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A Closer Look at the Nittany Lions' Journey

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With only two matches left in the regular season for the Nittany Lions, the squad of 16 has been through a journey of streaks this year going from two losses to 12 wins followed by seven consecutive matches on the road.

"It seems to be a year of streaks - mostly travel streaks," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We go to Hawaii with the idea of let's see where we are and how we stack up against Hawaii. It was very good for us. Then we came back and had the ability through who we played to get those who don't play much some action, refine our skills, and then we were on the road for a tough stretch."

Despite long stretches on the road with less than ideal traveling arrangements, the Nittany Lions have stayed mentally tough and taken the necessary steps to ensure their bodies could perform at their best.

"We've picked up our physicality, which I'm very glad to see the travel weariness has been handled well. We've done a good job keeping fresh in the gym and all in all it's been a pretty good season for us," Pavlik said.

Although it can be easy to focus on their record of wins and losses throughout the season, the coaches stress that the level of improvement is more important.

"The team has steadily improved and we don't pay a lot of attention to wins and losses," Pavlik said. "We pay attention to are we getting better and what do we have to do to get better. This team has really made a commitment to getting better and you look at every one of the guys on this team and you can point out aspects in their game that have improved. That's all we can really ask for."

Through their journey, the team has learned from each and every chance they have had to compete. Their level of improvement is a testament to the resiliency of this group.

"They roll with the punches really well. This is a group that is confident; they understand how hard it is to be good. They learn that within this group they can push each other and hold each other accountable. I like the growth they've had this year and I'm excited about the future for this core group of student-athletes," Pavlik said.

Even though this particular group of 16 players started playing together in the fall, their development goes back a year where they grew under the six seniors that graduated in 2013.

"The development of this team can be traced back to the six seniors we had last year. They were there if we needed them in a certain situation and they were always ready to go. Our current group saw that. They saw the selflessness and they saw how much the program meant to that group of seniors. This team has picked up on the strength of those seniors last year and have carried it on and they've made it stronger this year," Pavlik said.

It may seem like their season is winding down from the fan perspective with the EIVA championships right around the corner, however, the most exciting part of the season is still to come.

"This is the fun part - everything is winding up," Pavlik said. "This is what you come to Penn State for. We're going to gear up and we're going to make sure we aren't overtaxing these guys. If they keep it sharp, we're going to stay in the gym only as long as they need to be."

At this point in the season, the team starts "tapering" which means they reduce the amount of practice time and focus more on quality and their execution.

"This is not the time to keep them in the gym for practice sake. They're responding well to this. We've had some great short practices over these past few weeks. We want them to be at their best when the whistle blows," Pavlik said.

The Nittany Lions secured the No. 1 overall seed and home court advantage as they host the upcoming EIVA tournament after their win against Saint Francis. This win also gave the Nittany Lions their 30th EIVA/ECVL regular season title.

"Hosting keeps them in their routines," Pavlik said. "They're comfortable there and everything that they normally do, they can do. That's huge for college athletes and even more so with men's volleyball across the country. Teams have really been good at home and it's been tough to win on the road. I like the fact that we don't have to go anywhere for the two biggest EIVA matches of the year."

Curry Leads Defense Through the Libero Position

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
As the players run out on the court and take their positions, they are all wearing matching uniforms with the exception of one player. For the Nittany Lions it's Connor Curry - the libero.

Coming all the way from Long Beach, Calif., Curry is the player in charge of leading the defense and controlling the back row. His position is unlike any other on the court and the rules alone set him apart from his teammates.

"They can't play the whole game. They are a permanent substitute," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "They can't hit a ball - they can't take a swing at a ball that is higher than the height of the net. They can't serve in the men's game and if they are in front of the three-meter line, they can't use their hands to set the ball - they can only use their forearms. There are a lot of things they have to think about - it's different than any position out there."

Since the libero is responsible for being the first contact when receiving the ball, it is Curry's responsibility to be able to run and get to the ball no matter where it is. Athleticism becomes a major factor in the performance of the libero.

"The more athletic your libero, the greater range they have," Pavlik said. "Typically, when you talk about athletic ability people take into account speed and jumping ability, but one of the things that people miss is hand-eye-coordination. The great athletes have great hand-eye-coordination and can use either hand equally well."

Since Curry has played sports as far back as he can remember, he has had more time to develop this level of athleticism and coordination.

