Facing Penn State, the nation's third ranked team, in Happy Valley, Pa., was too tall an order for the AU Volleyball team, as it fell in three straight games in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday night.
The loss in the first round is the fourth in four consecutive NCAA trips for the Eagles. After completing a fourth straight undefeated season in the PL, the Eagles were hoping for a better seed in their region, but ended up drawing Penn State, the Big Ten champions and a threat to win the national championship. And while they gave a tremendous effort, it was not enough to overcome the relentless Nittany Lions.
"We fought really, really hard, and it's hard to end the season when you've fought so hard in a match like this one," said senior setter Courtney Mulford, who led the team with 34 assists as the offensive general on the court.
Junior Cuttrina Biddulph led the team with 12 kills, while senior Natacha Cornaz added 11 of her own.
"It was a really intense match but we made too many mistakes, and you can't do that against such a good team," Cornaz said.
In the first game, the Eagles were able to match the Nittany Lions through the first 16 points, but after a 6-0 run made it 14-8 in favor of the home team, the Eagles had no answer. Penn State won the opener, 30-18.
The second game had a similar tune. The Eagles kept it close early, but Penn State made a surge halfway through the game and ended up blowing the game open before winning again, 30-18.
The Eagles came close to taking the third game, but Penn State lived up to its ranking. Mulford said she was proud of the team's efforts in the third game, saying her teammates made plays on offense and defense that she had never seen them make before.
"We played so hard, and now everyone in our locker room knows how hard they're going to have to play to help us break through next year," Mulford said.
The Eagles had three game points in the third game, but were never able to finish off Penn State, which won the deciding game, 35-33.
The Eagles lose six seniors to graduation this year. During their four years at AU, seniors Courtney Mulford, Natacha Cornaz, Erin Algaier, Sabrina Vasconcelos, Cathy Fluegeman and Daria Bobko never lost a match in the PL and took the team to four straight NCAA tournaments.
Looking back, Cornaz said she had mixed feelings about the end of the year.
"We were playing so well at the end of the year - we really had some pretty amazing play," Cornaz said. "People tell me that I should be happy the season's over, that I am free from practice now or something. Well, I'm not happy"