By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is off to a 1-0 start in EIVA play following a road win at Saint Francis last weekend. The Nittany Lions will be back home at Rec Hall this weekend for an EIVA home-opening series against Sacred Heart and Harvard.
For Penn State, Sacred Heart is particularly an enticing matchup, considering the outcomes of its two matches last season against the Pioneers. Although Penn State won the EIVA, Sacred Heart defeated the Nittany Lions both times they met last season.
"It should grab our attention and hold our respect for them," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "They've worked really hard to get where they are as a program. Our guys certainly shouldn't underestimate them coming in because they are a team that can be dangerous and they proved it to us last year."
Prior to the season-opener, Penn State made it a team goal to finish undefeated in the EIVA this year. While Sacred Heart provides perhaps some extra motivation after the results of last year's two matches, Penn State acknowledges every EIVA opponent as a challenge.
"We've been the top team in this conference, so we've always had that target on our backs but what we try to do every match, as a whole, is just look at every EIVA match as the same," middle blocker Kevin Gear said.
With right side Calvin Mende still out, Matt McLaren has continued to step up for the Nittany Lions. At Saint Francis, he finished with 12 kills and three service aces in the three set sweep. While McLaren's production has continued to increase throughout the last few games, his coaches and teammates have not been surprised by his emergence this season.
"You've heard the phrase from every coach to 'practice like you play,'" Pavlik said. "What you see out there with [McLaren] on Fridays and Saturdays, we see Monday through Thursday. There's no difference."
McLaren's teammates only echoed the words of Pavlik.
"We've kind of been looking at [McLaren] these last couple of weeks as the standard because he's one of those guys that everything he does in practice, you see him do in the match," Gear said. "There's no doubt in our mind what we're going to get from him. Every single time he's going to do what he needs to do."
Jalen Penrose also noted how McLaren has been both a terrific offensive option on the court this season, and a teammate who leads by example.
"He has brought everything," Penrose said. "If you watch the matches, you can see that he has this tenacious effort where it is everything or nothing and to him it's always everything. I love it, and it really helps fire us up a lot."
Similar to his teammate, both McLaren and Gear are two of the more quiet leaders on the team. Preferring to lead by example, both have been two of the most consistent Nittany Lions on the team this season.
"I bring what I can to the table every day," Gear said. "I'm not that talkative but I like to feel that through my actions I come in and do the work that my teammates need me to do and keep everybody on track."Penn State will lean on the leadership of McLaren and Gear once again this weekend, kicking things off with Sacred Heart Friday at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall. Penn State closes out the weekend against Harvard at 4 p.m. in Rec Hall's south gym.