"I played tennis when I was five and was really competitive with that until I was 12-13 years old and then I got into volleyball after that. Playing sports most of my life has really helped me understand and develop my hand-eye- coordination," Curry said.

From his first day as a Nittany Lion to where he is now as he finishes up his redshirt junior year, his ability to use both hands has helped him on the court.

"Because he is a right-handed player, his left hand didn't control the ball very well his freshman year, but over the last three to four years you can see him working on being able to control the ball on either side of his body. He plays a lot during the summer and I think there is where he really gave himself the opportunity to excel by playing so much and seeing the ball hit so many different ways and so many different angles," Pavlik said.

In addition to athleticism and strong hand-eye-coordination, another strength of Curry's is his passing. He is able to control the ball and put setter Taylor Hammond in a good position to run the offense.

"His passing and his first contact ball control is pretty good, but his passing has been very, very steady for us this year," Pavlik said. "Anytime you can put the ball exactly where you want it to go and run your offense from wherever you want to start it, you have every option available to you."

Passing the ball well and making sure he can get it to Hammond is something Curry practices each and every opportunity he gets.

"It's a skill that I'm always working on day in and day out. It's just tough because the curve for improvement is very gradual at this point. There are baby steps that I take everyday, but I'm pretty happy with where I am with that and how far I've come," Curry said.

Watching the libero and the setter interact during a match shows a specific relationship between the two positions. They both have to be at their best in order for the offense and defense to run smoothly.

"The setter and libero relationship is one where you can have a very good setter and a poor libero or the libero isn't as good or you can have a great libero and a poor setter and you're going to have some wasted opportunities. Taylor and Connor feed off of each other really well. When Connor is doing his job really well, it makes Taylor's job look really easy. Like they say in baseball, that's being strong up the middle. With a strong libero and strong setter, we have the strength so the first and second contacts are as controlled as we can possibly make them," Pavlik said.

Although there could be added pressures with the libero position, Curry only sees it as a position where the player has to be efficient at specific skills.

"The position of libero is really specific as to what you need to be good at," Curry said. "As an outside hitter you can make a bad pass, but you can still get a good set and make a good kill off of it whereas if a libero makes a bad pass - you just have to keep going and hope for a better one next time. You really just dig balls and pass balls and control the server and receive so it's really specialized in what I need to be good at but it's a fun position to be in."

Lions See Offensive Success under Hammond's Leadership

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
As the season continues for the men's volleyball team, its level of production and how the offense works together on the court has developed and strengthened over the past three months.

Of the different positions on the court, the setter is designated to control and run the offense. This person is in charge of making the decisions of which hitter will receive the ball. For the Nittany Lions, this player is Taylor Hammond.

"I run the offense and make sure everyone's on the same page," Hammond said. "I make decisions on where I want the ball to go. It's just what I've always done and it's a part of my position. I enjoy doing this and I like having the ball in my hands."

Coming off of strong matches against George Mason and Princeton, the team has come together to make the offense efficient and more effective. The coaching staff has noticed development in both their offensive game and Hammond's performance on the court.

"The passers are handling themselves really well. Taylor is making very sound decisions. He's always been somebody that wants to understand why he does something or why we ask him to do something. Now, he is really understanding that this is his job. His job is not to keep everyone happy - it's to get the ball to the floor as quickly as possible," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Although Hammond is only a redshirt sophomore, he is really starting to fully understand his job as a setter.

"As a setter, you need to make those decisions and say right now with who they have blocking, where they are defensively, and how the hitters are hitting - what is my best opportunity to get the ball to the floor quick? He's really starting to grasp that right now. Like most young setters it takes a while. It's not something you can just walk in and do," Pavlik said.

In order to make the offensive game successful, the coaches help guide Hammond. They study the blockers on the other side of the net to predict where the ball will go.

"You'll see Jay (Hosack) come up and he'll talk to me about what their blockers are trying to do. They'll scheme against me and they'll try to send some towards Aaron (Russell) so we'll go the opposite way and we'll go towards Nick (Goodell) or they'll try to send someone towards Nick and we'll try to go the opposite way. It's really just a cat and mouse game. It's like a game of chess between me and the blockers," Hammond said.

Although the setter controls the offense and makes game-changing decisions, it takes all of the players on the court to make the offense successful.

"Anytime it's the offensive ball - it's not just one position," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "The offense is predicated first and foremost on our first contact and with our ball control. The level that our ball control has been at the past couple of weeks enables Taylor to have an easier job and have all four or five options available to him just about every time."

