Preview: No. 3 Washington looks forward to semifinal matchup with No. 2 Penn State

SEATTLE – Anyone who knows collegiate women’s volleyball knows to respect Penn State.

Washington certainly does.

But when the third-seeded Huskies face the back-to-back Big Ten champion and winner of four consecutive national titles (2007-10) in Thursday’s NCAA semifinal match at KeyArena, they will not simply bow down.

After all, Pac-12 champion Washington has dropped only two matches all season – one of those losses going to then-No. 5 Stanford in Palo Alto – and has sat in the AVCA top five for all but three weeks this year. It doesn’t hurt to have the offensive firepower of Pac-12 Player of the Year and two-time All-American Krista Vansant in purple and black, either. (Yes, the one with 38 kills against USC in last week’s quarterfinal.)

[Related video: Washington takes down USC, advances to Final Four]

“[Penn State is] having a great season this year, but just because they’ve won in the past doesn’t mean they’re going to win [Thursday] night,” Vansant said. “I’ll give credit to them where credit is due, but…they haven’t won anything this year yet. They’re in the same place we are.”

Washington coach Jim McLaughlin said the key to success is doing what his squad has done all season: serve well and stay composed. UW’s service game is one of the country’s best at 1.73 aces per set with a total of 201 aces to PSU’s 152. Penn State coach Russ Rose rattled off the numbers by memory during his press conference Wednesday, so he knows what he’s up against.

[Related video: Washington women's volleyball closes out Kansas in straight sets to reach Elite Eight]

In regards to maintaining composure, McLaughlin placed extra emphasis on it when discussing the benefit of playing four miles from his team’s home arena in the postseason’s final week, where an estimated 15,000 Husky fans are expected to show up Thursday.

“We’ve been here before, so they’ve got nice control of their emotions,” McLaughlin said. “But to play in front of your home crowd, you know, that gets you jacked. You just have to control those emotions so you can play. We’ve done that in front of our people, and I’m hoping we play the best two matches of our career.”

Thursday’s showdown between No. 3 seed Washington and No. 2 seed Penn State starts at 6:30 p.m. PT on ESPN2 following No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Texas at 4:30 p.m. PT.

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