Out of a semifinal field dominated by teams from California, the lone eastern team emerged victorious in the Division I Women's Volleyball Championship. Penn State bested Stanford, 3-2, at Arco Arena in Sacramento, California, December 15.
The top-seeded Nittany Lions jumped to a two-game lead to open the match, winning 30-25 and 30-26, behind strong hitting, particularly in the second game in which Penn State hit .525.
The Cardinal would not go quietly, breaking Penn State's 17-game winning streak in the third game on the strength of service aces from senior setter Bryn Kehoe and a Penn State serve that hit the net. Stanford won the game, 30-23.
The fourth game began with a 6-1 Cardinal run, but the Nittany Lions eventually tied the game at 7. Stanford dominated the game from there, going up first, 10-8, and then stringing together another 6-1 run and never saw their lead fall to less than four points. The Cardinal won, 30-19.
The fifth game began just as intensely, but Penn State went up by six and Stanford couldn't recover. The Nittany Lions sealed the championship with a kill from sophomore outside hitter Megan Hodge, 15-8. Hodge was later named most outstanding player of the championship.
"At this moment, I guess it hasn’t really sunk in yet that we won," Hodge said after the match. "It's just kind of a surreal feeling. It's great. I’m on a high, I guess."
Penn State head coach Russ Rose said the teams played evenly in the first two games, but Stanford fought harder in the third and fourth games.
"In the fifth game, I felt we didn't have the momentum, but there was no reason to think we didn't have a chance, and that's what I said. I thought we took control, we had a few touches and it's all about converting and I thought we did a good job," he said. "The goal was to be the national champion and that's what we talked about and that’s what we tried to do in putting this team together as to compete at the highest level."
Rose declined to comment on his Big Ten team winning a championship dominated by West Coast teams, particularly teams from the Pacific-10. Rose was coach of the 1999 Penn State team that also won the national championship. The Nittany Lions were runners-up in 1997 and 1998.
"There are a lot of great teams and a lot of great players and great coaches around the country. There are a lot of people that maybe don’t feel that way, but I feel that way," he said.
Stanford coach John Dunning, who brought the Cardinal to the runner-up spot for the second consecutive year and won the championship last in 2004, said he was proud of the comeback his team mounted during the match.
"I know that they didn't want to come here to (finish second)," he said. "I want to congratulate the great effort and heart they have showed tonight and all season ... They just put their heart out on the floor, they were ready to start in game five. We all know that is what makes volleyball amazing to watch and play, because you get to that fifth game and who knows what is going to happen? It's just so exciting; they just did a great job."
Penn St. def. California, 30-28, 30-25, 30-16. Stanford def. Southern California, 23-30, 30-20, 30-25, 20-30, 16-14.
Penn State 30 30 23 19 15
Stanford 25 26 30 30 8