By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Adversity strikes all teams at certain times in the season. It can take different forms, be around for a long time or a short time and either minimally or prominently alter the course of a season.
In the case of Penn State men's volleyball, they have faced adversity the last couple weeks in the form of multiple injuries. Still, that has not stopped the team from forging forward and continuing their balanced play that they have exhibited for most of the season. The latest injury bug has placed standout outside Chris Nugent on the sidelines, but in his absence, Nittany Lions have continued to step up again and again.
Lee Smith has been one of those contributors has made an immediate impact, stepping in seamlessly for Nugent. Smith was in a rotation of role players last season, behind the likes of Nugent and Spencer Sauter in the lineup. However, this season Smith has been one of the go to hitters for Penn State and that role has magnified with Nugent out of the lineup.
"Obviously you never want to see a player like Chris get taken out of the lineup," Smith said. "But because of that we have had to have other players step up and fill his role. Myself and Aiden Albrecht have tried to do our best stepping up and I think that Aiden has done a really good job. I think for myself if I just play smart that is the best way that I can help the team."
Smith has stepped up big, leading the Nittany Lions this past weekend with 26 kills across two matches. On the season, Smith ranks third on the team in total kills with 105, but has played four less matches than Nugent who is the leading spiker. The production that Smith has shown this season highlights the growth he has exhibited throughout his Penn State career.
"He has really continued his upward trajectory throughout his time here," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We have seen great growth from him and he is a very smart player so that growth is quick as well."
With that growth, Smith has moved from being a player who comes off the bench to provide a spark or a different look, to a player who is a consistent and effective starter. Smith says he has embraced the role, not only on the court, but off the court as well.
"I think I have matured as a player and as a leader on the team," Smith said. "Now that I am usually getting a lot of swings in the games, I can see myself improving every game. I also feel much more comfortable being able to speak up and say something if I need to."
Smith is known for being a jokester and having a light-hearted personality when it comes to his off the court actions. On the court he is fiery but also brings a calming sense to the team.
"I feel like I know what to say and when it's needed," Smith said. "When I'm on the court I like to try and calm everyone down if need be and just keep an even head all the time. I think as a player I never try to do too much and just keep it simple as best I can."
Smith is certainly providing a much needed spark and positive energy for the Nittany Lions at this juncture in the season. Despite the injuries they have sustained, Penn State is still in a solid position in the EIVA, sitting just one match behind the conference leaders.
"Our goal is the same as it has been all season," Smith said. "Win the EIVA regular season so that we can host the EIVA championships and then we go from there."
Penn State is back in action returning to the road for a pair of weekend matches Friday and Saturday, taking on preseason EIVA favorite George Mason and Charleston (West Va.). Both matches are slated for 7 p.m. starts."There is even more added importance to these games this weekend," Pavlik said. "We are expecting a hostile environment on Friday and even on Saturday, though Charleston doesn't have a win in the EIVA yet they are much improved from last year."