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Champions Visit State Capitol

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Penn State hit the state capitol today for an afternoon of recognition, celebrating Nittany Lion conference champion student-athletes and head coaches following a record-setting 2016-17 season both in competition and in the classroom.

Joined by select head coaches and staff members as well as student-athletes, the group toured through the Pennsylvania House and Senate, stopping in for lunch with Sen. Jake Corman in his office. Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate before remarks from Corman, welcoming the group to the state's capitol following a few early proceedings.

Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania House, which holds all 203 members, including Pennsylvania's Rep. Mike Hanna, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Rep. Rich Irvin and Rep. Scott Conklin, who read a resolution to again welcome and congratulate the Nittany Lions on an all-around successful season, one that drew a standing ovation from the members on the floor. 

"I want to congratulate the teams for not only what they do on the field but what they do in the community, the outreach they give, the coaches who oversee them," Conklin said. 

Nittany Lion director of athletics Sandy Barbour only echoed the all-around success in her remarks in the main rotunda later in the afternoon, noting that the individuals surrounding her representing a combined 2016-17 total of nine conference titles, among a few other crowns, are only one part of the story.

Penn State was recently slated fourth in the first spring update of the Learfield Directors' Cup standings following a year that saw seven Nittany Lion squads earn Big Ten Championships or tournament titles in seven sports, the most of any league institution and the third-highest total in school history.

As head coach Cael Sanderson brought instantaneous cheers from the floor of the Pennsylvania house upon his introduction, the room was reminded of Nittany Lion wrestling team's stunning second consecutive NCAA Wrestling Championship, marking its sixth in the last seven years, with five individuals earning NCAA titles along the way.

As Barbour pointed out though, the impact of the Blue and White extends much further than excellence in competition.

Nearly a month ago, a school record 114 Penn State student-athletes graduated, bringing the 2016-17 total to 142, with more students on track to cross the stage in August. Penn State also revealed its 89 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate this year, which stands just one point below its all-time program mark. 

"Penn State student-athletes, not unlike their student colleagues and their servant hearts, have dedicated themselves to service," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes served over 6,200 hours of community engagement this last year. This comprehensive excellence is embraced by our Penn State and Pennsylvania community. It's truly Penn State's point of difference. It has historically motivated a state and a community, connected passionately to each and every one of our programs and each and every one of our student-athletes who wear the Blue and White."

Representative of just a small piece of a variety of community engagement close to Penn State student-athletes is THON, a beloved annual event that encompasses the entire university and Happy Valley community.

Led by the efforts of the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB raised $59,679.49 for THON in 2017, which ranked third among the 400-plus general organizations represented. Surging past a fundraising goal of $50,000, the 2017 figure is SAAB's second-largest total in the history of the organization, adding to a career total of $680,000, all for THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, with four Penn State student-athletes joining the 703 dancers on the floor this year.

Among those dancers this year was women's soccer's Megan Schafer, a Big Ten Champion from Langhorne, who joined the group today for her second trip to state capitol, but first as a Nittany Lion. 

"A couple of years ago I got recognized for winning a state championship, so I think it's pretty cool coming back at the collegiate level to get recognized for our hard work all season," Schafer said. "I think it's really cool everything that people put together just to recognize us today."

Prior to Penn State, Schafer scored the overtime game-winner to lead Neshaminy high school (also the alma mater of Penn State head football coach James Franklin) to a Pennsylvania state title.


The entire group of Nittany Lion coaches and student-athletes were treated to a personal meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped by the steps of the main rotunda to greet the champions before heading back to Happy Valley.

Lions Optimistic Despite Season-Ending Setback

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Penn State's 2017 season officially came to a close in the NCAA Opening Round on the road at St. John Arena. Although uncomfortably reflective of season dotted with highs and lows, the fifth-seeded Nittany Lions were once again resilient, but ultimately came up short in a five-set loss to fourth-seeded Hawaii.

