Penn State women’s volleyball swept Syracuse 3-0 (25-13, 25-20, 25-16) Saturday night at Rec Hall to advance to the Sweet 16.
Tori Gorrell led the Nittany Lions to victory with a match-high 11 kills and four blocks. Penn State improved to 100-30 all-time in NCAA tournament play, becoming the third program to surpass the century mark (Stanford and Nebraska).
Nia Reed, Jonni Parker, and Taylor Leath finished with 10 kills apiece in a balanced night for Penn State’s offense. After trailing 16-10 midway through the second set, the Nittany Lions stormed back with an 8-1 run to remain unbeaten this weekend.
Kendall White matched her digs output from Friday night with another 14 against the Orange. She’s now just seven digs away from becoming the fourth player in program history to reach 1,500 for her career.
Bryanna Weiskircher had a match-high 40 assists, seven digs, three blocks, three service aces, and a kill in the win. Russ Rose briefly subbed freshman setter Gabby Blossom in for Weiskircher in the second set, but she soon returned to the action. Serena Gray missed her second straight match and it’s unclear whether she’ll be available next weekend.
The Nittany Lions (25-7) await the Washington Huskies in the Sweet 16, which will likely be held in Stanford, California, should the Cardinal prevail as expected.
Coach Rose on the win:
“I first want to take the opportunity to recognize Syracuse and their senior class for being the first class that was able to get their program into the NCAA tournament. [Leonid Yelin] has been a friend and a great coach for a long time. It’s a lot of hard work to get your program into that position, so I certainly want to take a second to recognize them. I want to thank Penn State for hosting the event and the fans for supporting the program.
“I thought we played a really good match tonight against a good team in tough circumstances. I especially thought Tori was terrific tonight and I really was impressed with how mature Taylor’s game was tonight. I thought she was calm and played the game the way she conducts her life, so I was really impressed with her efforts tonight.”
Coach Rose on limiting Polina Shemanova:
“I don’t think you stop somebody who leads their team in kills and is the freshman of the year for their conference. She’s a terrific player. We were more aware of the fact that the setter was having more attempts than Santita [Ebangwese]. That was something I was monitoring a lot more. We knew there were going to be some balls that the outside hitter was going to hit.
“She’s played a lot of volleyball and she’s really good, so we’re not going to get too concerned about that. But we were pleased that other girl who we thought hit some balls that were indefensible wasn’t getting as many opportunities to do that. It’s not like there’s a game plan to stop her. You have an awareness of what it is she can do and she still led their team in kills. We acknowledged that that was kind of what they were going to do and they still could do it. She doesn’t hit for a high hitting percentage but she still led her team in kills.”
Coach Rose on Tori Gorrell:
“She hit .500 so she was the leading hitter in the match offensively, but I thought she served great and I thought she blocked well. She was certainly a very calming presence out there. She’s played a lot. I thought Kaitlyn [Hord] looked like a meek freshman and as the match progressed I thought she was looking less and less likely to be a factor, so it was really critical for us that Tori played as well as she did.”
Coach Rose on his message to the team down 15-10 in the second set:
“It was that we were only down five and not playing great and not to worry. I thought we rallied well and came back. Kendall went on a great service run and got seven or eight points and that gave us some great distance. Certainly Syracuse has a unique makeup of their team with how they’re structured. They can score a lot of points pretty fast.”
Coach Rose on what can be improved:
“Well, our hitting percentage is better than it’s been for most of the year. I think we play well at home, so the benefit was just being at home. We played well last weekend against Minnesota and I didn’t think we had a great effort even though we had opportunities to beat Wisconsin the next night. Practice wasn’t great, but we competed well last night. It was kind of a combination of things with Howard not playing great and us keeping the ball in play. Tonight was a match where we were certainly challenged a lot more.
“I don’t think we’re going to try and reinvent the wheel. There are certainly things all year that we would like to get better at. I had to take Bryanna out tonight. I didn’t like what she was doing and put Gabby in. Taylor was good today. I was pleased that she was able to last the match and hit well and get some good touches and pass. Every time you advance in the tournament you’re playing really good teams. Everybody’s going to do different things well and we have to be able to weather whatever storms happen and not get caught up in the things you can’t control.”
Coach Rose on the development of his freshmen:
I think Jonni battles hard all the time and is a really strong, competitive volleyball player. Kaitlyn is up and down and learning and at times makes some great blocks. I thought she blocked really well tonight, but she had tough matchups. The Syracuse middles are both seniors, they’re both way more physical than her and more experienced, but that’s part of life. It’s like when we played Stanford earlier in the year and I’m like, ‘Hey, listen. You guys are all freshmen and they’re all juniors. In a couple years they’re all going to be graduated and you guys will be juniors.’ That’s just how it goes sometimes.
“But as a whole this group of freshmen is going to regionals so I have to be pleased about where they’ve positioned themselves. You judge the body of work over the long haul and you really judge the real process of what type of class these people are in 10 or 15 years when you see what type of adults they are, not really what they were when they were 15 or 16 when I recruited them.”
Tori Gorrell on what led to her performance:
“I just love playing in front of Rec Hall. It was the last one of the year potentially and I just love playing with these girls. I’m just here to have fun. I think we have great setters on this team that allow us to cover high percentages. I know that we’ve made errors in the past, and as a middle I was led by Haleigh last year, who was like, ‘If you don’t have a great swing just keep it in play.’ That allows me to hit for high percentages by just keeping the ball in play.”
Coach Rose on the importance of passing well:
“It starts with passing. I thought Taylor and Kendall passed really well. Obviously last night when we sided out at such a high percentage, it starts with passing and for sure our passing was really good tonight. That enables the setters to do what they want to do and the hitters to try and take a swing. You have a game plan about what you’re trying to do against the other team and hope that all of those factors combine and give you some wiggle room out there.”
Taylor Leath on her role as a passer:
“Personally, I kind of know my role on the team is more ball control. Every day in the gym I work on passing, but I also know that for us to go deep I have to be offensive. I’ve been getting in the gym a lot with Dennis [Hohenshelt] working on some footwork and stuff like that. I think that Bryanna’s been having really good location. Our middles go up and Jonni’s always a threat, so it leaves a lot of holes and seams in the other team’s defense for us to score. I feel like it’s just a combination of the whole.”
Kendall White on the biggest positive takeaway of the weekend:
“I think the most positive thing of the weekend was Tori. One hundred percent. She came in when we needed her. Despite what she said earlier, I think that she was given the opportunity to play and she wants the spot. She wants the spot permanently and she’s going to come out and she’s going to play her hardest. That’s what we do here. I think we push each other and I love that. Her pushing our other middles makes them better and makes us better.”