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Nittany Lions Set for NCAA Opener

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As NCAA Tournament time arrives, sometimes it's about hitting your stride at the right time. For Penn State men's volleyball, the Nittany Lions have saved their best brand of volleyball for the exact right moment. 

Penn State is currently riding a three-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament, with wins in six of their last seven outings. The Nittany Lions have certainly upped their game, but their success can also be attributed to a direct result of how healthy the team is right now.

"We have dealt with injuries all season and for the first time since maybe the beginning of the season we are healthy," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "It definitely contributes to how we are playing."

Fifth-seeded Penn State (21-10) is set to face one of the more well-rounded teams in the nation as they drew fourth-seeded Hawaii (26-5) out of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) in the opening round play-in game of the NCAA Tournament. With a win, the Nittany Lions will advance to the NCAA Tournament semifinals set to take on defending NCAA national champion Ohio State.

MVBHawaii.jpgPenn State is focused on the Rainbow Warriors though, as the two teams have been fairly regular postseason opponents. Most recently, Penn State and Hawaii met in the play-in round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament with the Nittany Lions coming away with a 3-1 win to advance to the semifinals in Palo Alto, California at Stanford.

Regardless of postseason familiarity among both squads, the Nittany Lions are armed with a healthy roster and ready to turn their focus toward the present, prepping for next Tuesday's matchup. 

"They serve the ball really well," Pavlik said. "All six of them come at you with jump serves. Not only do they jump serve speed-wise well, they hit the court, so you have to sideout yourself, they aren't going to hand you any stretches of missed serves." 

Penn State's serve receive has been a strong suit though, especially in the EIVA Tournament, as an area where both Pavlik and the team noted as a key reason behind the Nittany Lions hoisting the championship trophy. 

Hawaii also enters the matchup with an experienced setter on the court with All-MPSF First Team selection senior Jennings Franciskovic running the offense.

"Franciskovic does a really nice job getting the ball to his hot hitters," Pavlik said. "They have an opposite who they want to score with, they have a backup opposite, who is a lefty with a live arm too. They have two good outside hitters who can face any type of block, they aren't huge in any way shape or form, but they are good players."

The Nittany Lions will take the court at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday at 8 p.m. with an appearance in the NCAA semifinals on the line. To check out the full bracket, click HERE

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