By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's volleyball team will continue its postseason run for yet another week thanks to a 3-1 victory over George Mason in the EIVA Championship match on Saturday night.
With the win, the Nittany Lions captured a 14th consecutive conference title in
Rec Hall and earn a spot in the NCAA National Tournament where they will meet
UC Irvine in the semifinals on Thursday in Los Angeles.
In what was the toughest conference competition that they said they've faced all season, the Lions took the first two sets by scores of 25-16 and 25-21 and dropped the third to the Patriots by a score of 25-20. But Penn State battled back in the fourth to a 25-22 set win and match victory.
Ten of the 17 rostered Nittany Lions saw action in the championship match as head coach Mark Pavlik said he used several of his deep lineup's assets to overcome George Mason.
"We weren't afraid to be wrong with our moves, and I think it paid off in the long run," Pavlik said of him and his coaching staff. "It just seemed like we maybe focused a little bit more on being dynamic and explosive and more or less kind of taking the game to them as opposed to just kind of reacting to what they were doing."
Aside from the first set, George Mason kept things interesting all night long tagging at the heels of the Lions and testing their defense by serving tough and finding ways to avoid the block.
Pavlik said that even when his team was down or when the Patriots gained momentum, he was confident that it would power through.
"Sometimes the toughest games to win are the ones you're supposed to," said Pavlik. "These guys have been told all season, you're 14-0 in the EIVA, you're going to win again, and I think that's the toughest match to win."
And the effort came from freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors to get the job done. Fifth-year senior Joe Sunder led the Lions with a resounding 15 kills while his freshman counterpart Aaron Russell followed with 11.
Pavlik said that he saw a fight in his team from top to bottom that remained constant and confident, and that he was particularly proud of the competitive maturity he saw in his veterans.
"Throughout the entire year they've managed to find a way to get back," said Pavlik. "I think that's really the experience that [Edgardo Goas]'s had and the experience that Joe's had saying, okay we've been here before, everybody take a deep breath and keep doing what we're doing."
Senior setter Goas said that he and Sunder couldn't take all of the credit, however, as he recognized that the bulk of the touches on the Penn State side were coming from the younger athletes.
Thirty-five of the 50 kills that the Nittany Lions put down came from the hands of underclassmen.
"These young guys are talented," said Goas. "I just like how everyone played and responded when we were against the wall."
At the end of the match, Goas, Russell and Sunder earned EIVA Championship All-Tournament honors and Sunder took home the plaque for Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
Sunder said that for his last match in Rec Hall, winning the conference title wasn't a bad way to go out.
"I think that's the first time, since I've been here, that we've celebrated like that after winning the EIVA Championship," said Sunder. "You can't take that feeling away - that was a lot of fun."