By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - To say Penn State's defense at the net Friday would be an understatement. Powered by a standout blocking unit from the Nittany Lions, Penn State totaled 19.5 blocks in a four set victory against UC Santa Barbara in a dominating defensive performance.
Penn State limited the No. 13 Gauchos to just a .135 hitting clip on the night, showing a dimension of their game that has flown under a little under the radar this season. Two Nittany Lions recorded double digit blocking totals with Kevin Gear leading the way with a career-high 11 blocks, marking his first double digit block performance. Aidan Albrecht followed right behind with 10 blocks, also a career-high mark for his first double figure blocking outing.
"We just worked well as a team all night," Albrecht said. "Kevin played great and I felt pretty good at the net too. It was one of those nights where we clicked defensively."
Although the Nittany Lions gave away some opportunities at the service line, the Gauchos were never able to find a rhythm in the match, as the Nittany Lions remained steady at the net. With defense and blocking setting the tone instead, Penn State also capitalized on key points at the net in crucial situations.
"I thought we were really disciplined all around," Albrecht said. "We had a game plan early on and we were able to execute it. Our middles did a great job and our coach Colin McMillan was able to help us a lot tonight with schemes."
Cal Mende led the offense for the Nittany Lions, pouring in 15 kills for Penn State. Albrecht and Gear had 13 and 10 kills, respectively to bolster the attack. In their first game of a six match out of conference stretch for the Nittany Lions, Penn State looked like a team that is poised to make a run in the EIVA.
Pavlik noted that even though the matches are against four teams not representing the EIVA, Penn State can still gain a lot from the upcoming outings.
"We get a good chance to see how we stack up against some of the better competition from across the country," Pavlik said. "It is always nice to have teams like Stanford and Santa Barbara come to Rec Hall and play. Not only does it help grow the game of volleyball, but I think it really benefits both teams seeing some competition that they usually may not see."
With Nugent still sidelined, Penn State has continued to rely on a multitude of Nittany Lions to step up and help guide the team past its opponents.
Last weekend it was Jalen Penrose, who stepped up with some offensive firepower. This week, was outstanding blocking from both Albrecht and Gear. Gear's Friday night performance marked an uptick in production for the redshirt junior, as he more than doubled his blocking total from the last two weeks in just the single outing.Penn State will look to continue the momentum, welcoming No. 8 Stanford to Rec Hall Saturday. The Nittany Lions will look to capture back-to-back wins against ranked opponents for the first time this season hosting the Cardinal, who recently knocked off Lees McRae in four sets Friday.