Penn State sweeps Washington women's volleyball in NCAA semifinal

SEATTLE – Washington is accustomed to putting the hurt on its opponent, sweeping its victim 15 times in 32 wins this year. No. 2 seed Penn State turned that around on the Huskies in Thursday night's NCAA semifinal match at KeyArena, handing them a straight-sets loss with shockingly large margins (25-14, 25-13, 25-16).

[Related: Highlights: Washington falls to Penn State in Final Four]

Deja McClendon led Penn State’s attack with 11 hard-hitting kills and 13 digs, followed by Ariel Scott's 10 kills. Kaleigh Nelson paced Washington with eight kills, while Krista Vansant contributed seven slays and nine digs.

The worst part about the defeat, according to outside hitter Kylin Muñoz, is that they didn’t give the Nittany Lions their best shot.

“We just didn’t deliver. We weren’t ourselves and that was the most disappointing thing,” Muñoz said. “They’re a very, very good team, but we weren’t ourselves tonight.”

Accurate assessment by the senior. Up until Thursday night, Washington was hitting .278 on the season and holding opponents to .185. But in the Final Four match in front of a loud crowd of 14,975, UW recorded an anemic .117 hitting percentage while allowing a monstrous .488 from the Nittany Lions.

[Related: Video: Washington's Vansant tears up after loss to Penn State]

What went wrong?

“They beat us in every phase,” Washington coach Jim McLaughlin said during the post-match press conference. “Fundamentally. Transition. Coaching. [Penn State] did a good job and we didn’t.”

The errors certainly didn’t help. Long serves. Wide shots. Fingers grazing the net. In the first set, seven of 10 Huskies to hit the court committed at least one error. Of Penn State’s eight players to take the floor in the opening frame, just one suffered a miscue.

Micha Hancock’s hot hand didn’t help, either. With Hancock serving for Penn State, her squad ripped off an 8-0 run in the first set to make it 17-11, erasing what would be Washington’s final lead of the night.

The second set saw the same story: Bobbled serve receives. Whiffed swings. Miscommunicated play calls. Penn State rattled off another 8-0 run in that game, thanks in part to four consecutive attack errors by Washington followed by a PSU service ace off UW libero Jenna Orlandini. The run put the Nittany Lions ahead and out of reach at 17-6. They hit an astounding .583 on their way to claiming the second set, while Washington hit .033.

Penn State raced to another big lead in the third set. The “We are…Penn State” chants started at 23-12.

[Related: Video: Washington band sends off women's volleyball team to Final Four]

“I gotta give [Penn State head coach Russ Rose] a lot of credit because they were very, very consistent,” McLaughlin said.

“We knew they were a physical team going into it,” Orlandini said after the loss. “We knew it was going to be a dog fight. We just didn’t respond well to adversity.”

Orlandini won’t get another shot at a national championship, as the senior’s playing days as a Husky are over. But for Vansant, a junior, Thursday’s performance will only help in the long run.

“This is going to be in the back of my head all winter when we're lifting weights and conditioning,” she said through tears in the post-match press conference. “It's going to be in my head through spring and summer and 6 a.m. workouts. This is what I want. I want to be in the national championship game next year and I'm going to do everything in my power for that to happen.”

No. 2 seed Penn State and No. 12 seed Wisconsin meet up for an all-Big Ten national championship match Saturday at 6:30 p.m. PT at KeyArena.