In order for Hammond to be able to set up the ball properly, it's up to the passers to put the ball where they are supposed to making Hammond's job easier.

"If our passers can put the ball where they are supposed to - it makes Taylor's job a lot easier when he doesn't have to run for it. Connor (Curry's) job is to control the servicing patterns and where he needs them to be all with the idea of making sure our offense starts where we want them to start - right in the middle of the net about two and a half feet off of the net," Pavlik said.

As a whole team, the passers have been working with Hammond to get the ball where it needs to be during each play. In their last few matches, the offense has come together to put up some of the best offensive numbers the team has seen up until this point.

"Our execution is really high right now," Hammond said. "This past weekend is an attribution to what we've been working on right now. We've had trouble in the big matches executing. We've made mistakes where the wheels kind of fall off, but against Princeton and George Mason - that was really an attribute to what we've been working on and just staying steady." 

Nittany Lions Finish Home Matches with Senior Night

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
After seven matches on the road, the Nittany Lions returned to Rec Hall over the weekend, adding two more victories over Princeton (3-0) and George Mason (3-0) to their record of 17-6.

Having the opportunity to play two matches at home before heading on the road again for five more matches gave the players one last chance to play in front of a blue and white crowd and to feed off of their energy.

"We were just ready to be back at home," Nick Goodell said. "Traveling this whole time, playing in front of your home fans is like nothing else. We go to these other schools with big crowds and we have to play against them, but nothing's like being in the gym and playing in front of your home fans. It's nice coming back here and having more energy."

Traveling on the road since Feb. 28 can be taxing and a long process getting to the different venues. For the players, not being able to close out the matches over the past five weeks made it even longer.

"It got long because we were playing in games where we were so close and we were almost there a couple of times. When you do that a few times and come up short, it makes it feel a little bit longer. Last weekend against Loyola and Lewis, we were right in both of those games and were able to finish those matches. We know that we can do it now so coming home, we knew it was going to be a tough match so putting it all together was the objective," Matt Seifert said.

Using that momentum, Penn State played two tough matches all the way through closing out the matches well. Earlier this season, the Nittany Lions fell to Princeton 3-2 when they were on the road. The players and coaching staff were determined not to let that happen again as they swept the Tigers winning three straight sets 25-19, 25-13, and 25-20. Penn State saw a completely different match this time around against the same opponent.

"I think it can be said from both benches that that wasn't the team we saw a month ago," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "On our side of the net, our ball control was tons better. We kept their block off balance and more importantly, their defense off balance. We played with a relentless attitude and we weren't watching the scoreboard. We played to see how long we could string good to great play together and it paid off for us."

The serving game for the Nittany Lions clicked giving them an advantage over Princeton. Penn State put up seven aces with only nine errors and held the Tigers to two aces and 12 errors.

"I thought our serving put them in trouble," Pavlik said. "Aaron (Russell) had three aces and his first two serves were misses. I thought we were patient and Nick served extremely well. We caused them problems and we did a really good job with it."

After coming out strong against Princeton, the Nittany Lions continued building momentum as they defeated George Mason in three-straight sets 25-18, 25-17, 25-18.  With two strong EIVA opponents, adding this victory was a good way to wrap up the weekend before they head on the road.

"We were telling the guys all this week that this weekend was probably the biggest EIVA regular season weekend that we've hosted this year," Pavlik said. "They really pushed through and showed a real good effort. Now we look at the challenge going to Boston and playing Sacred Heart and Harvard."

Not only was it a huge weekend in terms of the EIVA opponents, it was also a chance for the program to honor their only senior Peter Russell.

"I could tell that they wanted to send me off with a win every time we went into a huddle. Everyone would say 'It's Pete's senior night - let's send him off with a win.' We never let off the gas, we were very poised and played really well for most of the 25 points of each match," Peter said.

Walking on the court with Peter were members of his family along with his teammate and younger brother Aaron. This match marked the last time the two brothers would play a regular season match together in Rec Hall.

"I think there's definitely a lot of emotion. There's a lot for me because Peter's my brother and the only senior we have. Peter's been able to lead us well and help us continue to work hard and push us. We wanted to send him off with an honor. That match was a reflection of our work recently," Aaron said.

The Russell family walked out with Peter as he was honored and he received the traditional senior blanket. Knowing his family could come to his last regular season match in Rec Hall made the night even more emotional.

