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Balanced Lions Take Two Conference Contests

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By Kelsey Detweiler, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When the Penn State men's volleyball team is running on all cylinders, it is a pretty exciting group of athletes to watch.

8618616.jpegThe Lions hosted two EIVA opponents in Rec Hall over the weekend and played some of their best volleyball this season. A combination of tough serving, timely blocking, smooth passing and a well-run offense came together and gave Penn State the extra edge when it needed it most.

Penn State took the first of the two matches on Friday night against a much improved and senior-led George Mason team. The Lions won in four sets, all of which were decided by less than five points. When it came down to it, head coach Mark Pavlik said that the tough Patriot team forced his group to really only focus on one thing.

"What matters is that we had control on our side of the net," said Pavlik. "Against these teams who are really gunning for us, sometimes it comes down to which team can focus on getting it done on their side. We really just had to play volleyball."

The following evening, the same fate followed suit as Penn State battled through four sets with Princeton. In a match where the Lions' tough serving became essentially masked by a solid Tigers defense, every touch mattered.

"I think when you get down to matches like this it boils down to how many opportunities you have to get kills," said Pavlik.

Penn State tallied 59 kills to Princeton's 47, even though the Tigers recorded the best average as a team hitting .234 on the night. Aaron Russell knotted a career-high 22 kills on the evening but said that the bigger picture was the exciting competition his team had to face.

"It's just fun competing," said Russell. "Guys are making plays, getting big blocks and making big digs and it's on both sides of the court. Two teams challenging each other is really what you want to ask for when you're playing the game."

Russell's head coach agreed. At the end of the match on Saturday night, Pavlik turned to his coaching staff, shook their hands and said, "That was fun."

After the match, Pavlik acknowledged the improving competition levels in the EIVA and said that he's been waiting many years for the time to come.

"That's the type of match you expect to have in an NCAA semifinal where it's big boys playing big boy volleyball," said Pavlik. "Balls are being swung at and you're getting stuffed, there's digs and people are flying over the court and nobody's backing off. It makes it fun to come into this gym knowing that we don't have to get on a plane to have great volleyball played."

Penn State now sits atop the EIVA with a 6-1 conference record, and it improves to 12-3 overall after the winning weekend. The Lions head on the road for the next month of play, and know that the second half of their season is not going to be easily won.

"We know it's a dog fight and we really have to bring our A-game every time," said Russell. "We really make sure that we stay together as a team and just really try to execute and make them pay."

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