Hancock leads Penn State into final vs. BYU
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Micha Hancock could finish a standout career in storybook fashion.
The Penn State senior setter will try to win her second consecutive national championship just a few miles from where she played high school volleyball in Edmond. The Nittany Lions (35-3) will face Brigham Young (30-4) on Saturday for the title.
Hancock said she has faced extra distractions this week being so close to home, but she composed herself for the semifinal. She had 55 set assists in a victory over No. 1 seed Stanford on Thursday night, and now, she's completely locked in on winning the championship.
''It was a great atmosphere last night, and I loved seeing PSU fans and all my OKC people,'' she said. ''I see it as one more game. We're trying to go back-to-back defending our title. The biggest thing is to stay focused.''
Penn State coach Russ Rose said even before the semifinal that he expected Hancock to be able to handle the extra attention.
''I think what Micha is, first and foremost, is a really competitive young person,'' he said. ''So I think she has the ability to separate the noise from the opportunity to really go out and compete and do the things she does well.''
Hancock leads the nation's leader in ace serves, and it's not close. Her jump serve, which creates unique velocity and spin, is a weapon unlike any in the college game.
''I didn't really develop that sidespin until college,'' she said. ''That was something that I used more to manage the ball. I ended up getting a couple of aces with it, so I was like, `This might be a good tool to learn how to learn how to go line with.''' So I just kind of built off of that.''
At 5-foot-11, Hancock attacks as a hitter often enough to give defenses another layer of concern. But her ability to control the game as a setter is the primary reason she is a first-team AVCA All-American. Penn State leads the nation in hitting percentage.
''We're a team that has pretty good balance,'' Rose said. ''I think she has the ability to distribute the ball to different areas and locations. And every team is different, and I think she's adjusted to every team.''
BYU is trying to become the first unseeded team to win the national title. Hancock will need to be at her best against the Cougars, who feature 6-foot-7 right side Jennifer Hamson.
''She's very good,'' Hancock said. ''I've been told not to set into her. Just avoid her at all costs, basically, is our gameplan, as far as I understand it right now.''
BYU has size that even a national power like Penn State rarely faces. The Cougars lead the nation in blocks.
''They move well, they read the ball well,'' Hancock said. ''They're also very big. When they make late moves, they're still disciplined with their hands.''
Hancock said she wants to play professionally and remain involved in the USA Volleyball program. She hopes she has left her mark at Penn State.
''It's weird because I feel like I'm still a freshman,'' she said. ''I don't feel like I should be a senior yet. I'd hope that people see me as someone who has passion for the game because I love the game. Someone who is a leader and a good teammate, someone who is not disrespectful on or off the court, but someone who cares about the game and wants to win. Someone competitive and humble.''