"I knew they wouldn't miss that for the world. It's weird if they're not here at a match. They've made it to every home match this season and I knew they would be here to support me. That was probably the most people that have walked out a senior since I've been here. It's great to have the support - not just with my family but also with all of the fans too," Peter said. 

Russell Brothers Continue Building the Family Legacy

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - While watching outside hitters No. 8 and No. 9 play in a match, everyone immediately notices how well they work together, their impressive skill sets, and the power they have behind every kill. However, these two players, Aaron and Peter Russell share a bond and a legacy unlike anyone else on the court. 

This legacy begins with their father Stew, who went through the same recruiting process, played in the same Rec Hall, and got both of them started with the sport. Their father graduated from Penn State in 1986, just nine years before Mark Pavlik was named head coach in 1995.

One tradition that comes with being an alumnus is coming up to State College, Pa., and playing in the alumni match each year. Stew would bring Aaron and Peter up to watch these matches when they were younger and it was at this point that Peter knew he wanted to continue the legacy his father started.

"I remember in eighth grade he came up for an alumni match and I came up too. I remember after seeing that match, I knew that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to come to Penn State, I wanted to play volleyball, and I wanted to block him in an alumni match," Peter said.

Peter was able to accomplish all three of those goals he set in eighth grade by his sophomore year when he blocked his father for the first time in the alumni match. When it came time for Pavlik to recruit Peter, he already knew of the legacy the Russell family had with Penn State.

"Stew and Marian knew what was going on," Pavlik said. "They knew Penn State and they knew about our program. Peter spent much of his time up here when he was coming up for alumni matches and he would play on our court. I still remember when Peter was maybe four or five years-old and he was running around on the court after an alumni match."

While Peter was in his freshman year at Penn State, he made an immediate impact competing in eight matches and worked his way into the starting position for three of them, it was time for his younger brother, Aaron, to make a decision of where he was going to begin his collegiate career.

"I'm sure he got a little bit annoyed with me, but I called him at least once a week asking him what he was thinking, who he was leaning towards. I remember the day he committed, he told me he committed to Irvine so of course I was bummed out and I remember sending him this long text saying I'll still support you and I'm happy for you and then I get a call from him saying he was just kidding and that he was coming to Penn State. That was one of the greatest lows to highs I've ever had," Peter said.

From there, Peter was excited to have his little brother join him and carry out the legacy their father had begun as a Nittany Lion. Coming into college can be overwhelming, but since Aaron had his older brother who had gone through the same feelings just a year before, the transition was easier for him.

"He was able to show me the ropes and help me with whatever I was experiencing," Aaron said. "He had already been through it before so knowing that made it easier to adjust and I felt comfortable going to him."

The two players help lead the team by example both on and off the court. One aspect of being a team player that they do well is understanding their role on the team and how they can make a difference.

"They know what the program needs and more importantly they know what the program needs from them," Pavlik said. "They've done a good job of giving that to the team. That in and of itself is how they fulfill their responsibilities and the other guys on the team see this. When they say to somebody here's what we need you to do - that message is well received."

While some players never have the chance to see their families, this certainly is not the case for the Russell brothers. Coming from Ellicott City, Md., the Russell family makes every effort to make it to see them at all of their matches no matter where they are playing and they always show an enormous amount of support. 

"Even in Chicago, my mom grew up an hour outside of the city so a lot of her side of the family was there. My grandmother is 92 years old and I saw her sitting in the front row at the Loyola match. They come out to almost every match - it's weird if there is a match they can't go to. I can't say enough about how supportive they are. It's to the point where it's weird if there's a match they can't make it to because I'm so used to looking up in the stands and seeing all of them there," Peter said.

In Peter's final match at home, the team's only senior will be recognized for everything he has contributed in his collegiate career and the legacy he has continued. After playing almost all of their careers from high school to college on the same team, stepping on the court next year will be different for Aaron.

"I've tried not to think about not playing with Peter, it's pretty sad," Aaron said. "Pretty much every year I've played volleyball, it's been with him so it's definitely going to be tough to play without him. I know he'll come watch with my family so it won't be as bad as I think but it'll still be weird."

Even though Peter won't be on the court with Aaron next year, he will still be supporting his younger brother and following every match.

"I definitely plan on coming out to as many matches as I can and following the team. I'll be cheering him on whether it's watching game tracker or being here in person at the matches. I plan on doing the same kind of thing my family has done for me all along," Peter said.

