By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After going to five sets twice earlier this season with Princeton Penn State rolled past the Tigers in three sets en route to a spot in the EIVA finals, set for Saturday night at Rec Hall.
Perhaps Penn State's only moments of worry came in first set, when Princeton had leads of as many as four twice. However, Penn State fought back and after that, and the Nittany Lions never looked back.
"I think that the main difference between the two matches prior and this one was that the game plan was carried out to a 't' tonight," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I think we have a really special setter here and he was great for us tonight."
Luke Braswell was phenomenal for the Nittany Lions, mixing up the sets better than he had since returning from injury. Braswell had 36 assists in three sets, also chipping in six digs and two blocks.
Making another impactful contribution was Chris Nugent, who always seems to up his game in big situations. Nugent hit a match-high, .560, with15 kills as a force on the outside all night long. Nugent, who is in his last season with the team, said before the EIVA Championship, the Nittany Lions didn't want to repeat the feeling they had last season against Saint Francis.
"Our outsides did a great job of getting kills in tough situations," Pavlik said. "All in all, it was a great first semifinal."
"I just wanted to put it all out on the line for my teammates," Nugent said. "Give the best swings you can every time you take a swing, that's always been my mentality."
Penn State dominated Princeton in nearly every aspect of the game with 10.5 blocks to the Tigers' 4.5. They also out hit Princeton .413 to .259.
Although the first set may have been nerve wracking, the energy in the building was palpable following the emphatic finish.
"We definitely started off slow and it took us a little while to get going," Braswell said. "Once we got our feet under us I think we really started clicking as an offense. It was easy for me because I had my pick of who to go to when I was setting and everyone was coming through."
Calvin Mende led the supporting cast with nine kills for the Nittany Lions. Aidan Albrecht chipped in with eight kills and Kevin Gear had five out of the middle. Matt Callaway had only three kills, but didn't commit an error and also stuffed five swings, including a massive solo block.
"I think the reason we blocked well is because we served well," Braswell said. "It all starts there and then when we have that it allows our blockers to close with more time on their hands."
The EIVA crown is just one win away for the Nittany Lions and while they didn't have a chance to compete for it last season, Penn State is more than ready to go this year.
"What I'm most proud of from our guys is that we have had great practices and the process has been great for us all season long," Pavlik said. "The EIVA has changed and it is certainly much more competitive. There are a lot of great teams and we will need our best game against Saint Francis on Saturday."
The Nittany Lions face the Red Flash in a rematch of last year's semifinals. Penn State split the season series, winning at Rec Hall and losing on the road. Game time is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday.