“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” said head coach Chris Riley. “We struggled tonight, but we played against a great Penn State group. They were physical and humungous on the block. I thought our group did a real good job at times competing and putting ourselves in a position to be successful.
“Like I said yesterday, our strengths made it a good match. We were fast, we were quick and we were successful when we did that, but we ran into some trouble on the outside.
“But for the most part I couldn’t be happier with our group.”
“I wasn’t really surprised that we hung with them tonight,” said sophomore Cara Baarendse. “Penn State’s a great team, but we can be a great team too. As the game was going on and we were scoring points too, it wasn’t surprising at all. But we weren’t executing when we had our leads and let them come back. But they’re a good team and we were able to play with them.”
The first set started extremely close, neither team taking a lead larger than two, as Tech held an early 5-4 lead. The Nittany Lions then went on a 5-0 run to take a 9-5 lead, at which point Virginia Tech called for a timeout. Penn State held onto its advantage for a majority of the frame, until the Hokies tied the score at 18 on a ball-handing error by Kristin Carpenter on the hit following Penn State’s reception of Erin Leaser’s serve. However, Tech was unable to take over the lead, and soon the Lions were up 22-19. The Hokies continued to fight, battling up 22 points before dropping the set, 25-22.
The second frame started just like the first, but this time the Hokies took the first two-point lead, going up 7-5. Tech then ran out to a 15-10 advantage, but the Nittany Lions won six of the next seven points to tie the score at 16. The Hokies went back up 18-16, but Penn State followed with a 5-0 run to take a 21-18 lead. A pair of kills by Samantha Gostling and Erin Leaser pulled the Hokies back within one, but a kill by Ariel Scott and a block by Blair Brown made it Penn State set-point, up 24-21. Victoria Hamsher smashed a kill to keep the Hokies in the game, but Justine Record then served the ball into the net to end the second frame, once again by a score of 25-22.
The Hokies led at the start of the third set, but after Tech went up 8-7, the Nittany Lions won three straight for their first lead of the frame, 10-8. The Hokies came right back to tie it at 10, but the Nittany Lions then ran away with it, winning 15 of the final 18 points to end the Hokies’ historic season with a 3-0 loss, dropping the final set 25-13.
“We got a little bit predictable,” Riley said. “These two guys [Felicia Willoughy and Cara Baarendse] played great and our slide was pretty effective. We struggled setting and playing on the outside, and against a team with 6-6 and 6-5 blocking you, you’ve got to be able to move them around and we struggled to do that at times tonight. I also thought we gave away too many points on easy plays.
“Being in an environment of that caliber for the first time, at times it got to us, but in general I think our kids really enjoyed the atmosphere and didn’t really play scared or tentative at any time.”
Cara Baarendse led the Hokies’ offense with seven kills, and Victoria Hamsher, Felicia Willoughby and Jennifer Wiker all had three. Justine Record had three service aces, Erin Leaser notched 24 assists and Morgan O’Neill led the back row with nine digs.
Felicia Willoughby, who played the 124th and final match of her career this evening, will graduate from Tech holding eight all-time records, three career, three single-season and two freshman. She set a new all-time record for career hitting percentage, retiring at .331, while adding a sizable lead to the two career blocking records she set earlier this season, stuffing a total of 454 block assists and 552 total blocks. She also finishes fifth all-time in both career kills and block solos, with 1,289 and 98, respectively.
“This program has grown so much over the four years I’ve been here,” Willoughby said, “and just to have this opportunity to make it this year, to make the tournament for the first time ever at Virginia Tech, words can’t describe it.”
Along with Willoughby, defensive specialist Amy Wengrenovich ended her four-year Hokie career this evening. Wengrenovich recorded 922 digs, 171 kills, 99 assists and 25 blocks over her impressive career. The two seniors will certainly be missed next fall, and the Hokie Nation wishes them the best of the luck in their future endeavors.
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