In an opening set that featured 12 ties and four lead changes, the Nittany Lions and the Rainbow Warriors set the tone early, beginning the back-and-forth battle with run after run.

As Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik mentioned just last week though, the game of volleyball is all about momentum and come Tuesday evening, Penn State happened to find itself on the wrong side of the momentum swing.

With the Nittany lions owning a four-point lead in set one, 10-6, the Rainbow Warriors battled back with a 5-0 run to take over a one-point lead, 11-10, causing Penn State to call a timeout. 

Kevin Gear came out of the break with a kill to halt the streak, sparking a 7-3 stretch that sent Penn State ahead with a comfortable cushion, 17-14, this time forcing Hawaii to call timeout. The Nittany Lions forged ahead despite pressure from the Rainbow Warriors, arriving at 23-23, which was nearly set point for the Nittany Lions before an overruled touch call. Penn State quickly regrouped, closing out the set 25-23 off a stuff block from Matt Callaway and Cal Mende.

Trailing by as many as five in the second set 12-7, Penn State called its first timeout of the frame. Shifting the momentum once again, the Nittany Lions rallied out of the break, scoring four straight capped by a Chris Nugent kill to arrive within one, 12-11, prompting Hawaii to call a timeout.

Gear ripped a kill off the overpass out of the break to open a 10-8 stretch that put Penn State in solid position to pull ahead 2-0 in the match, leading 22-19. The Nittany Lions couldn't shake the Rainbow Warriors though, as they climbed back to fend off a pair of set point attempts before securing a 27-25 win to the tie match, 1-1.

In yet another back-and-forth beginning, Penn State broke open a 9-all tie in the third set with a 7-3 run to take over a 15-12 advantage at the media timeout. Nugent and Mende quickly combined for back-to-back kills out of the break to begin a streaky stretch that saw the Nittany Lions reload to build a five-point lead, 21-16, forcing Hawaii's final timeout of the stanza. Penn State had no trouble cruising to a 25-17 win to take a 2-1 lead in the match at the intermission.

A different team emerged from the locker room though, one oddly similar to a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" conundrum that Pavlik noted has challenged his relatively young squad throughout the season.

"Games one, two and three we were right there doing everything we wanted and our first contacts kept us in there," Pavlik said. "Games four and five, all of the sudden the shrapnel exploded. There was no real consistency, we couldn't run the offense that we were running."

Imposing physicality and athleticism, the Rainbow Warriors forced the Nittany Lions into two-pass situations that left the Nittany Lions seemingly rattled. 

"I would say they just stayed clean," Gear said. "They were able to get some touches on some balls and turn them on us and we able to run off a couple of points. That's just something we couldn't sustain."

While the sting of the loss will certainly linger, there's no doubt that it's fueling the motivation for 2018. No greater is that motivation for standout true freshman Mende, a first team All-EIVA selection. 

Earning AVCA All-America honorable mention distinction, Mende is one of just two true freshmen to earn to a selection to one of the three AVCA All-America teams (first team, second team, honorable mention) this year. His All-American caliber offensive firepower shined against Hawaii, as he finished with a team-high 18 kills, one of 15 double-digit performances on the year.

"I think he has been somebody who has been a constant all year," Pavlik said. "He has accumulated information, processed it, thrown out what was not necessary and kept was necessary to change his game and improve his game." 

For Mende, the bright lights of the big stage were no reason to be concerned as he and redshirt freshman setter Luke Braswell stepped to the court for their first NCAA Tournament action.

"It was nice to be at Ohio State, we played here before so it's our third game here," Mende said. "Eventually, I think halfway through the first set, it was just another volleyball game."

Despite the usual growing pains of the season, Pavlik has nothing but pride for the endurance and perseverance and display this year, often coming by way of on-the-fly position changes due to injury, resulting in pleasant surprises and clutch contributions. 

