Darcy Dorton (13 kills (hitting .308) 3 digs and 3 blocks), Junior MH Arielle Wilson (11 kills on .625 hitting, with 5 blocks), Junior MH Fatima Balza (a career-high 12 total blocks, along with 4 kills on .571 hitting), and Senior Setter Alisha Glass (47 assists and 13 digs — her sixth double-double this season — and six kills without an error). Junior Libero Alyssa D’Errico recorded eight digs and two service aces, while Junior DS Cathy Quilico added six digs.
Coming up on Sunday is the highly anticipated match against #5-ranked Minnesota in Minneapolis, which many believe will be Penn State’s toughest challenge of the regular season. The match will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network at 1:00 pm CT (2:00 pm ET).