No. 12-seeded Wisconsin rode its Cinderella story all the way to the championship game, but the team came up just short against No. 2 Penn State in the first All-Big Ten final in tournament history. The Nittany Lions won their sixth national championship in four sets (25-19, 26-24, 20-25, 25-20).
Ariel Scott was the star of the game, finishing with 21 kills and proving too much for the Wisconsin front line to handle. It was a total team effort, however, with setter Micha Hancock totaling 48 assists in the championship match.
The first set was very close until Penn State’s four-point run fueled by two Katie Slay kills put the Nittany Lions up by five. That gap was too large for Wisconsin to overcome, and Scott punctuated the set with a kill to start Penn State on its road to victory.
Penn State carried that momentum into the second set, opening up a 6-1 lead thanks to three consecutive spikes by Scott. At that point, it seemed as though the bright lights might be too much for the Badgers, but they clawed their way back to tie the set at 14 apiece.
The set went into extra points, and again it was Scott who came up big for Penn State. With the set tied 24-24, the right-side hitter scored two points to give Penn State a 2-0 advantage and bring it one set away from a national championship.
Facing elimination, the Badgers again started slow in the third set, falling behind 1-5. This time, however, Wisconsin was able to overcome the deficit and take a 17-12 lead and eventually win the set to get on the board.
The final set was a back-and-forth battle, much like the opener, with the teams entering the home stretch even at 18. Three Penn State errors resulted in Wisconsin taking a 23-20 lead and threatening to take the match to a fifth and deciding set.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t the Badgers’ day and the Lions scored the last five points of the match behind two service aces from Taylor Morey.
It was a thoroughly entertaining match, and it was much closer than the four-set outcome indicates. While the loss certainly wasn’t how the Badgers wanted their season to end, they can certainly hold their heads high as they played exceptionally well against the Lions.
Serious athleticism on display on ESPN2 with the NCAA D-1 women's volleyball final between Penn State and Wisconsin.— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) December 22, 2013
Furthermore, the play of freshman setter Lauren Carlini was an enormous bright spot and a sign of good things in Wisconsin’s future. Carlini rose to the occasion throughout the tournament and was controlling the Wisconsin attack, including a 50-assist performance in the Final Four upset of No. 1 Texas.
According to Dennis Punzel of The Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin coach Kelly Sheffield had this to say about Carlini:
The bigger the lights, the better. That’s her mentality. The kid’s whatever she is, 18 years old, and she was born for this. The bigger the crowd, the more moxie that comes out of her, the more confidence.
Wisconsin was the lowest seed to ever make the tournament, but with another year of experience under Carlini’s belt, the Badgers won’t be the No. 12 seed next year.