"We can't wait to get started again with the youth that we have coming back and have experienced some highs and lows, certainly tonight as one example but I'm so proud of this team for what they've fought through and the resiliency that they've showed through the whole year," Pavlik said. "Everything has the arrow pointed up and sometimes you have to experience a storm before you can really, really like the rainbow." 

NCAA Men's Volleyball Pregame Reading

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VIDEO: Pavlik Previews NCAA Tournament Opening Round

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Penn State men's volleyball has arrived in Columbus, set to kick off the NCAA Tournament in the opening round match against Hawaii Tuesday evening at St. John Arena.

The Nittany Lions left Happy Valley Sunday morning, arriving at Ohio State with time to get in a practice. Penn State hosted one more practice Monday evening before a serve and pass session on gameday.


AVCA All-Americans
Penn State saw two Nittany Lions earn AVCA All-America honors Monday. Senior Chris Nugent earned second team honors while Mende picked up honorable mention distinction. While Mende's honor is the first of his career, Nugent's marks his second, having earned honorable mention laurels last year.

Both Mende and Nugent have been atop the Nittany Lion offense this year with Nugent averaging 3.26 kills per set and Mende close behind at 3.23 kills per set, with each ranking seventh and sixth in the NCAA national standings, respectively.

Experience Counts
Penn State and Hawaii last met in the play-in round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament on the road in Palo Alto, California at Stanford. Of the nine Nittany Lions to see the court in the four-set win (25-22, 25-20, 17-25, 27-25), three are still currently on the roster. Among the trio, Nugent finished third on the team with 15 kills on .400 hitting, adding five digs and two blocks. 

As Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik noted earlier last week, while postseason familiarity does help, what it really comes down to is each individual managing a variety of outside distractions and extra responsibilities in addition to what's happening on the court.

Student Athletes
Part of managing postseason responsibilities in May also means finals. To ensure Nittany Lions are not falling behind, Penn State associate director for counseling, eligibility and compliance and academic counselor Jim Weaver is busy setting up time slots and proctoring exams right here on location in Columbus, Ohio.

Nittany Lions Set for NCAA Opener

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As NCAA Tournament time arrives, sometimes it's about hitting your stride at the right time. For Penn State men's volleyball, the Nittany Lions have saved their best brand of volleyball for the exact right moment. 

Penn State is currently riding a three-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament, with wins in six of their last seven outings. The Nittany Lions have certainly upped their game, but their success can also be attributed to a direct result of how healthy the team is right now.

"We have dealt with injuries all season and for the first time since maybe the beginning of the season we are healthy," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "It definitely contributes to how we are playing."

Fifth-seeded Penn State (21-10) is set to face one of the more well-rounded teams in the nation as they drew fourth-seeded Hawaii (26-5) out of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) in the opening round play-in game of the NCAA Tournament. With a win, the Nittany Lions will advance to the NCAA Tournament semifinals set to take on defending NCAA national champion Ohio State.

MVBHawaii.jpgPenn State is focused on the Rainbow Warriors though, as the two teams have been fairly regular postseason opponents. Most recently, Penn State and Hawaii met in the play-in round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament with the Nittany Lions coming away with a 3-1 win to advance to the semifinals in Palo Alto, California at Stanford.

Regardless of postseason familiarity among both squads, the Nittany Lions are armed with a healthy roster and ready to turn their focus toward the present, prepping for next Tuesday's matchup. 

"They serve the ball really well," Pavlik said. "All six of them come at you with jump serves. Not only do they jump serve speed-wise well, they hit the court, so you have to sideout yourself, they aren't going to hand you any stretches of missed serves." 

Penn State's serve receive has been a strong suit though, especially in the EIVA Tournament, as an area where both Pavlik and the team noted as a key reason behind the Nittany Lions hoisting the championship trophy. 

Hawaii also enters the matchup with an experienced setter on the court with All-MPSF First Team selection senior Jennings Franciskovic running the offense.

"Franciskovic does a really nice job getting the ball to his hot hitters," Pavlik said. "They have an opposite who they want to score with, they have a backup opposite, who is a lefty with a live arm too. They have two good outside hitters who can face any type of block, they aren't huge in any way shape or form, but they are good players."