Knowing that Peter's final match in Rec Hall is coming up and that something he has trained for every day is coming to an end will bring emotions as he steps on the court at home one last time with his whole family behind him.

"It will definitely be weird knowing that something I've worked my whole life on is coming to an end," Peter said. "It'll be emotional in a sense to play here one last time in Rec Hall at a regular season match but it'll be a lot of fun. I know my whole family is coming up again to support me and be there for me." 

Lions Face Tough Competition from California to Illinois

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
The men's volleyball team returned from Long Beach, Calif., playing in their 18th and 19th matches of the season and came out of the weekend 1-1 against two highly-competitive teams.

With nine matches still to come before the Nittany Lions compete in the EIVA Championships, the coaches and players used the two matches against Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State to see where they are at this point of the season and see what is working or what changes need to be made.

"Like all the trips we've taken to the West Coast over Spring Break, it just gives us a really good mile mark to assess where we are at and what we need to do better," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "It also gives us the opportunity to see how we are doing with the rest of the country."

The Nittany Lions travel to Lewis and top-ranked Loyola-Chicago with an overall record of 14-5 and a conference record of 6-1 this weekend.  After facing two tough California teams, Pavlik is pleased with where the team stands at this point of the season.

"We're still getting better," Pavlik said. "Taylor had an outstanding weekend with Matt and Matt being named all-tournament out there - that really speaks for their development. Nick has been on the rise. Aaron's been solid for us and at times spectacular for us. Pete's been passing the ball well, Connors playing well. I like where we're at and we've just got to keep grinding right now."

After going head to head with Long Beach State in the first two games making it to 22-23 before falling short of closing out the match, the team came out of the weekend encouraged that it was right there competitively with the second-ranked team in the country.

"We can compete with anyone in the country," Peter Russell said. "If we can clean up a couple areas here and there - we can beat anyone. It's encouraging to know that we are right there. We were disappointed after game three against Long Beach, but our coaches cheered us up a little bit and said 'we have a couple things to work on but we're a couple of baby steps away from becoming an elite team.'"

Although the players faced disappointment, they will learn from the experience and use it as motivation headed into this weekend.

"You just have to rebound from there and keep that bitter taste in your mouth and let it motivate you in practice," Russell said.

When the team got back into the practice gym, the focus from here through the rest of their matches is building off of the development they've already seen and continue getting better in every aspect.

"We're just doing what we've always done and that's just getting better at playing the game," Pavlik said. "We have to get better offensively, defensively, and we have to make sure that we keep going in the right direction with our blocking, our serving, and our passing. We're just going to keep getting better at every aspect of the game."

After five matches on the road, the Nittany Lions have two more coming up this weekend before returning home to play in Rec Hall against Princeton and George Mason. Playing in unfamiliar arenas with the physical demands of traveling, these past three weekends on the road have helped prepare Penn State mentally for the championship season.

"We're a tough team mentally," Connor Curry said. "We're playing in uncomfortable environments and I think that does help with the mental aspect of the game. It's easy to play in front of your home crowd when nobody's yelling at you, but it's different when you're playing away. I think that part of it does help in the long run to set up for the end of the season."

As the players face the top-ranked team in the country, they know they have the ability to compete against the best and understand how to handle any pressures that might come with Loyola.

"It's another challenge put in front of us," Curry said. "You could look at it as added pressure or you can say there's no pressure at all because they're number one in the country and if you lose, everybody's expecting that. I think that's the way we're going to look at it. We're going to play with nothing to lose, stay confident and play loose."

In addition to staying relaxed, a key to the team's success this weekend will be capitalizing on every opportunity the players set themselves up for.

"Loyola's ranked No. 1 for a reason and they're tough to beat as it is. It's going to be something where when we create opportunities to score a real point - we have to turn those opportunities. We can't let those go by the wayside and turn them into side outs or give it to the other team. We've always had a great rivalry with Loyola and we really enjoy competing against them," Pavlik said. 

Overcoming Adversity on the Road Makes Lions Stronger

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming back from road trips to Princeton and George Mason, the men's volleyball team returned 1-1 from the weekend. Although they faced a loss against Princeton, the preparation the team has put in all year allowed the players to rebound and overcome adversity as they defeated George Mason.

The first piece of adversity that the team had to overcome was missing pass and serve time with the travel and traffic involved with getting to Princeton.

"The travel was frustrating," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I jokingly told the guys 'Welcome to roll with the punches tour of 2014' but they figured it out. They literally rolled with the punches. They focused well on the things that they could control and they did a really good job of controlling that."

