By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Trust your arm, or T.Y.A. It's a phrase that Penn State senior Chris Nugent has been hearing that from head coach Mark Pavlik since the beginning of his freshman season. One day in practice it was Nugent who struggling with his back row attack, the next Pavlik was telling him to trust his arm.
"I just blew up at him," Pavlik said. "My final words, very emphatically, were trust your arm. T.Y.A. has kind of become a little mantra between the two of us and it's something he has bought into."
Nugent came to Penn State in the midst of former Nittany Lion All-American and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Aaron Russell's career, so Nugent was able to learn from the success of the upperclassman. Nugent's potential that has come to fruition throughout a stellar career though, has always been on Pavlik's radar. As a role player early on, it's sometimes tough to trust the physical gifts that you have. After that talk with Pavlik, Nugent has never doubted his ability though.
"He doesn't let me forget it either," Nugent said. "I hear it from him every day in practice and it's true. A lot of confidence has to be in every swing and so I keep trying to work toward that and helping the team on every swing I take."
Nugent has been taking swings with added importance as each year has passed. Transitioning from a role player to a leader on the court and focal point of the offense hasn't been easy, but he has made it seem that way. Last year he finished 12th in the nation in kills per set and was named an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American. The progression for Nugent has been noticeable and tremendous in his time at Penn State.
"He has the mentality where he always wants to get the best out of himself and his teammates," Pavlik said. "I think that has served him extremely well here in his playing career."
The transition for Nugent hasn't just been one of increasing offensive offensive production, as there has also been an added emphasis for Nugent to step up as a leader of the team. This year, Nugent is serving as one of the captains for what is a relatively young Nittany Lion squad.
Pavlik describes Nugent as someone who always wants the best for not just himself, but for everyone around him, a trait that has made the leadership transition easier for both Nugent and Pavlik.
"It's not only easy, it's desperately need every year," Pavlik said. "The guys who have been through four and five years and have found success, or maybe more importantly survived failure, are the ones who can turn around to a freshman or sophomore and say something."
Nugent has been a part of a lot in his time at Penn State, however last year's first ever loss in EIVA Tournament is one that has hung around throughout the offseason, not in a negative light, but more so as a motivational tool for this year's season.
During the offseason there was a lot of discussion surrounding Penn State's ability to come out and play with a chip on their shoulder. This year the focus is right back where it always is, working toward an EIVA championship.
"I think both being a senior and losing the EIVA last year have added motivation to this season for me," Nugent said. "Obviously I want to go out on top and losing the EIVA last year now we aren't the team to beat, so were trying to get back to number one."The quest for number one continues for Penn State against Mount Olive and Coker this Friday and Saturday. Nugent and the Nittany Lions have dropped two matches to a pair of ranked opponents, but will look to get back on track at home inside Rec Hall. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. on both nights.