The Nittany Lions will take the court at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday at 8 p.m. with an appearance in the NCAA semifinals on the line. To check out the full bracket, click HERE

Balance Guides Lions to EIVA Championship

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The theme all season long for Penn State men's volleyball has been battling. Saturday night, Penn State cruised to the EIVA title with a dominant straight set victory over No. 2 seed Saint Francis. 

The Nittany Lions recorded one of their most convincing wins of the season in a match where they needed it the most, dispatching the Red Flash 25-19, 25-14 and 25-20.

Penn State didn't have a single player in double digit kills, but they were able to showcase their depth and a healthy lineup in the victory.

"Once again, Colin [McMillan] and Ryan [Walthall] had a great game plan put together and I thought we continued to execute like we know how to," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "It was a good weekend for us and now were focused on the matches ahead."

Chris Nugent was awarded the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament award, finishing the match tied for a team-high with nine kills. Calvin Mende, Aidan Albrecht and Luke Braswell joined Nugent on the EIVA All-Tournament team.

The atmosphere was palpable from the beginning of the match and Penn State certainly fed off of the energy, as the Nittany Lions jumped out to early leads in each set.

"It's a big volleyball community out there and we're certainly happy to have such great fans in the stands for our matches," Michael Fisher of Saint Francis said. "Penn State certainly fed off of the crowd tonight."

The Nittany Lions only echoed the extra boost of intensity from the home crowd in Rec Hall. 

"We definitely feed off of the crowd, especially in matches like this," Nugent said. "To get 1,300 fans in our gym for a match like this is huge. We knew that they had beaten us in the playoffs last year so we wanted a little revenge."

Early on, the Nittany Lions utilized their middles to great effect, throwing Saint Francis off their game. Penn State totaled 8.5 blocks in the three sets, compiling 31 team digs in one of its finer defensive performances, showcasing depth.

"I thought our defense was the key to us having a good attack tonight," Nugent said. "We passed really well and that allows you to set up the rest of the game." 

Not only was the defensive depth in the spotlight, but so was the offensive depth. Again, the Nittany Lions did not have one guy in double digit kills, but they did have five with five or more terminations. Showcasing true offensive balance, Penn State received a variety of production when it mattered most.

"When you have the option to set four attackers ever time you get the ball it makes it pretty easy, I like easy," Braswell said. "I had confidence in all the guys that when they took swings they would put them away. Its a lot of fun playing in a match like that."

Joining Nugent, Albrecht also tied for a team-high mark with nine kills, adding four blocks and five digs for a complete performance. 

"Aidan was huge for us," Mende said. "He has been one of our best players all season long and he went from an opposite, who almost never passes to one of our best passers and most consistent players."

Penn State will have a little time to celebrate the win before they are right back to the grind, preparing for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. With the EIVA conference title, Penn State is ensured a spot in the postseason. However, the Nittany Lions have yet to find out who their opponent will be. The NCAA selection show announcement and brackets will be revealed at 1 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon.

Lions Roll to EIVA Title Match

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After going to five sets twice earlier this season with Princeton Penn State rolled past the Tigers in three sets en route to a spot in the EIVA finals, set for Saturday night at Rec Hall.

Perhaps Penn State's only moments of worry came in first set, when Princeton had leads of as many as four twice. However, Penn State fought back and after that, and the Nittany Lions never looked back.

"I think that the main difference between the two matches prior and this one was that the game plan was carried out to a 't' tonight," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I think we have a really special setter here and he was great for us tonight." 

Luke Braswell was phenomenal for the Nittany Lions, mixing up the sets better than he had since returning from injury. Braswell had 36 assists in three sets, also chipping in six digs and two blocks.

