STATE COLLEGE, Pa. >> Deja McClendon had 25 kills to lead No. 1 Penn State in a stunning comeback over No. 2 Southern California in a five-set thriller to conclude the season-opening AVCA Showcase.
After dropping the first two sets Saturday night, the four-time defending national champion Nittany Lions rallied to avoid the first 0-2 start in Hall of Fame coach Russ Rose’s 33-year tenure with the 21-25, 21-25, 25-20, 25-22, 15-8 victory.
All-American Alex Jupiter led the Trojans (1-1) with 22 kills, while freshman setter Micha Hancock was a bright spot for the Lions with match-high six service aces.
Penn State (1-1) lost to unranked Oregon (1-1) in the tournament’s opening night Friday to snap the Nittany Lions’ record 94-match home winning streak.
However, Penn State’s young roster — five of the team’s seven starters were either freshmen or sophomores — displayed veteran toughness to seal the win.
The last time Penn State rallied from a 2-0 deficit and won? The 2009 national championship match against Texas.
"It was a collective team effort," Rose said. "Obviously I feel a lot better than I did (Friday)."
The early-season tournament also featured Oregon and Big Ten contender Minnesota (1-1). The No. 12 Gophers defeated Oregon in Saturday’s early game, 3-2.
But the tournament belonged to Penn State, and hundreds of fans rushed the court after the final whistle as if the school had just won another title. More than 6,000 fans packed Penn State’s cozy home gym, looking to help the Nittany Lions begin a new home-winning streak.
"It was the best crowd that I’ve seen for a women’s volleyball game in 33 years," Rose said.
However Penn State couldn’t build early off the adrenaline rush. Penn State fizzled at the end of the first set, which the Trojans finished on an 18-7 run. USC captured the second set without much fanfare, 25-21.
Down two sets, McClendon said she was thinking only one thing.
"The feeling of losing at home is horrible," McClendon said. "And I never want to do that again."
So Penn State jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth set, and never trailed again.