Dec. 13, 2013
Lexington, Ky. - Michigan State fell to Big Ten rival Penn State 3-1 (25-22, 17-25, 17-25, 22-25) in the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament on Friday evening, ending the Spartans' season and sending the Nittany Lions on to the NCAA quarterfinal. MSU ends its season with a 23-12 overall record, after advancing to the Sweet 16 in back-to-back seasons.
"I thought that the third set we fell apart a little bit and made some unforced errors and you can't give those teams like Penn State an opening like that," said head coach Cathy George. "I'm very proud of the effort of our team tonight, and while no one ever wants to see their see their season end, I'm very proud of what they accomplished and the way they competed tonight. We took on a very good, aggressive Penn State team that has their eyes on a National Championship."
Freshman Allyssah Fitterer led all hitters with 18 kills and hit a monsterous .441 on 34 swings, career highs in both kills and attempts; Lauren Wicinski had a double-double with 16 kills and 11 digs, while Chloe Reinig had 10 kills and two blocks. Setters Kristen Kelsay and Halle Peterson each had 23 assists, and Kelsay added eight digs; Kori Moster had 20 digs and Taylor Galloway had a season-best 15 as they faced an aggressive, free-swinging Penn State offensive attack.
For PSU, Ariel Scott had 15 kills and five blocks, while Deja McClendon had 14 kills and 10 digs. Setter Micha Hancock had a match-best 47 assists to go with 14 digs for a double-double. Penn State hit .283 for the match and out-blocked the Spartans 11-4.
The Nittany Lions opened up a 6-2 lead in the first set, utilizing big blocks to stifle MSU's attack. The Spartans rallied back, tying the set at seven, capped with a block by Kuipers and Galloway and a kill by Lauren Wicinski. The teams traded one-point leads until PSU went ahead 13-11, but Reinig countered with a kill, followed by a Fitterer kill, to knot the set at 13 once again. A Scott kill gave PSU the lead, and an MSU error sent the Spartans into a timeout with PSU leading 15-13.
Coming out of the break, Wicinski got the sideout with a swing from the left side, and a PSU error tied the set at 15. Penn State twice built to two-point leads, at 18-16 and 20-18, but MSU kept chipping at it, and tied the match at 20, at which point the Nittany Lion bench called a time out. MSU came out of that break with back-to-back kills by Wicinski and Reinig, forcing PSU into another timeout. Slay stopped the MSU run and pulled Penn State within a point, but Wicinski and Fitterer pushed MSU to set point on consecutive kills. After a Spartan error, Kelsay set Mathews and she secured the opening set, 25-22. Wicinski had seven kills in the opening set, while Fitterer had five and hit .714. Galloway had five digs, as did Kelsay - who also had nine assists.
MSU opened up a 4-1 lead in the second set on back-to-back blocks by Reinig and Mathews. Trailing 5-3, Penn State went on a 4-0 run, fueled by a pair of kills by Scott, a Wicinski kill halted the run, but PSU got the sideout on a kill by Slay; MSU countered with another Wicinski termination - her 10th of the match. Leading 9-8, Hancock's tip pushed PSU's lead to 10-8, McClendon followed with a kill, and Nia Grant's angled shot pushed the PSU advantage to four, 12-8, and MSU called timeout. Out of the break, McClendon tipped a ball long to extend the PSU lead, a run which was finally halted by Kuipers to cut the PSU lead back to 13-9. The teams traded points and rallies, with the Nittany Lions maintaining a three-to-four-point lead. MSU cut the lead to three at 18-15, but Penn State went on a five-point run, halted only by its own service error. Megan Courtney's big swing from the left side gave the Nittany Lions set point, but a Reinig kill kept the set alive - but only for one more play as Grant finished it off for Penn State to tie the match at one set each. Scott, Hancock, and McClendon each had four kills for the Lions in the second set, while Wicinski had four for MSU.
MSU briefly led the third set 2-1, but an 8-2 run for the Nittany Lions - aided by a series of MSU errors - helped the No. 2 seed push that lead to 9-4, then 12-6. MSU scored three of the next four points to trim it back to four points, 13-9, but the Nittany Lions built it back to a seven-point advantage with four of the next five points - the lone MSU point in that stretch a Hancock service error - to give themselves a seven-point cushion, 17-10. PSU got big blocks and big swings from its outside hitters to help build to its advantage, as well as playing nearly mistake-free volleyball. The Spartans, who had gotten unlucky on some plays, kept chipping away, first using a 3-1 run to trim it to 18-13 on back-to-back kills by Wicinski and Mathews, PSU rebuilt it to eight points (21-13) on back-to-back MSU errors. Fitterer had two straight kills for MSU to trim it to 23-14, then an MSU service error gave PSU set point. MSU fought it off with kills by Wicinski and Kuipers, but McClendon finished off the set victory 25-17 and gave Penn State a 2-1 advantage in the match.
The fourth set opened with a pair of long rallies, with each team winning one; with the set tied at four, Courtney and Scott had back-to-back ills to allow PSU to open up a two -point lead, and a block at the right pin made it a three-point advantage, 7-4. The Nittany Lions advanced their lead to 10-4, but MSU cut it back to a one-point game on a Reinig kill, Mathews stuffed it over the net, and a block by Galloway. Two straight Spartan errors gave the Lions back a three-point advantage at 12-9, and MSU called timeout to regroup. MSU got two points back right away on PSU errors, and the teams traded two point runs as the Lion lead fluxuated between one and two points until a Katie Slay kill gave PSU a 22-19 lead, (the first back-to-back points for either team since MSU had two straight to trim a 14-11 PSU lead to one point), and MSU called the timeout. Fitterer and Slay traded kills to maintain a three-point PSU edge; Scott pushed it to four points and gave the favorites match point at 24-20, but Fitterer ripped off three consecutive kills to pull MSU within a point, 24-23. Courtney sealed it for the Nittany Lions, ending the Spartan run and sending her team into the Elite Eight.
"I could not be prouder of what this team, and this senior class, accomplished," noted George. "When they entered the program, we were fighting to get into the NCAA Tournament year-to-year and they leave our program in a state where the expectation is not only making the tournament, but making a significant run. They have raised the bar for our younger players, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for that. They have made our program better for being a part of it."