Making another impactful contribution was Chris Nugent, who always seems to up his game in big situations. Nugent hit a match-high, .560, with15 kills as a force on the outside all night long. Nugent, who is in his last season with the team, said before the EIVA Championship, the Nittany Lions didn't want to repeat the feeling they had last season against Saint Francis. 

"Our outsides did a great job of getting kills in tough situations," Pavlik said. "All in all, it was a great first semifinal."

"I just wanted to put it all out on the line for my teammates," Nugent said. "Give the best swings you can every time you take a swing, that's always been my mentality."

Penn State dominated Princeton in nearly every aspect of the game with 10.5 blocks to the Tigers' 4.5. They also out hit Princeton .413 to .259.

Although the first set may have been nerve wracking, the energy in the building was palpable following the emphatic finish.

"We definitely started off slow and it took us a little while to get going," Braswell said. "Once we got our feet under us I think we really started clicking as an offense. It was easy for me because I had my pick of who to go to when I was setting and everyone was coming through." 

Calvin Mende led the supporting cast with nine kills for the Nittany Lions. Aidan Albrecht chipped in with eight kills and Kevin Gear had five out of the middle. Matt Callaway had only three kills, but didn't commit an error and also stuffed five swings, including a massive solo block. 

"I think the reason we blocked well is because we served well," Braswell said. "It all starts there and then when we have that it allows our blockers to close with more time on their hands." 

The EIVA crown is just one win away for the Nittany Lions and while they didn't have a chance to compete for it last season, Penn State is more than ready to go this year. 

"What I'm most proud of from our guys is that we have had great practices and the process has been great for us all season long," Pavlik said. "The EIVA has changed and it is certainly much more competitive. There are a lot of great teams and we will need our best game against Saint Francis on Saturday."

The Nittany Lions face the Red Flash in a rematch of last year's semifinals. Penn State split the season series, winning at Rec Hall and losing on the road. Game time is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday. 

Lions Set for EIVA Championship

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions have now shifted their focus for the upcoming EIVA Championships set to meet the Princeton Tigers in the second match of Friday's semifinals. Despite injuries taking their toll and presenting challenges throughout the season, the Nittany Lions are hitting their stride at perhaps, the right time.  

"We're as healthy as we have been all season and that certainly contributes to our confidence level right now," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Come Thursday night, Penn State will meet a Princeton squad who has played them tight in both of their previous matches this season. Both regular season matches between the two clubs have gone the distance, ending in five set decision. The Nittany Lions came out on top in both matches, but Thursday night has all the makings of another tightly contested match. 

For Pavlik, a tough service game from the Nittany Lions will be key in keeping Princeton off balance throughout the match. With a win in the semifinals, Penn State will have a chance to opportunity to secure a championship title that avoided them last season.

"It is certainly important for us to have these matches at home and have a chance to defend home court for a couple more games," Pavlik said. 

Mende Guides Lions to EIVA Championships

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On senior night for the men's volleyball team, it was an underclassman who stole the show. Calvin Mende recorded 24 kills to help Penn State down George Mason in four sets to claim the EIVA regular season title outright.

On a night honoring two of Penn State's most experienced veterans in Chris Nugent and Matt Callaway, the Nittany Lions were able to do their senior justice with a gritty performance. It may not have been Penn State's best effort, but head coach Mark Pavlik was certainly happy with the response and resolve from his team.

"I was very happy with the way that we battled tonight," Pavlik said. "It was a physical matchup and at some point it just turned into both teams slugging it out back and forth. It was good to win a match like that heading into postseason play."

The Nittany Lions biggest slugger on the night was Mende. From the get go, the left handed opposite seemed to have something going offensively. Attacking from right and left sides of the court at will, Mende was the catalyst for Penn State until the rest of the team settled into a rhythm in set two.

"I wasn't really sure I had it going right away," Mende said. "It took a couple of swings to get into a rhythm and really start feeling good. The seniors on the court really helped out tonight with their presence and we all wanted to get them a win in their last regular season match." 

