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Lions Advance to Conference Championship Final

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By Kelsey Detweiler, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Up two sets to none and tied at 23 in the third, Penn State's Taylor Hammond fed a high set to Aaron Russell that crossed over the net and smacked straight into the face of Princeton's Cody Kessel. The crowd went wild.

8875847.jpegRussell's kill gave the Lions set and match point in the second semifinal match of the EIVA Championships in Rec Hall on Thursday night.

"After that happened I was feeling really excited and I kind of thought to myself when I was back behind the service line, 'What better way to finish off this match with an ace?'" said Russell.

Less than 60 seconds later, Russell sent another scorching ball over the net for an ace and match point. Penn State won the match 25-20, 25-17 and 25-23 and advance to the EIVA Championship final in Rec Hall on Saturday at 7 p.m.

After the match, the Lions' head coach Mark Pavlik said that he was pleased with the way his team's offense ran and even more impressed with the aggressive effort that his athletes showed from start to finish.

"We want to play big-boy volleyball," said Pavlik. "We want to say, 'Here we come. Stop us.' If you can't stop us, we're going to by physical."

The Lions out-hit the Tigers by a close margin of .398 to .342, but what set Penn State apart was the tandem of Russell and Nick Goodell, who combined for 35 of the team's 47 kills on the night.

Russell hit .704 through three sets, tallying 21 kills on just 27 attempts and took the match into his hands when it really mattered. But the sophomore said that he was so excited to just be playing postseason volleyball that he wasn't too focused on his own statistics.

"I don't remember much of the game but it's always fun to play at a high level and when guys around you are playing well it's great," said Russell. "You can't ask for more."

Penn State will compete in the championship match of the conference tournament on Saturday night against Harvard, who defeated George Mason 3-2 earlier on Thursday evening. The Lions split their conference series with the Crimson this season, and now face a huge rubber-match in the EIVA final.

Should the Lions win, it will mark the 29th EIVA/EVCL Championship in the program's history and earn the team a spot in the 2013 men's volleyball NCAA Tournament next week.

Pavlik said that while the postseason is an exciting time of unpredictable events, his main focus is on readying his own team rather than preparing for the one they'll face.

"We can't determine what they're going to do on their side of the net," said Pavlik. "We've got to be good when the ball comes on our side of the net and minimize errors."

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