By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- A five set volleyball match tests a team's resiliency like nothing else in the sport. Pushed to the brink, both teams are tired and often the match is won solely on guts. For a young team, sometimes there is nothing better than competing in a five-setter to truly gauge where the team is at.
For Penn State men's volleyball, one five-setter in its home-opening weekend wasn't enough. The Nittany Lions pushed both of their matches, against Loyola Chicago and Lewis, to a fifth and final deciding frame. In Thursday night's home-opener, No. 15 Penn State battled in a back and forth affair, before downing ninth-ranked Loyola Chicago in a close five-set outing. Friday night presented a minor setback, as Lewis outlasted a Nittany Lion comeback attempt in yet another five-setter.
Despite Friday's loss, the Nittany Lions showed a few things that head coach Mark Pavlik has talked about all season long - depth and the belief that no matter what, Penn State has the chance to turn a match around at any point.
"We are never out of a match," Pavlik said. "What we are doing is seeing how far and how long we can push our opponents until they kind of throw up their hands and say, we just can't match them."
Thursday night, that mentality was at the forefront of the match, as Penn State and Loyola traded points, exchanging sets to force a fifth frame. Chris Nugent and Calvin Mende were the spark plugs for the Nittany Lions, leading the way with 15 and 13 kills respectively. However, Penn State also received 10 kills from Aiden Albrecht. Middles Kevin Gear and Matt Callaway added six kills apiece.
"Our depth is going to be one of our biggest strengths this season, Pavlik said. "We are going to use just about everyone in a match because everyone has a role on this team. We just have to work on finding exactly what that is."
On Friday, Penn State continued to maintain the mentality that they've embraced throughout g the course of this early season, fighting all the way down to the final whistle. However, the Nittany Lions came up just a bit short, falling to Lewis in five.
It was Nugent again, who led all Nittany Lions with 15 kills. Unlike Thursday, Penn State battled back from a 2-0 deficit, but couldn't come up with the win in the deciding frame.
"I liked the way we came back in games three and four," Pavlik said. "The way we played in game three and four kind of gives you glimpses of where our future could be."
Certainly the future is bright for the Nittany Lions and matches like Thursday and Friday should only strengthen the confidence throughout the roster. The challenge now, is to find consistency and Pavlik believes if the team finds that, they will find success as well.
"We need to start stringing together those runs of good play over the course of an entire match," Pavlik said. "I think the next big step for us is consistency and once we get that going, we have the talent to do a lot."
The Nittany Lions return to action quickly, as they head to Columbus, Ohio to face defending NCAA national champion Ohio State on the road. First serve is slated for a 7 p.m. on Tuesday.