Lions advance to PSUAC semifinals with win over Brandywine

Nora Jones goes up for a tip.
Nora Jones goes up for a tip.

Hazleton, Pa. - The Hazleton Nittany Lion Women's Volleyball team moved past the opening round of the PSUAC postseason with a 3-1 win over Penn State Brandywine on Tuesday night in the Dr. Thomas M. Caccese Gymnasium. Hazleton got stellar performances from their front line of attack and timely defense throughout the night to capture their first playoff win since the 2018 season, sending the Nittany Lions back to Rec Hall for the Final Four matchups. 

Tuesday night's battle saw Hazleton taking several commanding leads, but a gritty Brandywine squad refused to exit the season quietly. After a dominant effort by Hazleton for a victory in set one that saw a combined seven kills from first year player Nora Jones (Effort, Pa.) and second year standout Sydney Mack (Baltimore, MD.), Hazleton's momentum fizzled after an early lead in set two. Hazleton saw a seven point cushion evaporate midway through the second frame, allowing Brandywine to even up the match at 1-1. Set three proved pivotal for both teams and feature 12 ties throughout the stanza. Hazleton trailed 19-20 late in the action, but the Lions got a pair of service aces from first year player Sarah Ballek (Effort, Pa.) followed by two kills from first year Kaitlyn Kelley (Fairmont, Wv.) and two more from Jones to close out the set on a 6-2 run.

With Hazleton ahead 2-1 in the game, the pressure shifted back towards Brandywine and it showed early in the final frame. Hazleton pushed ahead 12-3 behind an eight point run from Sydney Mack at the service line and extended their lead to as many as 11 points in the fourth. But once again, Brandywine bounced back to make this one a close contest, getting to within one point of the Lions at 19-20. Hazleton got two huge points from third year Rebecca Dzuranin (Pottsville, Pa.) and Jones who tagged her team high 17th kill to extend the lead back to 3 points, inching the Lions closer to a win. Hazleton benefitted from a late service error and a clutch kill from Kelley to close out the match and carry the day 3-1. 

Jones was a monster in this one. The first year player came up big with a season high 17 kills on the night, adding 17 digs and a pair of service aces in the win. Other Nittany Lions in double figures offensively included Mack who totaled 13 kills and first year setter Sophia Del Vacchio (Gainesville, Va.) who notched 46 assists on the night. Kaitlyn Kelley issued Brandywine four solo blocks to go along with her four kills while second year libero Alayna Welsh (Chambersburg, Pa.) led the team with 24 digs defensively. Ballek was credited with nine kills and four aces, several of which came in critical moments to aid the Hazleton cause. 

Hazleton will wait for the results of the York versus Wilkes-Barre game to determine their final seeding heading into Monday's semifinals at University Park. There, Hazleton will take on the PSUAC West at 5:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m depending on the results of the remaining quarterfinal matchups.