Lady Lions one step away from title contest

UNIVERSITY PARK – Making its seventh appearance in the last eight years, the fifth-seeded Penn State women’s volleyball team is set to meet top-ranked Stanford in the NCAA national semifinals tonight at 9:30.

The matchup will broadcast live on ESPN2.

The Nittany Lions (34-3) advanced to the final four with a 3-1 victory against fourth-seeded Wisconsin last weekend in the Louisville regional finals. Senior Micha Hancock earned regional MVP honors, while redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney and freshman Haleigh Washington joined her on the all-tournament team.

Penn State is 8-8 all-time against Stanford (33-1), having recently come up short in a close five-set loss earlier this season. In NCAA tournament action, PSU knocked the Cardinal out of national championship contention with a 3-2 win in the 2013 Lexington regional. Penn State then went on to capture its sixth national championship in program history, to match Stanford for the most titles won among DI women’s volleyball programs.

Since 2007, Penn State has made more appearances in the national semifinals than any other program. Along with participation in seven of the last eight final fours, PSU leads Texas by one appearance (6). USC (3), California (3) and Stanford (2) are the only two teams in the nation to appear in the national semifinals more than once during the span.

Also notable about the Lady Lions’ appearance in the Final Four:

n Penn?State is making its 34th appearance in the NCAA tournament, Penn State is one of just two programs, with Stanford being the other, to participate in every postseason event since 1981. The Nittany Lions hold an 88-26 all-time record in NCAA tourney matches.

n Freshman Ali Frantti highlighted four AVCA All-America selections with DI National Freshman of the Year honors. Seniors Nia Grant and Micha Hancock earned first team All-America awards, while Frantti and redshirt junior Aiyana Whitney picked up second team laurels.

n Four Nittany Lions earned AVCA All-Northeast Region honors including Micha Hancock, Nia Grant, Aiyana Whitney and Ali Frantti. Frantti also picked up AVCA All-Northeast Region Freshman of the Year honors, making her the eighth Nittany Lion in program history to earn the Regional Freshman of the Year award.

n Six members of the team earned nine Big Ten postseason awards. Micha Hancock and Nia Grant earned unanimous All-Big Ten honors, while Haleigh Washington earned both All-Big Ten and Freshman of the Year laurels. Aiyana Whitney and Ali Frantti picked up All-Big Ten honorable mention accolades and Lacey Fuller was selected as Penn State’s sportsmanship honoree.

n Averaging 1.03 aces per set, Micha Hancock has once again secured herself as the nation’s leader in the category for the 14th consecutive week. With more aces than anyone in the NCAA standings (124) in 2014, her career total (378) ranks first all-time in both the Big Ten and NCAA record books.

n As a team, Penn State is averaging 1.96 aces per set, which ranks first nationally and leads the Big Ten.

n Penn State’s .348 hitting clip ranks first in the nation, while also leading the Big Ten. Hancock’s paced a trio of her top hitters to a .364 hitting efficiency or better, led by Nia Grant’s .442 hitting clip which ranks fourth nationally and second in the conference. Haleigh Washington’s .487 hitting percentage leads the Big Ten, while Aiyana Whitney rounds out the group attacking at .364.

n With 1,159 wins, head coach Russ Rose is presently in sole possession of first place on the DI NCAA all-time wins list ahead of current Hawaii head coach Dave Shoji (1,151). The two active head coaches have traded the top spot throughout the season. Both Rose and Shoji are the only two NCAA DI head coaches to have more than 1,000 career wins.