By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The George Mason Patriots upended No. 7 Penn State in Rec Hall in straight sets Friday night, handing the Nittany Lions their first loss in EIVA play.
"I think that's one of those matches where you just tip your hat to George Mason," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "You go into the locker room, you talk about it, shower off and come back ready to be better tomorrow."
It seemed no matter what Penn State did, George Mason had an answer. The Patriots not only posted eight blocks as a team for the match, but were also excellent in the serve-receive game, frequently able to run their offense comfortably.
Much of that was due to Penn State's inability to put pressure on George Mason's defense with its serving, an area where it particularly excelled last weekend. Penn State also turned in its lowest hitting percentage, held below .100 for the first time this year.
"I thought Mason served and passed better than we did," Pavlik said. I thought our physicality was nonexistent. There were stretches where we were just on our heels and [George] Mason took advantage of it with their offense or their serving. We just didn't put enough pressure on them and a lot that you just have to tip your hat to them."
George Mason was also terrific behind the service line, recording seven service aces. As a result, Penn State had a more difficult time than its opponent passing the ball in serve-receive, which prevented the Nittany Lions from settling into any consistent offensive rhythm.
"They didn't do anything at the net that surprised us," Pavlik said. What slowed us down offensively was the fact that we were running our offense from about 12-13 feet off the net with Luke [Braswell] on the move. It made us pretty predictable."
The Nittany Lions played out of system often throughout the match and had trouble establishing their middles. Kevin Gear finished with six kills and hit .500 to highlight the night.
That made things difficult for Penn State's pin hitters to get going, as the patriots held Calvin Mende to just seven kills. Matt McLaren, who has arguably been the hottest offensive player on the team as of late, had just five kills for the match.
"They were serving pretty tough," setter Luke Braswell said. "What we try to do is serve hard and get them to not pass well so they're off the net and we can block better. They did that to us today. When they have their block formed they're pretty good blockers. That was part of their game plan and they did it pretty well."
Pavlik rotated some different Nittany Lions into the lineup later on in the match in an attempt to provide some spark. In the third set, Jason Donorovich and Lee Smith replaced starters Jalen Penrose and Aidan Albrecht.
"In practice, this week [Donorovich] blocked just about everything that was thrown at him and at that time we were looking to see if we could start to slow them down," Pavlik said. We wanted to get Lee in there to pass and block. I'm not sure that it paid off as much as we hoped it would."
While Penn State's goal to finish undefeated in EIVA play is no longer attainable, the Nittany Lions still remain tied for first place in the conference with plenty of volleyball to be played this season.
"Maybe this is something we needed because now we know we're not the top dog anymore," Gear said. "Now we can't expect anything. We just need to go and take what we need to take back. I have faith in our team that we're going to be able to come back and be a different team the next time we see these guys."
Penn State has an experienced team and a very close group, who will make the attempt to bounce back from the loss much more manageable. Despite the unfavorable result of Friday night's match, the Nittany Lions remain optimistic.
"There are plenty of ups and downs through the season with the intent of becoming better," Pavlik said. "You've got to get good at turning the page. Tonight Mason did it much better than we did and that's okay. I think we can still be pretty good."
"We've got to throw it away. Tomorrow is a new match for us. We just need to come back tomorrow ready to play," Braswell said.
Penn State will look to bounce back Saturday night, taking on Charleston (W.Va.) at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall's south gym.