It is the last regular season match for Penn State's seniors, but far from the last time the two will step on the court at Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions now know not only that they will host the EIVA semifinals and championship matches, but also that they will be playing the Princeton Tigers, a team they have beaten twice this season in five sets, in round one.

"It was nice for us to win the EIVA outright," Pavlik said. "That gives us an added little boost heading into Thursday. I know that we will be very focused this whole week and looking ahead to Princeton. Now that we have the victory tonight, that is the next step." 

Nugent and Callway each had relatively quiet nights by their standards. Nugent had 10 kills, Callaway recorded six, but Penn State didn't need the added assistance of their seniors on Saturday. However, there is no denying the impact that the two have on the team and how critical of a role they will have to play in the postseason, not just on the score sheet, but in leadership positions as well. 

"We've talked about it all season long how one of our goals is to win the EIVA championship and now were in a position to do it," Nugent said. "It is certainly huge for us to make sure that Thursday isn't the last match for us in Rec Hall because we don't want that feeling from last year. We have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for Princeton and that's the focus right now."

Penn State is the number one seed in the tournament and will be taking on the Tigers who get the four spot. Saint Francis and Sacred Heart will square off in the two-three matchup earlier on Thursday. Thursday's match for the Nittany Lions is set for a 7 p.m. first serve in Rec Hall.

Balance Lifts Lions to EIVA Title

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Balance and a few key contributions from the bench were the key to Penn State's EIVA regular season clinching victory against Charleston (W. Va.) Friday night at Rec Hall.

Penn State used a solid all around attack, dipping into a talented Nittany Lion bench to clinch the regular season EIVA berth and home court advantage throughout the EIVA Championships.

"We clinched tonight, so we can check that off our list," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We knew coming in to this game that one win over the weekend would get us the regular season title and we wanted to get that done tonight."

Penn State was lead by a solid performance from Aidan Albrecht, who finished with 11 kills and was the only Nittany Lion to register double figure kills. Albrecht has been a main stay in the lineup all season long, but Penn State has needed an abundance of Nittany Lions to step up this season.

Come Friday night, it was middle Jason Donorovich.

"It was great to get in to a game situation and get some good swings for my team," Donorovich said. "I've been working hard in practice so I'm glad it paid off in the match."

Donorovich finished with five kills on eight swings and a match high .625 hitting percentage. He was in the match from the second set on and it was his longest stretch as a starter this season. Penn State has relied on performances like his all season long to get to reach its EIVA regular season title.

"In practice, the A team pushes the B team and the B team pushes the A team," libero Royce Clemens said after the match. "It has been like that all season long and that's why you see so many people like Jason and others on the team get kills and look comfortable stepping up in big situations. For us it's nothing new."

Something new for the Nittany Lions this year was not being defending EIVA champions. From the outset, they talked about having a chip on their shoulder, noting the goal was to not only host the EIVA's, but win the championship this year.

"We talked about it a lot for sure," Luke Braswell said. "I don't think we ever let it leave our minds. You don't forget losing on your home court like that and we are happy to have a chance to defend our home court this season."

Penn State will have a chance to defend home court and will also have a chance to honor its seniors tomorrow night against George Mason. Chris Nugent and Matt Callaway are the only two seniors on the Penn State team, but have meant so much for the Nittany Lions, their fans and the entire community through their five years on campus.

"It will be great to recognize them," Pavlik said. "In their years they have seen just about anything you can see on a volleyball court, this year is no difference and they have taken everything in stride. It is exciting to honor them and it is even more exciting to know that it won't be their last match at Rec Hall."

Penn State will honor its seniors before the 7 p.m. first serve against George Mason. Round one of the EIVA tournament will be next Thursday with Penn State's opponent yet to be determined.

Lions Looking Toward EIVA Finale

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By Jack Milewski, student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  The EIVA Championship push is often one of the most exciting parts of the season for any teams when in contention. For the Penn State men's volleyball, they find themselves in a similar spot, at the top of the EIVA standings with one weekend left in conference play.

