Musings from the Road: WVB vs. Penn State

The's Women's Volleyball Analyst Roland Hu reviews Stanford's courageous, but unfortunately unsuccessful effort during a 3-2 loss to Penn State in the NCAA Women's Volleyball National Championship match on Saturday. Down 0-2 and with things looking mighty bleak, the Cardinal fought back to force a fifth game, but ran out of answers against Megan Hodge and the impressive Nittany Lions.

Musings from the Road: Arco Arena - WVB vs. Penn State

NCAA Championship Match

Stanford Starters: 

OH - Alix Klineman 

OH - Cynthia Barboza 

MB - Foluke Akinradewo 

MB - Franci Girard

S - Bryn Kehoe 

OPP - Erin Waller/Cassidy Lichtman 

L - Gabi Ailes

Penn State Starters: 

OH - Megan Hodge 

OH - Nicole Fawcett/Alyssa D'Errico 

MB - Christa Harmotto 

MB - Arielle Wilson 

S - Alisha Glass 

OPP - Kate Price/Blair Brown 

L - Roberta Holehouse

Penn State defeats Stanford (30-25, 30-26, 23-30, 19-30, 15-8)

» The first game was really defined by Penn State's superior back-row defense. With a front-line of no one shorter than 6-0, the Nittany Lions blocked their opponents off the court, but it was really the digging that made the difference. The extra fist on the ball, the scrambling plays to extend the point really worked in Penn State's favor, especially since they were able to convert on those long rallies.

» Opposite Erin Waller really struggled tonight and that contributed to Stanford's demise in the first two games. Normally rock solid running the slide, Waller was unable to convert on many of her swings, hitting .000 for the match on six kills and six errors. Setter Bryn Kehoe had faith her in her junior hitter, setting her multiple times, but unfortunately, it just wasn't Waller's night.

» Cynthia Barboza had a good all-around game, recording 12 digs and 16 kills on a .342 hitting percentage, but her shaky passing also contributed to Stanford playing catch-up for the first two games. Targeted by servers for much of the match, Barboza had passing breakdowns at critical junctures of the first and second games that Penn State was able to capitalize on to stay ahead. With that said, Barboza played extremely well in Games 3 and 4, passing nails and tooled the Penn State block constantly. She was able to raise her game to another level and her serve really disrupted.

» Kehoe spearheaded Stanford to a convincing Game 3 victory with her strong serving, as her floater gave Penn State libero Roberta Holehouse all kinds of trouble, tallying three straight aces. That momentum really gave Stanford some much needed confidence and planted some seeds of doubt into the Penn State psyche. Stanford was also executing its offense well, getting kills from Barboza and fellow outside hitter Alix Klineman, in addition to middle blockers Foluke Akinradewo and Franci Girard.

» The fourth game also showcased the Stanford hitters, as its offense was running on all cylinders for a .535 hitting percentage. The passing was spot on, allowing Kehoe to have her choice of hitters who converted. In addition, Penn State was playing really tentatively and they appeared to be playing "not to lose". Most noticeably, Megan Hodge, who had done so much damage from the left side, wasn't swinging at full strength on out-of-system plays like she did earlier and instead just roll-shot the ball over. The block appeared more active, touching more attacks and slowing them down for the back-row to scoop up.

» Stanford's defensive intensity also contributed to their relatively easy victories in the third and fourth games. It was the Cardinal who were scrambling on every play, doing whatever they could to counter the Penn State attack and it was clearly frustrating to the women in blue and white.

» The key stat in Game 5? Stanford hit a paltry -.158 to log its worse team hitting percentage of the season. Erin Waller managed to collect the Cardinal's only kill of the stanza and aside from a solo block from Klineman and a double block from Waller and Girard, all of their points were scored off of Nittany Lion errors. On the other end of the spectrum, Penn State reeled off 11 kills in the fifth game, playing aggressively and shaking off any nerves they may have affected its play in the previous two games.

» Akinradewo's only error of the match came in the fifth game, as her third attack attempt in the second point in the stanza resulted in the ball going wide. Had she gotten a kill in that sequence, the outcome would have been a bit different. Waller's kill came when her team was behind 7-13 and had Akinradewo scored early, the Cardinal's confidence would be been secured and everyone would have played more loosely.

» Penn State came into the match with the supposed upper-hand on the blocking front, while Stanford was regarded as the better back-row defenders. However, the Cardinal outblocked their counterparts 11.0 to 8.5, while the Nittany Lions won the digging war 75 to 64.

» In what could have been a major blowout, Stanford battled back to force a fifth game, a testament to their will and desire to bring home a seventh national championship. The way the team clawed their way back by playing true Stanford volleyball was a sight to see and despite the disappointing ending, their efforts must be applauded - not only for tonight, but for the entire season.

» Making the all-tournament team were USC's Asia Kaczor, Akinradewo and Klineman, while Penn State was represented by middle blocker Christa Harmotto, setter Alisha Glass, and outside hitter Nicole Fawcett. Megan Hodge was named the Tournament MVP.

» Attendance for tonight's final was 13,631, the second-highest ever in NCAA history for a final.

» Stanford senior Rebecca Harlow retired from radio broadcasting tonight, calling her final Stanford women's volleyball game for 90.1 KZSU. Countless hours on the airwaves describing every play executed by the Cardinal and their opponents, Harlow has 111 matches to her credit.

» Also saying good-bye are Stanford seniors Bryn Kehoe and Franci Girard. The two players exemplified class throughout their four years on The Farm and even more important than winning, the duo were great teammates and role models, showing the younger players what it meant to don the Cardinal jersey. One national championship and three Final Fours… not a bad resume and while tonight wasn't the ending for which they had hoped, they can be very proud, having left their mark on the Stanford program.

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