This time, the championship match produced more than a few beads of sweat on the brow. There were buckets.
This time, the players fought off more than a butterfly or two. They lived with swarms in their stomachs.
But after a 2-hour, 29-minute match that was decided by rally scoring, defending champion Stanford won the NCAA Volleyball Championship trophy for the third time in four years, beating Penn State 15-10, 15-6, 2-15, 15-17, 15-9 Saturday afternoon before 10,792 spectators in the Arena.
It was the first five-game final since 1991. Last winter, Stanford’s Cardinal swept Hawaii, giving up just 15 points in three games.
Saturday’s meeting was the third this year between top-seeded Penn State (34-2) and No. 3-seed Stanford (33-2). The Nittany Lions had won both previous matches.
“They really fought back and made a match out of it. And I fully expected them to do that,” said Don Shaw, Stanford’s 14th-year coach. Shaw’s teams have now won four titles, dating back to 1992.
“It was just a great battle for women’s volleyball. That’s women’s collegiate volleyball at its finest.”
The fourth game, which allowed the Nittany Lions to level the match at 2-2, was the filet mignon in a choice championship. It lasted nearly 45 minutes and featured 88 kill attempts by Stanford and 81 by Penn State.
Stanford jumped to a 7-3 lead before Penn State crept back, one point at a time. The Nittany Lions tied the score at 10-10 when sophomore middle blocker Lauren Cacciamani crushed a ball as a result of a Stanford overfeed.
Although the fourth was Cacciamani’s best game, including nine of her 20 kills, teammate Terri Zemaitis really found the touch.
Zemaitis pounded 13 of her match-high 21 kills, continually sliding from her middle position to the right side off Bonnie Bremner’s set. With each powerful spike, the 6-foot-2 senior electrified the crowd and pumped up her teammates. She also had 12 of her team-high 25 digs in game four.
The game was tied at 11, 12 and 13 before Stanford hitter Kerri Walsh’s kill brought her team to its first championship point. After two side-outs, Penn State tied the game at 14 on a Stanford attack error. At 15-15, Penn State scored the next two points, closing out the game when Barbara Ifejika’s reflex shot sailed long for Stanford.
“I think we played hard, I don’t think we necessary played well. We dug ourselves into such an early hole that it just seemed like we were uphill most of the time,” said Penn State 19th-year coach Russ Rose, whose teams have been to the Final Four three times but have not won.
“Even when we gained the momentum, there was a couple people on the bench who were a little gassed and didn’t have the ability to focus on some of the things they needed to focus on,” Rose said.
He explained that Cacciamani suffers from asthma and was having a rough time at the end of the fourth game. He made the adjustment by switching his rotation and starting red-hot Zemaitis in the front row. In the four previous games, the rotation began with Cacciamani in front and Zemaitis in the back.
Zemaitis earned tournament MVP honors.
Stanford jumped to a 6-3 lead in the rally game and quickly built a 11-5 advantage when Lisa Sharpley and Ifejika blocked Lindsay Anderson. The Nittany Lions got as close as 11-6.
Stanford senior Kristin Folkl scored three of the final four points down the stretch. Fittingly, the Cardinal won the match when Folkl, the Pac-10 Conference player of the year, nailed a kill through the outstretched arms of Zemaitis and Bremner.
Folkl led the Cardinal with 22 kills and had 18 of Stanford’s 113 digs. Walsh and Lisa Sharpley each had 30 digs.
Stanford senior Paula McNamee finished with 20 kills.
It was Ifejika and McNamee, both middle blockers, who keyed Stanford’s fast start. They combined for 22 of the team’s 45 kills in the first two games.
The match ended the collegiate careers for five Stanford and three Penn State seniors.
Stanford became the first school to win four Division I volleyball titles and the first back-to-back champion since UCLA in 1990-91.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
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