By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's volleyball will be back at Rec Hall again this weekend for a weekend series against George Mason Friday night, followed by Charleston (West Virginia) Saturday evening.
The Nittany Lions are 3-0 to start EIVA league play, coming off two impressive victories against Sacred Heart and Harvard. Looking back on the weekend, head coach Mark Pavlik thought his team's physicality from behind the service line against the Crimson propelled them to arguably its best game of the season so far
"We were so physical with our serving this past week," Pavlik said. "If we can keep that physicality growing with consistency of hitting it on the court, it will really help us moving forward."
Senior middle blocker Jalen Penrose arguably the most powerful server on the team and his eight service aces in the two matches this weekend proved why. However, Matt McLaren was also dynamic behind the service line this weekend, chipping in six aces of his own.
Penn State received an immense boost with right side hitter, Calvin Mende, returning to the lineup after missing several weeks with an injury. His return gave setter Luke Braswell another big arm to go to up front. It also magnified the depth Penn State has enjoyed up front this season.
"With Cal [Mende] back and us firing on all cylinders, it just shows that our team has a lot of depth and that we have a bunch of unique guys that can come in and play any spot they're told to play," Braswell said.
Braswell has been in full control of Penn State's offense recently, as the second-year starter has evolved as a setter, brining valuable leadership to the court this year.
"He is developing a better and better feel for how the game goes and where he should go with the ball at certain times," Pavlik said. "He understands where [his hitters] are on the court. He's doing a very good job as an analytical setter."
Mende is not a typical right side hitter in the sense that he is a 7-foot lefty, so there is a distinct way the ball has to be set for him. Over the last couple of years, he and Braswell have begun to master the timing to the point where even Mende's absence should not disrupt the chemistry they've developed.
"With him, the ball can't be too fast or too low, so it has to be fast enough where the other team's blockers can't get out to the pin and close out on him. But also slow enough for him where he has enough options," Braswell said.
Pavlik has also been impressed with the improvement Braswell has made from last year to this year with the shape of his sets.
"As you play more, you learn the different heights that go to certain places and then you get the back row involved," Pavlik said. "And now it goes from almost a single dimensional point to two dimensions to three dimensions. I think that's where he's really started to understand his game."
A year makes a huge difference from a mental standpoint of the game though and this area is where Braswell believes he has made the most substantial jump in his game from last season.
"It's more just mental and figuring out the team, as well as what it takes as a team to win," Braswell said. "The setting is something I practice every day so it's something I feel okay with, but figuring out how to be the guy everyone looks to, especially because volleyball is a very up and down type of sport where you have your highs and lows, has been big for me."