LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The beauty queen bomber, the all-sport everything, and a setter with the confidence to hit the second ball to the floor to end the match sent top-ranked and top-seeded Penn State packing and Oregon into Saturday’s title match against Texas in the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship.
Oregon (30-4) in the final four for the first time, is now playing in the final match of the season after knocking off the Nittany Lions 21-25, 30-28, 25-22, 25-19.
“We can’t wait until Saturday night,” said sophomore Liz Brenner. “The longer we keep playing the more fun we have and we’re going to come out Saturday and play really hard and we’re going to have a lot of fun doing it.”
The 2011 Miss Oregon USA, senior outside hitter Alaina Bergsma and Pac-12 Player of the Year, had 16 kills, 15 digs, and three block assists. Six of her kills came in the last set.
Brenner, the outside hitter who also competes on Oregon’s basketball and softball teams and has 11 world racquetball titles to her credit, led with 17 kills, had 17 digs, and four block assists.
Senior outside Katherine Fischer added 16 kills.
“It makes my life so much easier when so many other people are putting the ball on the ground,” Bergsma said. “It felt like it really opened me up.”
And junior setter Lauren Plum settled for 51 assists when she got her second kill by surprising Penn State on the second ball to send the Ducks into a victory celebration.
In the second set, Penn State setter Micha Hancock sprained her ankle and the Nittany Lions found themselves down 20-10 before rallying to a 24-24 tie. Twice Penn State had set point but couldn’t close it out and it finally ended on a kill by Brenner.
“We got up by a lot and then we relaxed a little bit and let them come back into the game,” Bergsma said. “But I think that was really clutch for us, knowing that in set three it was basically starting over and it was a game to two. We did a really good job of fighting. Our team, like [Coach Jim Moore] said, is pretty tough and we will fight to the end.”
Penn State, which won four consecutive titles from 2007-2010 but didn’t make it to the final four last year, finished its season 33-3.
“We had a few opportunities in the second game that we let slip away,” said Russ Rose, the Penn State coach in his 34th year. “And we lost a lot of confidence and steam at that point in time. We had an injury that gave an opportunity for some other people to step up and for us to do a little better job coaching and I don’t think we did a very good job.”
Outside hitter Ariel Scott, the Big Ten Player of the Year, led with 18 kills and had five of Penn State’s 21 kills. Deja McClendon, the product of Louisville who was so excited to be playing at home, had 14 kills but hit just .120.
For that matter, neither Bergsma (.176), Brenner (.170) and Fischer (.220) had great hitting percentages, but they got the job done when it counted.
Moore, the former coach at Texas (1997-2000) said he wasn’t going to look at Saturday’s match as anything different.
“If you want to have the opportunity to be successful Saturday night it’s the first play against Texas,” said Moore, who is in his eighth year at Oregon. “And I really mean that.
“I’m pretty happy right now, obviously, but there’s more work to do. I wasn’t just happy to get here. You know, it is difficult to live with your assistant coach,” Moore said of his wife, Stacy Metro, “and as we walked out of the room tonight to come here, I said, ‘I don’t want to go home.’
“Somebody had to hear that. So it’s the first point against Texas.”
That will be at 7 p.m. Eastern, against Texas on ESPN2, as Oregon will be seeking its ninth straight victory and a place in college-volleyball history.