By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will now turn its attention toward Ball State and Fort Wayne, after coming off of a sweep at the hands of Ohio State on the road last Sunday. Although returning home from the road to Rec Hall, the Nittany Lions will once again be without their big left-handed right side hitter in Calvin Mende.
Mende's presence at the net was particularly missed against the Buckeyes, which forced Penn State to play out of system frequently with an Ohio State lineup full of powerful servers.
"Ohio State kept us in pass," Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik said. "They're the best serving team in the country and they wear you away. They can mentally wear your passers down and all of the sudden your offense is starting from the middle of the court and deeper. That makes their defense and block so much easier to control you."
Being rested and at full strength did not help Penn State in matching up with arguably the top team in the nation, but Pavlik emphasized his team's transition offense will be one of the main focal points for improvement over the next few weeks.
"We know how to create good opportunities offensively but next we need to find out how do we execute them, how do we put it away and actually score points [in transition]," Pavlik said.
Without Mende, the Nittany Lions decided to move their top outside hitter, Aidan Albrecht over to right side. Pavlik mentioned that this lineup may not be the one they stick with entirely while Mende recovers, but Albrecht does have some experience playing from the right side.
"Aidan is one of those guys that can be utilized anywhere," Pavlik said. "He's blocked middle for us, he has hit left side and passed, he has hit right side, we've considered throwing him in at libero in his career - he's one of those guys I think we can count on to give us a level of quality any place we put him."
For Albrecht, when opportunities present themselves in different areas, he's happy to step in wherever the team needs him.
"My whole time I've played outside, opposite and middle, so I'm used to every position," Albrecht said. "It would have been a little better if we had a little more time but during the season you don't always have the opportunity to have that time and those reps but I was comfortable to do whatever the team needs."
Albrecht's numbers against Ohio State were not overly gaudy but Pavlik remains confident that he can be a factor from the right side or wherever else they put him on the court.
"Aidan was the guy that was putting balls away for us early and then they kind of gave him a little bit more attention. I think he did okay there," Pavlik said. "The issue was that we needed more kills from everybody and we weren't able to get that."
Albrecht may be the top option to compensate for Mende's loss on the right side, but he acknowledged that they have a difficult task at hand in replacing the big lefty.
"It's tough when you lose a player like [Mende], especially, but we can play a little better than we did," Albrecht said. "I think we can focus on our first contacts and especially passing. If we can fix our transition a little bit then it will help out a lot."
The Nittany Lions return to Rec Hall this
weekend after a two-week stretch on the road. They'll look to get back on track
and keep improving before entering EIVA play next week.