Traveling and playing on the same day was a challenge for the players, but they relied on their preparation to handle the punches thrown at them.

"We just kept telling ourselves that we push ourselves harder than that in practice everyday so the stuff that we face in south gym day in and day out - we're doing that to prepare us for times like this. We kept telling ourselves that we do this everyday in practice so there's no reason we can't go out and execute it now," Peter Russell said. 

After winning 11 consecutive matches, the second element of adversity they faced was coming up short of a win against Princeton even though they battled tough through all five sets.

"The match against Princeton was a good match," Pavlik said. "Princeton was as physical as any EIVA team we've seen recently. The fact that it went to five games and we're on the road with our first road trip - from the performance side it went okay. The guys handled everything that they couldn't control really well."

Even though the Nittany Lions didn't have the outcome they hoped for against Princeton, the players used that as motivation and shifted their focus to come out even stronger against George Mason.

"They did a really good job of just showering it off and getting ready for Mason the next night because we knew that Mason was having their alumni weekend with a big crowd and it was really emotional both nights," Pavlik said. "They didn't dwell on what happened. This group is something that does that - they worry about what's in the moment right now."

Helping the players stay in the moment were the captains who talked to the team on the bus after the Princeton match about focusing on what is ahead of them rather than dwelling on the past.

"When we got on the bus and talked, one thing that me and Connor (Curry) wanted to make sure was that there was no hangover going into Saturday and there really wasn't at all," Matt Seifert said. "We didn't have any problem on Saturday against Mason. They had a big crowd with alumni weekend down there so I thought we answered their call well when they started playing physical and rowdy, we didn't get phased by it at all."

With strong leadership from the experienced players, Pavlik did not see any signs of panic or lack of confidence.

"I don't see (leadership) - and I think with good leadership you don't see leaders," Pavlik said. "I didn't see anybody panicking there wasn't any examples of poor leadership or what are we going to do. The leadership in those situations, if I don't see it and we don't have issues, it speaks volumes about what kind of leadership we do have."

From the coaching standpoint, the staff told them that the trip would not be easy and to be prepared to handle what they can and cannot control.

"We let them know that it's not going to be easy," Pavlik said. "Things happen that you can't control that you just have to roll off of you. Win, lose, or draw - you're still trying to play at the level you need to play at, the level that your teammates need you to play at."

Nittany Lions Spend Next Four Weekends on the Road

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In January, the men's volleyball team played three matches in Honolulu, Hawaii and then the next 11 matches in front of a home crowd in Rec Hall. The luxury of staying at home comes to an end, as the team will spend their next seven matches on the road traveling as close as New Jersey and as far as California.

With tough competition coming up against Princeton and George Mason, the No. 10 Nittany Lions will have to adapt to the added challenges of traveling. In his 20th-year as head coach, Mark Pavlik has seen different approaches as to how the players handle themselves.

"Some teams you don't see a change in them at all while others you see them trying to figure out their own routine for being on the road and making sure they understand what they can control," Pavlik said.

As the coaching staff helps the players prepare for the challenges that come with playing on the road, Pavlik helps them understand how to adjust to controlling what they can control and not letting outside factors affect them.

"That's the biggest thing I see," Pavlik said. "Many times you can't control what's going on. You can't control if the bus is late or you can't control if the gym isn't available for pass and serve at a certain time and that's what we try to tell them. You have to roll with the punches when you're on the road."

One factor the players can't control is the way that they travel with long bus rides and limited room to stretch out.

"The challenge here is sitting on the bus," Pavlik said. "When you look at (Matt) Seifert or Aaron (Russell), 6-8 or 6-7 guys who have to sit with their knees in their noses for five to eight hours - it's tough but that's the way it's done so you have to figure out a way to make that work for you."

Right after winter break, the team traveled to Hawaii to start their 2014 schedule competing against UCLA, Hawaii, and Ohio State. For freshman Chris Nugent, this experience gave him a preview of what to expect when traveling as a collegiate player.

"It gave me a feel for what it was like being on the road and playing in other teams' gyms so I got to experience that and what it would be like at the collegiate level with other school's fans and I saw how tiring traveling, playing the next day, and then traveling some more and playing again would be," Nugent said.

After a long flight, jetlag, and a time change, playing in Hawaii was more of an extreme. This gave them an opportunity to practice handling the adversity that would come in the middle of their season.