Penn State currently sits one game ahead of Saint Francis with a 9-3 record, but because the Nittany Lions hold the tie breaker, they will need to win just one of their final two games against Charleston (W.Va.) and George Mason to clinch the top spot and home court advantage headed into next weekend's EIVA Championship.

The madness of the final weekend of the EIVA regular season doesn't include Penn State though, as the Nittany Lions have locked up a playoff berth, but with five teams separated by single game below them, there is still much to play for. 

Take a possible look at some potential first round matchups for Penn State in the EIVA Championships.

Princeton (11-12, 7-5 EIVA)
The Tigers have been scrappy all season long, especially when it comes to playing the Nittany Lions. In two matches, both teams have gone the distance, with Penn State coming out on top in each outing. Parker Dixon and Kendall Ratter pack a one-two punch on the outside, averaging 2.75 and 2.71 kills per set respectively.

NJIT (13-10, 6-6 EIVA)
Another team playing Penn State extremely tough this season is the Highlanders. In the first match up, the teams went five and Penn State came out with the victory and in the second of the season Penn State came out on top as well. NJIT has arguable one of the most exciting players in the conference in Jabarry Goodridge. Goodridge leads the conference in kills per set with 4.51 and is a beast behind the service line with 45 aces. As Goodridge goes the team goes as well, but he is a player who can single handedly win a series. 

Sacred Heart (13-10, 6-6 EIVA)
Penn State has seen its struggles with Sacred Heart all season long. The Pioneers have dealt the Nittany Lions two of their three conference losses and have looked strong against the best team in the conference. Joshua Ayzenberg has been a rock in the back row, averaging more than three digs per set. The attack for Sacred Heart is balanced with Chris DeLucie leading the way with 264 kills. Four others have at least 125 kills. The Pioneers also serve tough, making them a formidable opponent.

George Mason (13-12, 6-6 EIVA)
George Mason was projected first in the preseason EIVA poll, but stumbled early on and has not been able to regain the form they possessed last year in the conference championships. Still dangerous, Jack Wilson, who has 299 kills is the key to Masons success. He will be tasked with a heavy work load and if Mason can get past Saint Francis and Penn State, they will be in the playoffs, it just wont be easy against the top two teams in the EIVA. 

Harvard (9-12, 6-6 EIVA)
The Crimson are the last of the 6-6 group in the EIVA, and also are still very much alive in the race for a playoff spot. Penn State hasn't dropped a set to Harvard all season long and has dominated the Crimson. Harvard is supported by senior Casey White and freshman Erik Johnsson on the outside. Trevor Dow and Riley Moore are tremendous blockers in the middle of the court. Harvard has some fire power, it is just a matter of consistency and a lack of self inflicted wounds for the Crimson. 

Penn State's road to the EIVA title is yet to be paved and the Nittany Lions are unsure which road blocks will stand in their way. One thing is certain, however, and that is Penn State will have a chance to compete for the EIVA title that eluded them last season and that has been the goal since day one of the 2017 season. 

"That certainly has always been our goal," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "The win on Saturday against Harvard was huge because now we only have to win one game to host and to be able to play a few more games in front of our fans here will be nice." 

Despite a setback against Sacred Heart, Penn State rolled by Harvard in straight sets to secure a berth to the EIVA Championships. The Nittany Lions have now arrived at Friday in hopes they can secure home court sooner rather than later. 

"It is absolutely huge that we get the win Friday," Pavlik said. "We don't want to put more pressure on ourselves than we need to so coming home and having a week to prepare we should be more than ready Friday and hopefully we can get things done."

First serve for both matches against Charleston (W. Va.) and George Mason is set for 7 p.m. Prior to Saturday's matchup, the Nittany Lions will honor their seniors in the annual senior night ceremonies. Chris Nugent and Matt Callaway will be the two Nittany Lions honored, but for Callaway and Nugent, along with the rest of the team, they are hoping Saturday won't be the last time they take the court at Rec Hall this season. 


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