Greetings once again from the road!
We are headed North on Route 15 back to PA from Fairfax, VA where the Nittany Lions defeated the George Mason Patriots 21-25, 25-19, 25-16, 25-20 to move to 11-0 in the EIVA. Today Harvard defeated NJIT which puts them currently in second place in the EIVA with a record of 8-2. The Nittany Lion magic number is 2: any combination of Nittany Lion wins and/or Harvard losses will clinch the EIVA top seed for us. Since we host Sacred Heart and Harvard next weekend we are looking to clinch then!
Tonight's match against the Patriots had me concerned about our recovery from last night's five gamer against Princeton. It seems like we have been running on fumes and we were back on the bus this morning at 11:30 AM for the three-and-a-half hour trip to Fairfax. The Patriots had returned last weekend from their spring break trip to the west coast but had defeated Saint Francis yesterday in four games. I was hoping they would be feeling the effects of their travel but their scores against SFU indicated nothing of the sort.
We rolled into Fairfax about 3:30 PM and stopped for a pre-game meal at Jason's Deli. Our trainer extraordinaire, Kelly Saxton, gave the Deli her blessing as a great place for a pre-game meal...besides, it offered free ice cream. I was in!
We headed to the gym and managed to get 45 minutes of passing and serving and the guys seemed to be in great spirits and ready to play. In GMU's new Recreation and Athletic Center, the volleyball gym is well lit (a bright contrast from Dillon Gym at Princeton) and a great facility in which to compete.
Game one began with GMU seemingly blocking everything at which we tried to swing! With GMU up 10-13 they had already recorded five blocks! Our offense just didn't have any pop and we certainly weren't giving GMU much to worry about. The best we could do was to get to 19-22 but GMU wouldn't let us get any closer and a Mason kill gave them game one 21-25. Mason stuffed seven balls in game one. My concern about recovery after last night's match seemed accurate.
Game two began with PSU gaining a 5-1 lead. We stretched it to 15-8 with a solid sideout game and we were starting to create opportunities with our serving and blocking that we were finishing with our transition game. The closest Mason could get was 23-18. An Aaron Russell kill ended the game 25-19 and tied the match at one game apiece.
Game three had the Nittany Lions pick up right where we left off in game two. Our blockers were forcing GMU in altering their shots and our defense was doing a great job picking them up and we were putting them away. All of sudden the lethargy of the first half of game one was completely gone. It was replaced with a very enthusiastic energy that kept us dictating to the GMU crowd their silence and the Nittany Lion faithful in attendance kept their support loud and often. It appeared that we were carrying our crowd with us. We found ourselves up 20-13 and not allowing Mason to mount any type of sustained effort put us up 24-16 when a Sunder kill ended game three 25-16.
Game fours always make me apprehensive on the road. If we take too much for granted we could be in a game five with a revitalized GMU team and crowd. We needed to keep doing what we were doing. We reminded the team that 10-10 was a good score for the first twenty points and just keep the pressure on them with our serving and passing. Well, we were at 11-11 when things started to unravel for the Patriots. It all started with a very poor pass by us which we had to desperately throw back over the net. We threw it high but it was only five feet off the net. It was an overpass that had GMU salivating...until the GMU hitter miss-timed his swing and hit it straight down - on his side of the net! This hitting error was followed by two more GMU hitting errors and we had separation at 14-11. That was all we needed as GMU would come no closer. At 24-20, a GMU serving error closed out the match 25-20.
We have finished our seven game road trip at 5-2. 5-0 in EIVA road matches and can clinch hosting the EIVA semifinals and finals next weekend! Our guys found some revitalizing formula somewhere in game one. Jace Olsen entered the game and gave us good passing and delivered some key kills but he certainly brought his own brand of energy. Match leaders for the Nittany Lions were Aaron Russell (Kills - 12; Blocks - 5), Olsen (Kills - 12), Goas (Blocks - 5; Aces - 3) and Sunder and Curry (Digs - 11). PSU out-hit GMU .76 to .194; out-blocked them 9 to 8 (remember they had seven in game one!); out-dug them 38 to 33 while both teams served five aces!
One of the best things about the Princeton - GMU road trip is the number of PSU MVB alums who make the trek to either gym. Last night in Dillon Gym we had visits from Bo Hunkins and four of five his boys. We saw Jose Rubayo and Fred Gozum. Tonight it was Jay Stauffer, Ricky Mattei , Marcus Neumann and John "Griz" Philips to name but a few! Thanks to all who manage to greet us in gyms across the country in Blue-and-White. We truly appreciate your support!
Now we get to enjoy the friendly confines of Rec Hall for next weekend's matches against Sacred Heart and Harvard. It would be great to have a big crowd to help us clinch the 2012 EIVA regular season championship! We'll get the guys some rest this week and have them ready to go next weekend!
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
All the best,
Pav, Colin, Jay and the guys