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Women's volleyball: Penn State v Stanford

December 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Defending champion Penn State and Stanford set up a rematch in the NCAA women's volleyball title match with five-set victories Thursday night. Nicole Fawcett had 24 kills, Megan Hodge added 23 and top-seeded and unbeaten Penn State beat No. 4 Nebraska 25-17, 25-18, 15-25, 22-25, 15-11.

Second-seeded Stanford advanced with a 20-25, 18-25, 25-15, 25-22, 15-13 win over No. 3 Texas. The Cardinal became the first team in the history of the volleyball final four to win after losing the first two sets.

Penn State (37-0) came in having won every set it had played this season, and the Lions won the first two against Nebraska to run their NCAA record to 111 in a row before they lost the third and fourth.

Nebraska (31-3) led 10-8 in the fifth set, but Fawcett pounded a kill to start a 7-1 Penn State run to end the match. Fawcett also served the last six points, with Hodge wrapping it up by pounding home an Alisha Glass set.

"We found a way to win," Penn State coach Russ Rose said. "At the end, we had a server who found a seam and got some points."

An NCAA tournament-record crowd of 17,400 - all but a few dressed in red - came out in an ice storm to root for the Huskers, who were playing 50 miles from their Lincoln campus. Penn State kept the crowd mostly subdued for two sets, displaying the power and dominance it had shown all season.

The Huskers and their fans sprung to life in the third set, with chants of "Go Big Red" echoing through the Qwest Center.

"It's a good opponent with an incredibly tough venue to play in when you have 17,000 people," Rose said, "so we feel very fortunate to have the ability to come back and play well and win the match."

Nebraska hit .407 in the third set and .310 in the fourth after combining to hit under .200 the first two sets.

But Penn State regrouped and ended at 96 the Huskers' streak of wins in matches played in the state of Nebraska.

"Penn State forces you to play at such a high level," Huskers coach John Cook said. "I told our team that Penn State would dare us to be great tonight. If you give in and make any mistake, they're going to make you pay."

Jordan Larson led Nebraska with 17 kills, but she committed nine errors and hit just .167. Tara Mueller added 15 kills and Lindsey Licht 13.

"We had our chances to finish it at the end, but Penn State is a great team," Cook said. "I don't think anybody at the beginning of the year thought we would be in the final four. As for Penn State, there is a reason they're here, and they showed it in game five."

Stanford (31-3), the runner-up the last two years, will try to avoid becoming the first team to lose in three straight finals.

The Cardinal's Alix Klineman had 20 kills and Cynthia Barboza added 19 against Texas, which was in the national semifinals for the first time since 1995.

Until Thursday, Stanford hadn't won after losing the first two sets since beating UCLA in 2003. Since then, the Cardinal had lost 12 straight matches after losing the first two sets.

"We have to feel lucky to go on after a match like that," Stanford coach John Dunning said. "We're very happy to be doing that."

Stanford hit just .152 in dropping the first two sets, but Klineman, Barboza and Foluke Akinradewo took over in the third set, and the Cardinal operated at .436 efficiency the rest of the way.

Destinee Hooker had 23 kills, and Juliann Faucette added 19 to lead Texas (29-4). The Longhorns were making their first semifinal appearance since 1995.

"We executed very well and had a great mentality coming out and then got hit in the mouth in Game 3," Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. "We made a lot of mistakes and gave them new life. When you play a team like Stanford - with so much tradition, you can't give a team like that new life after you get them down 2-0."

Stanford lost the first three points of the fifth set, but tied it 5-5 on kills by Barboza, Klineman and Akinradewo. Klineman's smash gave the Cardinal the lead for good, at 10-9, and Barboza punctuated the match with a kill that deflected off Texas' double block.

Barboza said she and her teammates didn't get down after losing the first two sets.

"We weren't going to let it end like that," Barboza said. "We've worked too hard the past two years. We've been tested time and time again in our conference, and we know how to fight back. Hopefully we're not going to start out that way Saturday."


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