Penn State runs win streak to 102 and defeats Texas
TAMPA, Fla. — Penn State players scurried for scissors to cut down the nets, ran for volleyballs left behind and moved quickly to secure pieces of banners around the arena.
Everyone wanted a piece of history. They were the only ones who got it.
Penn State became the first team to win three straight volleyball titles Saturday night, overcoming a two-set deficit to beat Texas and extend its record winning streak to 102 straight games.
Megan Hodge led the Nittany Lions (38-0) with 21 kills, including the final one that touched off a wild celebration at midcourt. Bench players threw towels in the air and streams of tears rolled down some players’ cheeks, all huddled together hoisting the title trophy.
“Blacked out,” Hodge said. “I was asking everybody after the match what happened on the last play. I don’t remember.”
Penn State’s 22-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-21, 15-13 win helped it stake a claim as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, volleyball team in NCAA history. And maybe one of the best college teams ever.
The winning streak is second in Division I team sports behind the Miami men’s tennis program’s 137 straight victories from 1957-64.
“Not a lot of people have done stuff like that,” Penn State coach Russ Rose said. “I got a cigar with my name on it tonight.”
The Nittany Lions led 22-19 in the first set and were on the brink of going ahead early. Then Texas called timeout, regrouped and rallied for six straight points to put Penn State behind, an unfamiliar position during most of its incredible run.
“We were playing pretty perfect,” Texas’ Ashley Engle said. “I think we stunned Penn State a little bit.”
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The Nittany Lions had only lost six sets this season entering the final match, although one of those came in the semifinals against Hawaii, before dropping the first two to Texas.
They would rally gain.
Penn State regained its serving prowess and cruised through the next two sets and had only a few miscues in the final set before closing out the Longhorns.
There’s no telling how long the streak will go. But one thing is for sure.
“That’s a lot of pressure on them next year,” joked Hodge, an outgoing senior.
Destinee Hooker had a game-high 34 kills for Texas, which was trying to claim its first volleyball title since 1988. She was selected as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“There was nothing I wanted more than for them to win the championship,” Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said. “The ball bounces a funny way sometimes.”
The Nittany Lions were just too much.
Penn State hasn’t lost since falling to Stanford in September 2007. This one, the Nittany Lions will always remember.
“It was the hardest fight we’ve had in our lives,” Hodge said. “But we’re so happy right now.”
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press