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Texas sweeps Minnesota, Penn State stops Hawaii to reach women's volleyball title game in Tampa

TAMPA — The Penn State women's volleyball team looked astoundingly beatable.

But only for a short time.

The top-ranked and top-seeded Nittany Lions (37-0), the two-time defending NCAA champions riding a mind-boggling 100-match winning streak, dropped the first set against Hawaii at the St. Pete Times Forum but won the next three in Thursday night's national semifinals, 23-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-18.

They will meet No. 2-ranked and No. 2-seeded Texas (29-1) on Saturday — a finale between the teams that have been Nos. 1 and 2 in the polls all season. The Longhorns overwhelmed Minnesota 25-19, 25-20, 25-15.

"It's kind of been the matchup that everybody's been wanting to see," Texas coach Jerritt Elliott said.

Some fans among the announced 10,246 probably thought that wouldn't happen.

But only for a short time.

The Rainbow Wahine (32-3), No. 3 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll but the No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament, stunned Penn State by taking the first set. Only Michigan and Purdue had done that.

"I thought we were really tight … and made a lot of errors that were uncharacteristic," said Penn State coach Russ Rose.

His team had six hitting errors in the opening set.

"Sometimes we've made mistakes, as young people do, and it's how do you handle those errors when you get back to it," Rose said. "Hawaii's very good. They didn't do anything we didn't expect them to do, but we didn't know they'd do it as well as they did."

Tradition-rich Hawaii had earned its ticket to the bay area by beating Illinois and Michigan last weekend in Palo Alto, Calif.

"We weren't happy with the way we were playing," said senior setter Alisha Glass, who had 41 assists, nine kills and 11 digs. "We had a lot more to give."

In the next three sets, the Nittany Lions had six hitting errors. Hawaii hit just .135 for the match, but it hit .103, .067 and .098 in the last three sets.

"We played a good match," Hawaii coach Dave Shoji said. "What it shows is Penn State is a great team."

Meanwhile, the Longhorns, in the finale for the first time since 1995 and looking for their second title (1988), had it going both offensively and defensively against Minnesota from the start, with one blip early in the third set.

The No. 11-seeded Golden Gophers (28-9) led 12-8, but Texas regained its composure. In the decisive set, it held Minnesota to a .061 hitting percentage, while parlaying its height and athletic advantage into a .448 hitting percentage. In all, Minnesota hit just .160; Texas hit .400 — the highest Minnesota allowed all season.

"There's so many stages to building a program," Elliott said. "You think you get the talent, you think you have the pieces and you think you can get to the final four, but there's nothing like experience. There's nothing like going through and being battle-tested as much as we have been in our conference and our schedule. You can see confidence from our girls."

Texas sweeps Minnesota, Penn State stops Hawaii to reach women's volleyball title game in Tampa 12/17/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2009 12:27am]
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