No. 8 Penn State knocks SU volleyball out of NCAA Tournament
SU volleyball knocked out of NCAA Tournament by Penn State
This story was originally written for The Daily Collegian, Penn State’s independent student-run news organization.
Earlier this week, junior libero Kendall White spoke about No. 8 Penn State’s season to this point, specifically the fact that it has yet to play up to its full potential.
“I think knowing that each upcoming match could be our last this season definitely fuels us,” White said. “You can’t win a national championship if you can’t thrive under that type of pressure.”
On Saturday, the Nittany Lions looked like a squad with national championship aspirations, and a drive to fulfill that potential.
In what was likely its last match at Rec Hall this season, Penn State wasted no time in establishing a quick edge over Syracuse.
While they struggled initially in the second set, the hosts were able to flip the switch and raise their level of play on their way to a commanding straight sets victory (25-13, 25-20, 25-16).
With the victory, the Nittany Lions improve to 25-7 on the season. The win was the seventh in Penn State’s last nine matches, with its only two defeats in that span coming to No. 3 Illinois and No. 6 Wisconsin in five sets.
“I thought we hit and passed really well tonight,” coach Russ Rose said. “There are some things we’ll need to work on for sure going forward, but overall I was pleased with the effort.”
This loss cemented Syracuse’s record at 19-9. The Orange finished in a tie for third in the ACC with a conference record of 14-4, and were fresh off their first ever NCAA Tournament win over Yale on Friday.
While Penn State has usually been lead by its freshmen phenoms, it was an unlikely veteran that took center stage for the Nittany Lions tonight.
Starting in place of the injured Serena Gray at middle blocker, Gorrell tallied a season-high 11 kills on 18 total attacks, good enough for a .500 hitting percentage on the evening.
The redshirt junior was joined by Nia Reed and Jonni Parker, two familiar faces when it comes to leading the Penn State attack.
Reed finished with 10 kills and hit for a percentage of .250 while Parker added 10 kills of her own, to go along with eight digs on the defensive side of the ball.
Once again, White lead the defensive effort for the Nittany Lions. She was all over the floor for the entirety of the contest and finished with 14 digs on the night.
Much like their opening round performance on Friday, Penn State sprinted out of the gate in the first set.
The home side was dominant in the opening frame, taking 15 of the first 22 points en route to a fairly routine first set victory.
However, in the second set it was the length and athleticism of Syracuse that proved to give the Nittany Lions problems.
It was the Orange that raced out to an early 6-4 lead, and fought off the initial push from Penn State on its way to a 13-9 advantage in the frame.
Trailing by a score of 16-10 midway through the set, it was a pivotal 6-0 run from the Nittany Lions that tied the score and shifted all of the momentum back in Penn State’s favor.
From there, the Nittany Lions would not look back, ending the set on a 9-4 run, highlighted by multiple kills from Gorrell, to clinch the game and secure a crucial 2-0 lead in the match.
“Tori was great tonight,” Rose said. “With the absence of Serena, it was really critical that Tori played as well as she did this evening.”
The third set looked to be just as much of a battle as the one that preceded it.
Both teams exchanged blows in the early going, with neither able to gain a significant advantage.
With the score knotted up at seven, it was Penn State that broke off a 9-1 run to seize total control of the set and effectively shut the door on a Syracuse rally.
The final portion of the match was rather academic, with the Nittany Lions tallying nine of the last 16 points to seal the victory and a berth in the program’s 16th straight Sweet 16.