Penn State, Texas to play for title

Updated: December 18, 2009, 2:03 AM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Penn State players jogged back to the bench down one set, their record winning streak in doubt, their run at an unprecedented third straight NCAA volleyball title in question.

They huddled amid a silenced arena.

"We just kind of talked about having each other's backs," middle blocker Arielle Wilson said, "and about playing to our potential."

They quickly showed it.

Penn State moved one win away from setting another record, earning the chance for a third straight national championship by beating Hawaii 23-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-18 Thursday night.

The Nittany Lions (37-0) overcome a sluggish start and dropped only their sixth set of the season before extending their record winning streak to 101 matches. It was also coach Russ Rose's 1,000th victory.

"I thought we were really tight in the first game, made a lot of errors that were uncharacteristic," Rose said. "We weren't serving well early. I thought at the end we kind of wore them down a little bit."

[+] EnlargePenn State Celebration
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonPenn State finished off Hawaii for its 101st consecutive victory and third straight berth in the NCAA championship game.

Penn State will face Texas on Saturday night. The Longhorns swept Minnesota 25-19, 25-20, 25-15 in the other semifinal.

Hawaii was hardly intimidated by one of the best runs in college sports history. The Rainbow Wahine (32-3) built a big cushion in the first set and never wavered, leaving an arena packed with Penn State fans stunned.

"We all knew Penn State won every match of their season and we knew they were going to come back with more fire than in the first match," Hawaii outside hitter Kanani Danielson said. "It was our job to step up to the plate and give it everything we had, but they really had fresh legs the whole game."

The Nittany Lions didn't lose their confident and cocky attitude, with bench players routinely dancing in circles and throwing their hands in the air after every spike. They used big serves to stay on the offensive and won the blocking battle 15-0 to swiftly sent Hawaii 5,000 miles home with its 28-game winning streak snapped.

"It was a very tough match against a great opponent that we knew was going to compete very hard," Rose said. "I thought we were really tight in the first game, made a lot of errors that were uncharacteristic."

Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said his team just had no answer for the Nittany Lions' size up front.

"What this game showed is that Penn State is a great team," Shoji said. "We were doing things we wanted to do and we still couldn't score."

In the first semifinal, Destinee Hooker led the Longhorns (29-1) with 17 kills, part of a team of outside hitters that punished the Gophers with size and strength at the net.

The only major challenge Texas faced came in the final set.

The Gophers came out active and agile after dropping the first two sets. They went ahead 12-8 with a flurry of deep digs and hard-pounding spikes.

"Perhaps we got a little fidgety," Longhorns coach Jerritt Elliott said. "But it was about making sure we had confidence because you expect good teams in the final four. We were a lot more relaxed and that's because of the experience we had now."

The Longhorns regrouped, rallied and put away Minnesota (28-9) quickly. Texas won 12 of the next 13 points and cruised the rest of the way.

Texas is going for its first volleyball title since 1988.

"It was a long time ago. I wasn't even born yet," said Longhorns outside hitter Juliann Faucette, who is 20 years old.

The Nittany Lions swept all but six of their wins this year. They dropped a set Thursday night for the first time since Nov. 20 at Purdue.

The 101-match streak is second in Division I team sports behind the Miami men's tennis program's 137 straight wins from 1957-64. The Nittany Lions haven't lost since falling to Stanford in September 2007.

The win also made Rose only the third women's volleyball coach in Division I history to reach 1,000 victories. He trails only UCLA's Andy Banachowski (1,106) and Shoji (1,016).

"I think the only thing special is that we were able to win the national championship in 2009," he said. "This team is different. This streak is made up of a lot of different players."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press