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Balanced Effort Leads Penn State Past Sacred Heart

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By Will Desautelle, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Penn State put on an excellent display of offensive efficiency in a four-set win against Sacred Heart (25-15, 27-29, 25-21, 25-18) at Rec Hall to move to 2-0 in EIVA play.

The win Friday night ended a two-game skid against the Pioneers. Throughout the week, the Nittany Lions mentioned there would be some extra motivation after one of those losses last season was a sweep at home.

"We mentioned it once during the huddle before first serve, but it wasn't like it'd be our focus," setter Luke Braswell said. "Playing with revenge only lasts for about the first five points and then after that you're just playing volleyball." 

Braswell finished the match with five digs and 42 assists, as a masterful facilitator of Penn State's offense that hit .370 as a team for the match.  

Friday night also saw Penn State's star right side hitter Calvin Mende return to the court after missing several weeks with a sprained right ankle.  

Mende was understandably a bit rusty offensively early on in the match, but he began to find his groove beginning in the third set. He finished with 12 of his 14 kills for the match (.440 hitting percentage) in sets three and four. Mende picked up seemingly right where he left off, particularly effective in the back row too, where he tallied a team-high eight digs. 

"Basically, the whole week was shaking off rust, getting my jump back, getting my swing back and trying to get as many reps as possible for this," Mende said. "At practice the speed is a little different, but as the game wore on, I just kind of got in a rhythm."

Having Mende back on the right side allowed Jalen Penrose to move back to the second middle blocker spot and add another big arm up front. Penrose did not have his best offensive outing in his first match back at middle blocker, but he did add four aces from behind the service line.

Aidan Albrecht and Matt McLaren led the way for Penn State offensively. Albrecht finished with 14 kills (.308 hitting percentage), while McLaren posted 13 kills (.435 hitting percentage). They also combined for three service aces.

Penn State had nine team service aces for the match. While the Nittany Lions did commit 11 service errors in the lone set it lost, they regularly forced Sacred Heart out of system, preventing the Pioneers from running their offense.

"I think our serving really won the match for us," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "They could not get any type of offensive rhythm going. They were so aware of our block that we had some easier balls to play. It was a lot more good than bad."

Penn State's offensive balance was off the charts as well, with Albrecht, Mende and McLaren all totaling at least 13 kills.

"It makes it easier for me, obviously, when I have a lot of guys who can put balls away," Braswell said. "Four of the five hitters hit over .300, which is insane. It is really nice for me to be able to set and watch these guys put it away."

Penn State will be right back at it Saturday afternoon, taking on the Harvard Crimson in Rec Hall's south gym at 4 p.m. to cap off the weekend. 

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