— Story by Jessica Eley
The Penn State women’s volleyball team returns to Happy Valley knowing they’re not just the champions of 2014, but also knowing they have officially assumed the title of the best overall women’s program.
Penn State ended the Cinderella run of BYU in straight sets to win its second consecutive national championship in front of more than 11,000 people in Oklahoma City. The triumph also marked the sixth national title since 2007 and its seventh championship overall, one more than Stanford’s six for most all time in Division I.
Penn State women’s head volleyball coach Russ Rose said each championship win feels different every time.
“It’s such a great thing,” said Rose, head coach for all seven of Penn State’s championships, Rose said. “We’re not trying to hoard them. We’re like everybody else. We’re trying to do the best we can.”
The first two sets were hotly contested, with the Lions taking a 25-21 decision in Game 1 and coming back from a five-point deficit in set two to eventually win a 26-24 thriller, going into intermission with a huge momentum boost.
The Lions came out of the break on fire in the third set, only allowing the Cougars to score 14 points. PSU held BYU to a .134 hitting percentage in that third frame.
“Penn State has done an unbelievable job,” said BYU coach and AVCA Coach of the Year Shawn Olmstead said. “Russ will go down as maybe the greatest volleyball coach.”
The win Saturday clearly adds to the legacy of Rose and the Penn State women’s volleyball team. After losing in their first three appearances in the championship game (1993, 1997, 1998) ,the Nittany Lions won their first championship in 1999 and have dominated the Final Four ever since, including completing the repeat on Saturday.
Part of Penn State’s success in the last four years came from its 2014 AVCA Player of the Year, setter Micha Hancock. She guided her team to a 127-16 record, three semi-finals and those two national championships during her time at PSU.
“I’ve poured my heart and soul into this team,” said Hancock. “I hope I’ve left my mark here.”
Her teammates, along with Coach Rose, agreed that she had.
“It’s been awesome to play with Micha,” right-side hitter and second-team All-American Aiyana Whitey said. “She’s super tough. She has great leadership, very steady, calm player. It’s pretty sad to see her go.”
Along with the team wins, Hancock’s also racked up plenty of personal awards. She is a three-time first team All-American, a four-time All-Big Ten selection and has garnered numerous all-tournament accolades.
Coach Rose jokingly described his relationship with Hancock’s as love/hate, but also said he thinks she’s achieved what she set out to achieve when she came to Penn State.
As for Hancock, the realization that she had put on the Penn State uniform for the last time has already sunk in.
“I’m going to miss the Penn State family,” said Hancock. “It’s weird to be an alum, but it’s a great way to end my career here.”
It might be an end of an era for Hancock, but the reign of Penn State in women’s volleyball looks like it will continue well into the future.
[Cover photo (Penn State volleyball team) courtesy of Sue Ogrocki/AP]