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End of the road: Badgers fall to Penn State, 3-1, in national championship

Game Photo
Wisconsin 2 Penn State 3, 12 Wisconsin 1
2013 NCAA Tournament - National Championship
KeyArena • Seattle, Wash. • Attendance: 14,779

Penn State
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1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th
19 24 25 23 --
 Penn State
25 26 20 25 --
 Stats Leaders
Thompson - 16 Kills Scott - 21
Carlini - 39 Assists Hancock - 48
Nelson - .400 Hit %
Slay - .481
Hickey - 26 Digs Courtney,
Gonzalez - 20
Nelson - 9 Blocks Courtney - 5
Thomas - 1
 Aces Hancock - 3
 Stats Comparison
 Kills 46 62
 Hitting Pct. .172 .206
 Assists 45 56
 Service Aces 2 6
 Digs 73 78
 Total Blocks 14 9
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Dec. 21, 2013

SEATTLE-- After a remarkable run in the post-season, the 12th-seeded Wisconsin volleyball team saw its Cinderella story come to a close as Penn State defeated the Badgers 3-1 in the first-ever NCAA national championship match between two Big Ten conference teams. Wisconsin fell 19-25, 24-26, 25-20, 23-25 at KeyArena on Saturday night in UW's first NCAA Championship appearance since 2000.

Penn State proved to be Wisconsin's toughest matchup of the tournament in the third meeting of the season between the two teams. Despite their service precision and momentum from Thursday night's win over No. 1 Texas, the Badgers could not overcome costly errors at the service line and strong serving by the Nittany Lions.

 Fast Facts
• The Badgers end the season with 28 wins, their most since 2000
• Saturday's match marked the second time in program history UW has played for the national title
• Penn State captured its sixth national title in school history.

"It's always hard when you end your season on a loss, UW head coach Kelly Sheffield said. "I think everybody out there saw a team that just wasn't happy to be playing in this match. You know, there were a lot of emotions in the locker room. This team, they expected to win. They played to win. They expected to win. I know probably not a whole lot of people thought that we had a chance to do that. But our players did."

The Badgers and Nittany Lions came out swinging in what started out as a close first set. Wisconsin jumped out to an early lead, but Penn State soon tied it up four different times. The Nittany Lions took a 12-11 lead they would never relinquish, leading by as many as six points. The Badgers were able to fight off one set point, but PSU won the frame 25-19. The Lions recorded 19 kills on a .350 (19-5-40) attack while Wisconsin managed just nine kills, hitting .152 (9-4-33) on the period.

Penn State jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead on a 6-0 run to start out the second set. The Nittany Lions extended their lead to 11-5, but the Badgers soon caught up, tying the score up four points in a row and eventually picking up the lead at 18-17. PSU fought back to again claim the lead, and two late service errors by Wisconsin pushed the Nittany Lions to a 26-24 win in the second period. 

Penn State went on a 5-1 run to pick up another early lead in the third set, but the Badgers countered with a run of their own to tie it at 5-5. After five more tie scores, Wisconsin used a 7-1 run to pull ahead 18-13. Three blocks and six kills from junior Dominique Thompson, along with a PSU service error, helped solidify Wisconsin's 25-20 third set victory.

The fourth frame featured nine ties and three lead changes as the Badgers and Lions fought point-for-point throughout. Wisconsin grabbed a late 23-20 advantage, but two service aces by Micha Hancock and a Badger service error allowed PSU to pull ahead and capture the 2013 national title with a 25-23 win in the fourth stanza.

Net defense was key to keeping Wisconsin close to Penn State throughout the match as the Badgers out-blocked the Lions 14-9. Freshman Haleigh Nelson led all players with nine blocks, just one shy of tying her career high. Junior Courtney Thomas and Thompson each added five blocks apiece, and freshman Lauren Carlini added four stuffs.

In the back court, the Badgers tallied 73 digs to 78 from the Lions. Senior Annemarie Hickey closed out her college career with a bang, recording a match-high 26 digs, just one save shy of tying her season high.

"Anyone being a senior, coming off a loss at the end of their season would be upset," Hickey said. "But I'm also really happy for myself and for my teammates and how long we came and really having confidence in ourselves when no one else was believing in us. We always believed we were going to win and take it all the way.

"It's been an incredible journey for me, and, like I said before, I'm really excited for the rest of these girls for their next year and to prove to, keep proving people wrong and just keep battling."

Thomas (14), sophomore Taylor Morey (10), junior Deme Morales (8) and Carlini (7) rounded out the Wisconsin's back court defense.

On offense, the Badgers were held to hitting under .200 for the second match in a row. PSU finished with a 62-46 advantage in kills over Wisconsin as the Badgers recorded a .172 (46 kills - 20 errors - 151 attempts) clip compared to the Nittany Lions' .206 (62-27-170) hitting percentage.

Two players finished in double-figure kills for the Badgers. Thompson led the way for Wisconsin on offense, recording 16 kills on a .314 (16-5-35) attack. Morales, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, followed with 15 kills on the match. Nelson also put away seven and hit .400 (7-1-15) on the night.

Leading the Badgers on offense was Carlini, who put up 39 assists and was named to the All-Tournament Team.

Thomas and junior Ellen Chapman were the only players to record service aces for Wisconsin, as they each added one. Though the team tallied just seven errors at the service time, many of the errors came late in the match and proved costly in close sets.

Penn State was led by senior Ariel Scott, who grabbed match-high honors with 21 kills. Fellow seniors Katie Slay and Deja McClendon added 14 and 11 kills, respectively.

The driving force behind the Lions' offense was Hancock, who led all players with 48 assists. The junior setter also finished with three of the team's six service aces and five kills.

Defensively, three players put up 15-or-more digs for the Lions. Junior Dominique Gonzalez and sophomore Megan Courtney led the team with 20 digs apiece, and Hancock added 16.

The Nittany Lions, who finished the season 34-2 overall, won their 25th-straight match to claim the program's sixth national title.

Wisconsin wraps up the season with a 28-10 ledger. The 28 wins is the program's most since UW's 2000 NCAA championship run.

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