"It was easy to see how fast the people who haven't traveled can adapt," Nick Goodell said. "If they can adapt to Hawaii, they can adapt to anything else. That's one of the hardest things to be around nice weather, long days of travel, and still be able to stay focused and get business done."

As a redshirt junior, Goodell has been through the rigorous routine of traveling before and knows what to expect.

"The beginning of it is always fun because you get to get away and have off from class, but by the end of it you just want to be home. Being on the bus for eight plus hours isn't fun and then you play in a match and come back and have to get ready for classes again. It isn't ideal so by the end of the seven matches, everyone's going to be over traveling," Goodell said.

Joining the Nittany Lions on the road is true freshman and outside hitter Nugent. Players who have been through this before like Goodell have shared advice on how to stay calm through the changing venues.

"We just told (Nugent) to relax, it's just like any other game," Goodell said. "Nothing should bother him too much. It's all the same game, you're just playing in a different place."

Although Nugent knows that keeping up with his schoolwork and long bus rides over the next few weeks will be tough, he's excited to face strong competition while they travel.

"It's going to be really demanding with schoolwork and not being able to be there for Friday classes, but I think it'll be a really good experience. I'll get to play some really good schools, especially the next few weekends and I think it will really build us as a team," Nugent said.

Another change that the players will face is not playing in front of a true home crowd that they are familiar with. However, the matches on the East Coast will allow the Penn State fans to travel with the Nittany Lions.

"In the EIVA, we go down to Mason this weekend, we'll have a good Penn State crowd there. We go down to Princeton, it'll be the same thing there," Pavlik said. "We're fortunate that when we travel, we travel well with our crowd. There's Penn State fans all over the pace so when we stay close to the East Coast, the fans show up to our matches and balance out whatever home crowds they have."

Two More Wins Puts Lions in Good Position Moving Forward

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
After a busy weekend for the men's volleyball team, the Nittany Lions now move into the sole possession of first place position in the EIVA conference after winning two matches in sweeps against Sacred Heart and Harvard.

Against Sacred Heart, Aaron Russell proved to be an integral part of the offense as he played to one of his best matches, hitting .696 overall. Russell helped lead the team to defeat Sacred Heart 3-0 (25-21, 25-13, 25-15) while registering 16 kills, two aces and four blocks.

For the outside hitter, when he let his competitive edge take over everything fell into place on the court as he was named the Mike Anderson Penn State Player of the Match for the third time this season.

"Things were just flowing and once I get in my competitive zone, I just let everything go and focus on the game. I thought I did that well tonight," Russell said. "I was just comfortable with the attack and the type of offense we were running and Taylor (Hammond) was putting the balls where I needed them so I was happy with that."

Along with Aaron Russell, Connor Curry and Peter Russell helped the offense with their passing game. They were able to work together as a team to set-up Matt Seifert to make powerful kills.

"I'm not going to get set unless they're passing the ball really well so I thought Aaron, Connor, and Pete all did really well with that. From then, it was just me putting myself in a good position to take a swing, keep myself off the net so that I have space to take a swing. If I do that, I'm usually pretty successful," said Seifert.

With another strong win behind them; the Nittany Lions turned their focus to Harvard and looked to continue their winning streak and secure their 12th-consecutive win. Penn State finished the match 3-0 (25-19, 25-15, 25-22), accomplishing what they set out to do.

The victory against Harvard had more meaning for the Nittany Lions compared to some of the other matches since this moved them into the top position of the EIVA conference. In addition, this helps put Penn State in a better position to host the EIVA Championships.

"We're 1-0 after this match against a very good EIVA team that puts us a step closer to securing home court advantage in the EIVA tournament. It's a good EIVA home court win for us that now puts some pressure on if everybody wins out the rest of the way the match against Harvard at their place really puts us in a position where we only have to win one game out of the three," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Heading into their last home match before a month of matches on the road, the coaching staff worked hard to prepare the players using film and scouting reports for the tougher competition they would be facing against Harvard.

"Pav told us from the beginning that it was going to be a really good one so I think we planned ahead and anticipated a highly competitive match against Harvard," Curry said. "Our preparation is what allowed us to jump ahead in these games and take control."

Curry fulfilled his role as libero and led the team registering 14 digs. His performance gave him his first Mike Anderson Penn State Player of the Match honor for this season.

"I can really attribute my number of digs to our blocking," Curry said. "If they're setting up nice blocks, then I can play defense around that allowing me to get the digs that I need to."

