By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When charter buses roll into the parking lots surrounding Rec Hall in the late weeks of April and young men taller than most professors here on campus step off, it can only mean one thing.
In the first night of the EIVA postseason competition in Rec Hall, the
top-seeded Nittany Lions handed the fourth-seeded Princeton Tigers a 3-0 (25-20,
25-12, 25-22) loss.
Earlier in the evening, third-seeded George Mason defeated second-seed Harvard as well. The two winners, Penn State and George Mason, will play for the EIVA Championship title on Saturday at 7 p.m. back in Rec Hall.
The Nittany Lions out-hit and out-served the Tigers to roll to their first victory of the postseason, posting an attack average of .418 to Princeton's .208 and registering nine service aces to the Tigers' two.
Penn State was able to power its offense behind strong performances on every inch of the court, as head coach Mark Pavlik said his team looked more determined than he had seen it before.
"We've been practicing really well the last two weeks," said Pavlik. "I think that everybody's on the same page. I told these guys in the locker room after the match that this was as focused of an effort we've gotten."
And after a 21-5 regular season record, Pavlik said that a team effort is the only thing he expected to see at the start of postseason play.
"I think this is what the legacy of Penn State men's volleyball is," said Pavlik. "At this time of year, this isn't about any individual; this isn't about look at me, look what I can do, it's all about let's get through the EIVA and get to the NCAAs."
In order to get to where their head coach wants them to be, the Nittany Lions will need to ride offensive efforts like the ones sophomore Tom Comfort and senior Joe Sunder had against the Tigers. Comfort rendered a match-high 12 kills and hit .500 for the night while Sunder notched 11 kills of his own to swing at an average of .625 for the match.
"I just really wanted to go out and send a message and just make sure that our team gets off to a good start," said the sophomore opposite.
Comfort added that his team's mentality during the postseason is the same 'never say die' attitude that it has carried all year long.
"We've got to stay focused, listen to what the coaches tell us and just play hard," said Comfort. "Every day we play hard in practice and we get better so we've just got to keep doing the things that we always do."
"It's a Penn State volleyball tradition thing."
If the Nittany Lions pull off another conference win on Saturday night in the EIVA final, they will be appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the 26th time in program history and capture their 14th consecutive EIVA Tournament title.
As Pavlik sat by, smiling, sophomore outside hitter Jace Olsen pointed out that a 14th straight conference title is something that his team needs to have.
"If you see on our EIVA trophy, we'll have one whole side after this year," said Olsen. "It's the Penn State side."