By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On senior night for the men's volleyball team, it was an underclassman who stole the show. Calvin Mende recorded 24 kills to help Penn State down George Mason in four sets to claim the EIVA regular season title outright.
On a night honoring two of Penn State's most experienced veterans in Chris Nugent and Matt Callaway, the Nittany Lions were able to do their senior justice with a gritty performance. It may not have been Penn State's best effort, but head coach Mark Pavlik was certainly happy with the response and resolve from his team.
"I was very happy with the way that we battled tonight," Pavlik said. "It was a physical matchup and at some point it just turned into both teams slugging it out back and forth. It was good to win a match like that heading into postseason play."
The Nittany Lions biggest slugger on the night was Mende. From the get go, the left handed opposite seemed to have something going offensively. Attacking from right and left sides of the court at will, Mende was the catalyst for Penn State until the rest of the team settled into a rhythm in set two.
"I wasn't really sure I had it going right away," Mende said. "It took a couple of swings to get into a rhythm and really start feeling good. The seniors on the court really helped out tonight with their presence and we all wanted to get them a win in their last regular season match."
It is the last regular season match for Penn State's seniors, but far from the last time the two will step on the court at Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions now know not only that they will host the EIVA semifinals and championship matches, but also that they will be playing the Princeton Tigers, a team they have beaten twice this season in five sets, in round one.
"It was nice for us to win the EIVA outright," Pavlik said. "That gives us an added little boost heading into Thursday. I know that we will be very focused this whole week and looking ahead to Princeton. Now that we have the victory tonight, that is the next step."
Nugent and Callway each had relatively quiet nights by their standards. Nugent had 10 kills, Callaway recorded six, but Penn State didn't need the added assistance of their seniors on Saturday. However, there is no denying the impact that the two have on the team and how critical of a role they will have to play in the postseason, not just on the score sheet, but in leadership positions as well.
"We've talked about it all season long how one of our goals is to win the EIVA championship and now were in a position to do it," Nugent said. "It is certainly huge for us to make sure that Thursday isn't the last match for us in Rec Hall because we don't want that feeling from last year. We have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for Princeton and that's the focus right now."
Penn State is the number one seed in the tournament and will be taking on the Tigers who get the four spot. Saint Francis and Sacred Heart will square off in the two-three matchup earlier on Thursday. Thursday's match for the Nittany Lions is set for a 7 p.m. first serve in Rec Hall.