While Curry helped set up the offense, Seifert capitalized on a strong weekend as he reached a season-best .600 hitting clip, registered seven kills, and added two digs, one ace, and one block.

As Seifert continues to develop all his technique and how he plays during matches, taking a look at film with the coaches and focusing on the fundamentals proved to pay off on the court when it mattered most.

"Earlier this week, Colin (McMillan), Jay (Hosack), and I watched a lot of film," Siefert said. "They said to make sure we're keeping good space and getting back to the fundamentals of taking that type of approach and those types of swings. Once I concentrated on those, I realized I really have to make a point to do that correctly because it makes everything else so much easier."

Looking ahead to the rest of their schedule, the Nittany Lions will use this win to build their confidence as they face more EIVA teams outside of Rec Hall.

"For our confidence, it helps us to know we got a good sweep in because if we go to their place and happen to lose, all we have to do is win one game and we'd still be able to host the EIVA Championships so that does something for us and then it sends a message to our conference saying it's another year for Penn State and I don't think anyone can stop us again," Curry said. 

Curry, Hammond Pursue Dreams Far From Home

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Looking down the men's volleyball roster, most players come from areas relatively close to Penn State - anywhere from New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, to Maryland. But if you take a closer look, you'll find two players that come from the opposite side of the country, more than 2,500 miles away.   

Libero Connor Curry and setter Taylor Hammond both come from a different volleyball culture in Southern California where they were introduced to the sport at a much younger age than most players on the East Coast.

"The main difference is (East Coast players) all started just a little bit later," Hammond said. "They all started in high school and we all started in middle school and for some of us, even earlier than that."

Growing up where the sport could be played all year-round either indoors or outside as beach volleyball, both Hammond and Curry had more opportunities to practice their technique and figure out the best ways to handle the ball.

"People in Southern California grow up playing beach volleyball and they have a little better ball control early on," Curry said. "I think that all evens out in the long run though."

Curry comes from Newport Beach, Calif., while Hammond comes from Mission Viejo, Calif., which are roughly 25 minutes apart. Although Curry is one year ahead of Hammond, they not only have the opportunity to play together as teammates now, but they also grew up playing together on the same club team.

As Curry continued to develop and become an even stronger player throughout high school, he worked his way up to becoming a two-year varsity letter winner at Newport Harbor High and was named to the Best of the West Tournament All-Tournament team. When it came time for the libero to make a decision of where he wanted to begin his collegiate career, Curry knew he wanted to branch out from California.

"Just the team was a big deal - I really liked the players on the team when I came out on my recruiting trip and I really liked the coaches as well," Curry said. "I always knew I wanted to get outside of California for a little bit and Penn State has historically been one of the top, if not the best, volleyball schools outside of California."

While Curry went through redshirting his first year at Penn State, Hammond was finishing his last year in high school and was faced with the same decision as to where he wanted to attend school and continue to grow as a student-athlete.

"When I was originally looking at schools, I really wanted the big school experience and with the volleyball schools being so limited, Penn State was one of the schools that fit what I was looking for."

After playing with Curry in California, knowing that he could continue to compete with him in a collegiate setting played a major factor in his decision to become a Nittany Lion.

"He was a huge part of me coming here," Hammond said. "I watched him for a long time with him being just a grade above me. We used to practice together and scrimmage every once in a while and I really thought highly of him. One of the things between East Coast and West Coast was always the passing aspect of it. Already having Connor here was a really big part of it."

For the coaching staff, the geography of the players didn't play a role as to how the recruiting process went for both Hammond and Curry.

"You go to the junior's tournaments, you hit the junior national championships, Jay (Hosack) and Collin (McMillan go out and hit the Anaheim in early December and we're just looking for good players. It doesn't matter where you're from or whether you have a tan in February or not. Good players are good players and the address doesn't mean anything to us," head coach Mark Pavlik said. 

Attending college on the East Coast makes it difficult for the families of both Curry and Hammond to see them play at home. However, in mid-March the Nittany Lions will travel to Long Beach, Calif. to play Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State, giving their families and friends the opportunity to watch them play.

Last year, they played against Concordia and UC Irvine in Irvine, Calif., and Curry was able to enjoy the experience with his family and friends.

"It's nice playing out there because my brothers and sisters get to see me play," Curry said. "I have older siblings in the LA area so it's nice to see them and some of my friends come and see me play too. It's definitely nice to be able to go back home and play."