By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The energy in Rec Hall was palpable from the first serve, but such is the usual setting when it comes to EIVA conference play inside the historic building. Friday night's conference opener had an added electricity in the air though, as Penn State and Saint Francis met on the court for the first time since last year's EIVA Championship event.
Penn State came out with a determined and dominant performance in its conference opener, closing out Saint Francis in straight sets in front of a raucous Rec Hall crowd.
"I cant say enough about the support we got from the wRECking crew and from everybody else that showed up," head coach Mark Pavlik said.
Penn State hit a blistering .423 in their first EIVA matchup of the season. In front of a crowd of more than 1,000, the Nittany Lions channeled the energy from the crowd and the energy that the team themselves seemed to have beginning with warmups all the way through their victory.
"It felt more like 3,000 people in that crowd tonight," Pavlik said. "Our players never backed down and we really fed off the energy from the crowd. I thought we were as aggressive as we have been all season long. If we keep moving in that direction, I like where we are headed."
In the brotherly matchup featuring Braswell vs. Braswell, Luke bested his elder brother Stephen, as he steered Penn State to its highest hitting percentage of the season. Braswell also poured in an ace, six digs, a kill and a team-high three blocks. Penn State limited Stephen to just seven kills, holding the All-EIVA honoree to a hitting clip below .100.
"I think we passed and blocked very well tonight," Braswell said. "When the passers are on and passing it high like they did tonight, it lets me do my job. Also we out-blocked them by five and a half so even if they passed well we had a big block ready to go."
Saint Francis pushed the Nittany Lions at times during the match, most notably in the second set. Penn State was up 14-9 heading into a Saint Francis timeout. The Red Flash answered with five straight points, but Penn State did not waver and struck right back, overtaking Saint Francis to capture the lead and move ahead without relinquishing the lead.
"I thought that we managed to keep a pretty level head when they went on their runs," Chris Nugent said. "When we went on runs we just kept building on it, I think that was a big difference as well."
Nugent was spectacular for the Nittany Lions, as he poured in 16 kills on .600 hitting. Calvin Mende was strong in a secondary roll as he had 11 kills on .474 hitting. Both Nittany Lions smashed the ball all night, prompting frequently loud cheers from the crowd.
"[Chris] Nugent was great tonight," Braswell said. "Anytime you have a hitter swinging like that it makes your job as the setter a lot easier because you know that he will probably put it away if you go to him."It's now on to the next EIVA matchup for Penn State, as the 13th-rank Nittany Lions will have a small bit of time to rest with only one outing this weekend. The focus though will shift toward next week, when the Nittany Lions hit the road for the first EIVA conference road trip, traveling to NJIT and Princeton for a pair of back-to-back weekend matches. First serve for both outings is set for 7 p.m.