So this is how rebuilding seasons go for the Penn State women's volleyball team.
Russ Rose's defending national champions were supposed to be reloading this year, and did not even win the Big Ten title. Yet PSU beat conference champ Wisconsin to advance to the NCAA Final Four for the seventh time in the last eight years, this one in Oklahoma City.
There, the fifth-seeded Nittany Lions handled No. 1 seed Stanford relatively easily Thursday night, 25-16, 23-26, 25-22, 25-21, behind a career-high 23 kills by junior hitter Megan Courtney (shown above) and the usual strong all-around game of senior setter Micha Hancock (55 assists).
Penn State will face unseeded BYU, a 3-1 winner over No. 2 seed Texas Thursday, for the national championship Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. The match will be carried live by ESPN2.
There is plenty at stake for the Lions (35-3). Currently, they are tied with Stanford for the most national championships in the sport's history, as each team has six.
Penn State has won five of the last seven titles. Stanford, which was looking to re-establish itself as the national force, has won one championship (in 2004) in the last 13 years.
The Lions lost three of their first 19 matches, including a five-setter to Stanford in Palo Alto Sept. 5. But they've now won 19 straight, and have only dropped two sets in their last 18 matches.
As well as Penn State has played at NCAAs, BYU is the real surprise outfit in this tournament.
The Cougars (30-4), with two-sport stars Jennifer Harmson (who at 6-foot-7 had 22 kills vs. Texas) and Alohi Robins-Hardy (a setter who had 54 assists Thursday), are the first unseeded team to make the final. They have 12 straight wins.