No. 4 Penn State women’s volleyball lost to top-ranked Stanford 3-1 (29-27, 23-25, 23-25, 21-25) despite putting up quite the fight Friday night at Rec Hall.
Playing in front of a White Out crowd on the Big Ten Network, Russ Rose’s Nittany Lions got off to an excellent start against the defending national champions, taking the first set in emphatic fashion — just like they did in last year’s Elite Eight loss to the Cardinal. However, just like last December in Palo Alto, Stanford came back to take the second set 25-23 as Kathryn Plummer started to heat up after a slow start.
Plummer and Audriana Fitzmorris finished with a match-high 18 kills apiece to lead Stanford offensively, but there was no shortage of show-stopping kills on Penn State’s side of the court, either. Sophomore middle blocker Kaitlyn Hord announced herself to the rest of the nation as a rising star in the college game, tallying a team-high 16 kills (.517) and six blocks. Jonni Parker and Serena Gray combined for 24 more kills in Penn State’s first loss of the season.
Perhaps one of the best individual matchups of the night was Kendall White and Morgan Hentz going back and forth with diving save after diving save to keep precious points alive. The fellow first-team All-Americans from last season had 22 digs each, while Hentz delivered a team-high three service aces. Penn State, on the other hand, didn’t ace Stanford once.
Gabby Blossom put together arguably the best all-around performance of her Penn State career to date against the Cardinal with 52 assists, 10 digs, and two kills. The high-energy Blossom also has an innate ability to remain calm under incredible pressure. Down 19-9 in the second set, the Nittany Lions stormed all the way back to reach a 24-23 set point, only to see who else but Kathryn Plummer hammer home the final kill.
Although it obviously wasn’t the result Rose and his team wanted, Penn State nonetheless validated itself as a legitimate top 10 team that could beat the Cardinal if they meet again in the NCAA tournament. There were a few glaring areas where Stanford had an advantage over the Nittany Lions — mainly, outside hitter and the shear size of their front row.
The Nittany Lions (5-1) return to Rec Hall Saturday at 8 p.m. to wrap up the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge against the No. 10 Oregon Ducks, who fell to Minnesota earlier Friday in straight sets.
Coach Rose’s opening statement:
“I thought it was a terrific crowd. The first three games, all deuce games, had a lot of ups and downs and opportunities for both teams to do things. I was especially pleased with how Kaitlyn played and I thought, as I normally expect, that Gabby and Kendall played really hard. That was my assessment. I thought we held Plummer down pretty well early in the match. As the match progressed, at the end of the second game and in the third game, she was able to exert herself, but we didn’t have an answer early for Fitzmorris. Stanford’s a terrific team [with] veteran players. I’m disappointed in a lot of things but I’m not gonna kill myself over it. I see some things that are good, but I also realize there are a number of things I’m not really going to be able to fix anyways.”
Coach Rose on catching up with Alisha Glass Childress:
“I saw her briefly and I saw her mother and saw Alisha’s children, but I didn’t get to spend much time with her. I coached her for four years and have terrific memories of the person that she became and the player that she became with USA Volleyball and the Olympian, and know that she’s making a great contribution to the sport at Stanford.”
Coach Rose on whether he felt his team showed perseverance:
“It’s about the results, it’s not about the fight. If you don’t get the results, the fight doesn’t really seem to have the same impact. If you’re going to give a five-point lead away just so you fight back at the end of the game, you shouldn’t be given the five points at the beginning if you’re going to have that sort of fight at the end. You need to be a little more conscious of the things that you need to do to keep yourself in the game. We have to sub some people out because they’re not very good in the back row and it really exposes us to running out of substitutions late in the game. We have to be mindful really early about trying to get through some rotations early and not give away points in the bunches, and we kind of struggled with that a couple of times tonight. Certainly, again, I think Gabby and Kendall are incredibly competitive women. I would say those would be the two people with Jonni that are most responsible for having that attitude.”
Kendall White on the second set comeback:
“I think that kick-starting the momentum came with just realizing that they’re a big team. They’re going to have flashy points, but realizing that a point is a point no matter how it’s scored. And just letting that go about how flashy it is. It doesn’t matter. We had to look at it differently, and just play by play fight back, chip away a little bit at a time. Obviously we didn’t pull it out and didn’t get the result we wanted, but it’s good to know we have that fight in us. Like [Coach Rose] said, there’s no reason we should have given up that kind of a lead, especially when we came out and beat them in the first set.”
Kendall White on using Stanford as a measuring stick:
“They’re a great team. They’re big. And it’s nice to know that they’re not invincible. I know a lot of people think that. We gave it a good fight. We didn’t get what we wanted, but it’s good to see big people and different people, different styles of play. It’s good to see early in the season.”
Coach Rose on there being no moral victories:
“I’ve been doing this here for 41 years, and I want to win every match. I don’t look at it like, ‘Gee, we were so close.’ I look at it as, ‘Hey, if you’re going to do something, you either do it the best or you shouldn’t do it at all.’ I’ve got players that I’m saying either you should watch [inaudible] do it or go find something else to do. Don’t waste my time or the school’s time and money. That’s what I think. Maybe someone else would look at it in a more positive light.”
Coach Rose on what stood out to him:
“I thought Kaitlyn played well and Gabby and Kendall fought well. Other than Kaitlyn, I wouldn’t give anybody really, really high marks for how they played, but the people who always play hard always play hard. That’s what they’re supposed to do. Some of the other people, they need to play smart. We need to do a better job on the bench giving them information, and maybe that will make them better at what they’re supposed to do. We’ll have to be ready to play tomorrow, because I thought Oregon played really well today in a scenario where they had a couple players get hurt. We have a short turnaround.”
Kaitlyn Hord on her mentality heading into the match:
“My goal is just to come out there swinging and win the match, because I know we have it in us to win a game like that. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us the way we wanted it to, but I think that a lot of us got a chance to come out there and show other teams what we’ve got, because [Stanford] is definitely one of the better competitors we’ve [faced].”