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Balance Guides Lions to EIVA Championship

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The theme all season long for Penn State men's volleyball has been battling. Saturday night, Penn State cruised to the EIVA title with a dominant straight set victory over No. 2 seed Saint Francis. 

The Nittany Lions recorded one of their most convincing wins of the season in a match where they needed it the most, dispatching the Red Flash 25-19, 25-14 and 25-20.

Penn State didn't have a single player in double digit kills, but they were able to showcase their depth and a healthy lineup in the victory.

"Once again, Colin [McMillan] and Ryan [Walthall] had a great game plan put together and I thought we continued to execute like we know how to," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "It was a good weekend for us and now were focused on the matches ahead."

Chris Nugent was awarded the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament award, finishing the match tied for a team-high with nine kills. Calvin Mende, Aidan Albrecht and Luke Braswell joined Nugent on the EIVA All-Tournament team.

The atmosphere was palpable from the beginning of the match and Penn State certainly fed off of the energy, as the Nittany Lions jumped out to early leads in each set.

"It's a big volleyball community out there and we're certainly happy to have such great fans in the stands for our matches," Michael Fisher of Saint Francis said. "Penn State certainly fed off of the crowd tonight."

The Nittany Lions only echoed the extra boost of intensity from the home crowd in Rec Hall. 

"We definitely feed off of the crowd, especially in matches like this," Nugent said. "To get 1,300 fans in our gym for a match like this is huge. We knew that they had beaten us in the playoffs last year so we wanted a little revenge."

Early on, the Nittany Lions utilized their middles to great effect, throwing Saint Francis off their game. Penn State totaled 8.5 blocks in the three sets, compiling 31 team digs in one of its finer defensive performances, showcasing depth.

"I thought our defense was the key to us having a good attack tonight," Nugent said. "We passed really well and that allows you to set up the rest of the game." 

Not only was the defensive depth in the spotlight, but so was the offensive depth. Again, the Nittany Lions did not have one guy in double digit kills, but they did have five with five or more terminations. Showcasing true offensive balance, Penn State received a variety of production when it mattered most.

"When you have the option to set four attackers ever time you get the ball it makes it pretty easy, I like easy," Braswell said. "I had confidence in all the guys that when they took swings they would put them away. Its a lot of fun playing in a match like that."

Joining Nugent, Albrecht also tied for a team-high mark with nine kills, adding four blocks and five digs for a complete performance. 

"Aidan was huge for us," Mende said. "He has been one of our best players all season long and he went from an opposite, who almost never passes to one of our best passers and most consistent players."

Penn State will have a little time to celebrate the win before they are right back to the grind, preparing for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. With the EIVA conference title, Penn State is ensured a spot in the postseason. However, the Nittany Lions have yet to find out who their opponent will be. The NCAA selection show announcement and brackets will be revealed at 1 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon.

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