In a casual moment, Penn State coach Russ Rose remembered glancing down to see ripples in a cup of water next to him during a match at Nebraska.
“I was thinking, they don’t have earthquakes … so look at that,” he said of the vibrating effect of 8,561 fans cheering in efforts to prevent the Nittany Lions’ eventual 3-1 come-from-behind win.
“It just doesn’t get much louder than it does in Nebraska,” Penn State senior Ariel Scott shared.
So, Thursday’s anticipated partisan crowd in support of the local top-seed Washington in the NCAA volleyball semifinals was met with a mere shrug by No. 2 seed Penn State. In fact, Penn State is expecting a similar atmosphere to Nebraska’s crowds, which averaged an NCAA-leading 8,158 fans this season.
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The figure is expected to be doubled at the 17,072-seat capacity KeyArena. And any basketball or concertgoer in Seattle can tell you the sound can be deafening when the building is filled with rabid fans.
“There’s a lot of noise in life,” Rose said in a blasé tone. “It shouldn’t prevent people from performing talents that they have.”
If Penn State is successful, its powerful style will have the effect of a mute button — with the repetitious boom of a Deja McClendon ball hitting the seam for a perfect kill.
Rose built his team specifically for the Final Four environment. And Penn State is making its 11th trip to the semifinals, winning four consecutive NCAA championships from 2007-10.
Spotting the Nittany Lion on the players’ jersey can be a silencer in itself.
“Just because they’ve won in the past doesn’t mean they’re going to win (Thursday),” said Washington junior All-American Krista Vansant, whose program has won one NCAA championship (2005). “I’ll give credit to them where credit is due but … they’re in the same place we are, so …”
Penn State is versatile in featuring multiple hitters with All-American junior setter Micha Hancock running the offensive attack. On defense, McClendon and Hancock can quickly meld with senior Katie Slay into the type of wall than can block an attempted kill by Vansant or the Huskies’ noted aggressive serves.
“I thought it’s more important to have a good team with balance that can make it to the end of the season,” Rose said of his roster, “than set one player an astronomical number of swings and at the end of the season you hope you can still keep her arm on and have some pop.”
Penn State’s strength showed in its tough NCAA regional final win against Stanford last week. PSU won 15-11 in the fifth set to defeat the six-time NCAA champion Cardinal 3-2 overall.
In the match, Slay had a season-high 10 blocks while McClendon (21 kills) and Scott (22 kills) handled the needed offense. Scott said a loss to Michigan State helped prepare Penn State to finish the important match.
“We had a hard time closing out games, that’s something we’ve been working on all season,” Scott said. “In that (Michigan State) game, we were up 20-19 and we didn’t side-out. We’ve been working a lot on our side-out game and it’s really helped out.”
Penn State hasn’t lost since that 3-2 match against MSU in September. And the lesson could help, again, on Thursday. Even in an arena where seemingly everyone is against the Nittany Lions.
“It (winning championships) is one of the main reasons we came here,” said senior Maddie Martin, a member of Penn State’s 2010 title team. “I don’t see it as pressure; it’s just part of the program history.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JaydaEvans.