Nittany Lions Step Up in Split Weekend

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's volleyball saw solid contributions from a pair of Nittany Lions who have been relatively quiet in this weekend's split against Harvard and Sacred Heart at Rec Hall.

The Nittany Lions took care of business against Harvard Friday night, sweeping the Crimson in straight sets behind an impressive team hitting percentage of .373. On Saturday, Penn State faced an EIVA setback against Sacred Heart, falling to the EIVA leading squad in four sets. 

Despite the sour ending to the weekend, the one constant bright spot was the consistency from Aidan Albrecht and Lee Smith, who both had double digit kills each match in the absence of Chris Nugent.

"With Chris out, Aidan has stepped into the roll now and I think it's huge for him and the team," Smith said. "It can really help our bench and the rest of us grow as a team and Aidan has done a great job." 

Over the weekend, Smith led all Nittany Lions with 26 kills and a hitting clip close to .300. Albrecht was not far behind as he totaled 24 kills with a similar hitting efficiency. With Nugent sidelined, both Smith and Albrecht are now the go-to forces on the outside for the Nittany Lions, having been given their opportunity this weekend.

"I think both of them played very well," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We talk a lot on this team about how you always have to be ready to contribute and you see that with Chris out now."

On Friday, the Nittany Lions swept past Harvard, but it wasn't completely void of a few close call. Most notably, Penn State claimed a close 35-33 win the second set to claim a crucial two-set lead heading into the intermission. In a set featuring 15 times and six lead changes, the Nittany Lions came out on top in one of their craziest sets so far this season. 

"It was a lot of back and forth and both teams sided out really well," Albrecht said. "I think we got in to a little bit better of a rhythm at the end of the set."

The win against Harvard was a big one for Penn State, creating a good separation between them and the Crimson in the standings. Saturday presented a tougher challenge and a bit of adversity for Penn State as the Nittany Lions matched up against one of the top libero's in the country in Sacred Heart's Joshua Ayzenberg. Ayzenberg had 22 digs in just four sets and was the catalyst for the Pioneers.

Despite the loss, once again, Smith and Albrecht were both tremendous and the Nittany Lions will have plenty to build off of heading into a very important road trip to George Mason and Charleston (West Va.). 

"We have to focus on playing as a team and not playing for ourselves," setter Luke Braswell said after Saturday's contest. "Our focus should be Penn State and how we can be better as a team. If we bring our own energy, we can hang with anyone."

Penn State will travel to George Mason and Charleston this weekend for a pair of Friday-Saturday matchups. First serve for both matches is set for 7 p.m. 

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