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Penn State Caps Successful Opening Weekend

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By Will Desautelle, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Penn State collected its second consecutive win to start its 2018 season, defeating the Alderson-Broaddus Battlers in straight sets (25-20, 25-9, 25-15) in Rec Hall's south gym Saturday evening.

The Nittany Lions did not play under their usual circumstances, as they took the floor in south gym for the first time this year. 

"It's not out of the ordinary for us to play there," middle blocker Jalen Penrose said. "It is a hard gym to play in but that's our home gym and we're used to it, so it wasn't that hard for us really."

"There's a different kind of atmosphere down there with the stands holding a lot less," right side hitter Calvin Mende said. "We have to bring our own energy since it can get pretty quiet in there, so we need to be able to pick each other up."

Saturday night's match was the second consecutive one for Penn State against a much smaller school, but the Nittany Lions were once again tested in the opening set.

"I think that something we're going to focus on in our next couple of games is just coming out with the same high intensity and not waiting for the whole set to pick up our intensity level," Mende said.

The opening set was in a lot of ways homogeneous to Penn State's performance in set one of Friday night's match. Eight service errors were committed on Friday night's opening set, while the Nittany Lions missed a nearly identical seven serves on Saturday.

"When you can't put service pressure on a team, their offense amends games," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "Hopefully by the time May rolls around we'll cut down on our service errors, but we just can't give the ball to teams that we want to beat late in the season."

While there is room for improvement behind the service line, Penn State was incredibly efficient offensively in its first two sets. Friday night against Mount Olive,  the Nittany Lions hit just under .500 as a team and then followed that up with a .527 hitting percentage Saturday night.

"In practice we talk all the time about hitting the court offensively," Pavlik said. "We had six hitting errors the entire match and they had six-and-a-half blocks, so all of our hitting errors were a result of their block.  We want to make sure we keep hitting the court that way."

While this efficiency may be partly the result of two matches against much less physically imposing teams than Penn State, Pavlik was very pleased with the way his team played offensively in the opening weekend.

Mende and Aidan Albrecht led the way for Penn State with eight kills each, while middle blockers Kevin Gear and Penrose chipped in six kills and five kills, respectively. For the second night in a row, Penrose looked quite comfortable playing a position he had no experience with prior to this season.

"It's a great confidence boost, but the guys around me are a lot of the backbone to my success," Penrose said. "Our passers were pretty good today too so I was able to run the middle a lot."

"It's nice to see how he's developed after kind of getting thrown in there in the fall," Gear said. "He's accepted that and he's been able to do pretty well. He's getting better and better, so it's fun to see."

Penn State also saw several Nittany Lions off the bench enter the match after building big leads in both the second and third sets. Frank Melvin recorded a kill on his lone swing of the match, while Jason Donorovich added two kills out of the middle. Lee Smith also saw his first action since an injury last season.

"It's always fun to see because we see what they're capable of every day in practice," Gear said. "Those guys are good players, so it's nice to see them get rewarded whenever they go in."

The competition level will continue to rise next weekend as the Nittany Lions travel to Los Angeles, California to take on third-ranked UCLA next Thursday and USC Saturday. 

"The team's that we're going to be facing are probably more physical than what we played this week," Penrose said. "We're pretty good at what we do too, so I think we just stick to the game plan and just have confidence in what we do. We can bring it to them just as well as they can bring it to us."

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