Onward State: 5 Things to Watch for in the Women's Volleyball Final Four
By Alex Robinson
The season is on the line for the top-ranked women’s volleyball team in the country tonight, as Penn State takes on No. 5 Oregon in the national semifinals. This should be a closely contested match between two of the best teams in the country. Here’s five things to keep your eye on as you watch the match at 9 p.m. on ESPN2 or ESPN3. You can also listen online at GoPSUSports.com.
1. Revenge factor
The last time these two teams played, it did not end well for Penn State, as the Ducks snapped an NCAA-record 94-match home winning streak at Rec Hall. The two teams are different now (All-American Micha Hancock was not even the setter at that point last year), but it will be interesting to see if this affects either team.
2. Penn State has been there and done that
This is the fifth time in the last six years that Penn State has made it this far, and each of the previous times the Nittany Lions have won it all. With eight of the current players already having championship rings, you should not be seeing nerves on the Penn State side. Oregon, on the other hand, is making its first Final Four appearance in school history and should come out looking to prove it belongs in the top tier of teams.
3. Awards all around
Penn State (four All-Americans) and Oregon (three) were the most represented schools when the AVCA All-America list was announced Wednesday. Ariel Scott and Hancock were named to the first team, Katie Slay was named to the second team and Deja McClendon was named to the third team. On the other side, Oregon also had two first-team honorees in redshirt senior outside hitter Alaina Bergsma and junior setter Lauren Plum. They are the first first-team honorees for Oregon since 1984. It will be interesting to see how the Penn State defense handles such an unfamiliar, lethal duo.
In addition to the All-American honors, redshirt sophomore Maggie Harding received the Elite 89 award Wednesday, which honors the athlete with the highest GPA out of the Final Four team. Harding, who is majoring in Food Sciences, currently has a 4.0.
4. The possible end of Kristin Carpenter’s and Marika Racibarskas’ careers
While Penn State’s team is very young compared to most others (all six starters will return next season), it is important to remember the contributions by Carpenter and Racibarskas to the program over the last four years.
Racibarskas has seen time in her career as a defensive specialist and has made the Academic All Big-Ten team twice. Carpenter has seen playing time in almost every match of her career and was the starting setter for the 2010 national championship team. She lost her job to Hancock after the opening loss last season but has remained a team leader as a defensive specialist throughout the last two years.
5. Michigan vs. No. 3 Texas at 7 p.m.
The first match of the night also features a first-time Final Four participant in fellow Big Ten school Michigan. It takes on a perennial power, the Texas Longhorns, who are making their fourth appearance in the last five years. Both teams fell to Penn State earlier in the year, with Texas losing 3-0 in Rec Hall and Michigan falling at home to the Nittany Lions, 3-2.
Bonus reason: Alaina Bergsma is Miss Oregon
According to MissOregonUSA.com, not only is Alaina Bergsma one of the top volleyball players in the country, she’s one of the 50 best-looking women.