By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Come Friday night at Rec Hall, Penn State and Saint Francis won't be the only intriguing matchup as the outing will place brother against brother.
There aren't many better ways to open the EIVA conference slate for the Nittany Lions than a matchup against the team that unfortunately put a bitter end to Penn State's season just a year ago. Couple that with the fact that when the two teams line up for first serve Friday, Penn State setter Luke Braswell and Saint Francis outside Stephen Braswell will be on opposite ends of the same court, making for quite an interesting night.
"We've talked about it a little bit," Luke, the younger of the two Braswell's said. "It will be a friendly competition, definitely some trash talking as well."
Luke has already been one of many young bright spots for the Nittany Lions during the early part of the 2017 season. Following a redshirt season last year, Braswell spent time soaking in everything from veteran first team All-EIVA Penn State former setter Taylor Hammond. Hammond commanded the offense for all four seasons at Penn State following a redshirt season in his first year on campus, picking up EIVA Newcomer of the Year honors in 2013.
For Braswell, that experience has made his transition this year from a redshirt Nittany Lion to a leader on the court, a much easier process. Head coach Mark Pavlik also noted that the year of learning and mentoring was beneficial for Braswell, shaping him into a more mature student-athlete, opposed to someone who has played just nine matches at the Division I level.
"He is a very mature player and very smart as well," Pavlik said. "Luke is extremely detailed, he will always look over the box score after games and try to figure out exactly what he can do to get better. That certainly comes with maturity and is one of the reasons why he has been successful so far."
That maturity and meticulous attention to detail was a trait of Braswell's well before the collegiate level. Even in high school, Braswell says he would always look at the box score after matches and pick out a few areas he wanted to improve on.
"I've just always had a love for volleyball," Braswell said. "I've always wanted to get better and help my team get better so I think it's something that is pretty much a routine to me now."
Through nine games this season, Braswell has already settled into a routine, dishing out numerous assists to his teammates, while also providing a pleasant surprise defensively during his back row rotations. In six of the nine matches, Braswell has dished out 40-plus assists, including 62 against USC in Penn State's first win. The efficiency has placed him at number nine in the nation in terms of assists per set with 10.40 per frame.
"He just works very hard," Pavlik said. "He still has a lot to learn, we have talked a lot about foot work the past couple weeks and seeing him make decision a little bit quicker. I think that's the next step for him, but he has already been great this season."
Braswell will be able to continue his progress on the court this Friday, with a familiar face in brother Stephen right across the net. Pavlik says that he knows the rivalry will be a big part of the match for the two brothers, but it is also a big match for the team in general.
"They knocked us out of the tournament last year," Pavlik said. "This is a big match in general because you always want to get in to a good rhythm to start conference play. I was overall happy with our play this past weekend. It will be a great match and they return almost everyone from last year, so we are looking forward to it."The Nittany Lions have just one match this week, set for Friday, Feb. 3 at home in Rec Hall. First serve against the Red Flash is set for 7 p.m.