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Penn State Set for EIVA Championship

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK - After closing the regular season with a senior night win, Penn State will head to George Mason for the EIVA Championship. Penn State clinched the No. 2 seed in this weekend's tournament with a 3-1 win over NJIT.

Only four of the eight teams in the league qualify for the EIVA Championship each year with the winner automatically earning a berth to the NCAA Tournament. Penn State will take on third-seeded Harvard in Thursday's semifinals.

Penn State defeated Harvard in straight sets early in the season but lost to the Crimson two weeks ago. The Nittany Lions were without three regular starters in Aidan Albrecht, Luke Braswell and Calvin Mende in the most recent loss. Both teams have grown very familiar with each other and Pavlik believes neither team will do anything drastically different from what has been seen in the previous two matchups.

"They run a 6-2 and are not an extremely physical serving team, so you have to pass their float servers pretty well," Pavlik said. "They just play good volleyball - they'll dig balls that are hit at them, and their two setters make good decisions and try to go fast to the antennas to put some pressure on your pin blockers"

For Pavlik though, it really comes down to who can execute to their strengths the best.

This weekend though, will be on foreign grounds for the Nittany Lions, marking the first time this roster has played in the EIVA Championship outside of Happy Valley. Penn State is an experienced group though and Pavlik's message all week has been to worry about the things they can control. 

"I think experience is not to be underrated, we've never had to go someplace and play in the EIVA championship," Pavlik said. "We've got to be good at controlling what we can control on the road. You get into the championship events and there are a lot of things you can't control." 

The good news for the Nittany Lions is everyone is back at full strength and there are no lingering health problems to be concerned about at the moment.

While the past few weeks for Nittany Lions have been up and down, a big reason for that has been not having everyone healthy. However, with key veteran leaders like Albrecht, Braswell and Mende all healthy, Penn State still has a great opportunity to win the tournament.

Pavlik has been very impressed by the leadership from not only his regular contributing Nittany Lions, but also many of the more inexperienced members of the team. 

"Leadership can be everybody," Pavlik said. "I don't think there is one overriding person ever. I think the people that are looking outside in to us tend to see people that are on the court the most and call them the leaders, when in reality, those on the inside who are surrounded by the forest understand that each and every one of us have a responsibility for leading whenever we can."

Penn State and Harvard will face off at 5 p.m. with the winner advancing to take on the winner of top-seeded George Mason and fourth-seeded Princeton in the final semifinal match of the day.

Seniors Power Penn State Past NJIT

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It was just the type of bounce back win Penn State men's volleyball needed, as the Nittany Lions defeated NJIT in four sets to close out the regular season.

On senior night in Rec Hall, Penn State honored the contributions of its senior class in a special pre-match ceremony, but there was hardly time for emotions to get in the way.

From first serve, NJIT moved out to an early lead, before the Nittany Lions battled back with quick 3-0 strike to arrive within one at the midpoint of the frame, 16-15. Penn State fought off three NJIT set point attempts, but it was the Highlanders who ultimately took the opening set, 25-21, to take a 1-0 lead in the match.

"In that first half of the first set, we were super frantic," Kevin Gear said. "We made a lot of unforced errors on our side and kind of settled in toward the end of that set."

With Penn State trailing by three in the second set following an NJIT service error, the Nittany Lions took off on a 6-0 run to pull ahead by two, 12-10.

It was Gear's timely ace in the middle of the surge that tied the score, 10-10, as Penn State stepped up pressure from the service line to force the Highlanders out of system frequently.

"At one point I looked down on my chart and on Kev's serve we were scoring 12 points," Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik said. "They made about seven unforced hitting errors and most of those came because the set was coming from 20 feet out or so. Our block did a good job of getting in front of them too."

Penn State flipped the script to earn a 25-21 win in the second set, punctuated by a kill from Aidan Albrecht.

"I think we just needed to relax a little bit," Albrecht said reflecting on the second set turning point. "We were trying to do a lot of things out of character and we just have to keep believing in our strengths and settling in."

For Pavlik, there was hardly reason to be concerned, likening the early serving to a golfer trying to perfect a swing.

"These guys spend a lot of time serving," Pavlik said. "Hopefully at this point in the season, it's going to be a big weapon for us if we can do that like we did last week against [George] Mason, and certainly in the latter half of games two, three and four today."

The Nittany Lions were nothing short of settled in out of the intermission, as Gear pulled Penn State ahead 7-5 in the third set with a dominant solo stuff, opening up a 5-3 run that caused NJIT to call a timeout.

It was Albrecht's 11th kill of the night that secured the third set win, giving the Nittany Lions a 2-1 lead in the match that they wouldn't relinquish.

 Albrecht finished with a match-high 14 kills to lead the Nittany Lions, while Gear put away six kills on six perfect swings to go along with two blocks. 

More than the final score though is the legacy Penn State's senior trio will leave behind, one that Pavlik noted the casual fan outside the program will never know.

"I think they have taken to heart that one of the most important things about sustainable success is building a strong culture," Pavlik said. "They were right in the middle of demanding that it happened with this program and making sure everyone was on the same page with it."

From a quiet leader in the making to success in the classroom, and the flexibility to step into any role on the court, Pavlik praised each individual senior for his unique impact.

"Aidan has done everything we have ever asked of him," Pavlik said. "He has played just about every position. I was thinking about letting him set for Luke [Braswell] tonight to round that off," Pavlik joked.

Emotions aside though, there's still more volleyball to be played as Penn State turns its attention toward the upcoming EIVA Championship. A bid to the NCAA Tournament is on the line as the Nittany Lions open the EIVA Championship weekend Thursday, April 19th at George Mason. 

"I think we turned the corner and now we're on the right foot moving forward and we can have a good week of practice to prepare for playoffs," Gear said.  

Penn State Focused on the Bounce Back

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By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's volleyball never quite got going Friday night, falling to the Princeton Tigers in three sets, 25-23, 25-17, 25-17.

"Hats off to them," Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I'm disappointed in the fact that I didn't have our guys understand what level they needed to compete to be successful tonight. We talked this week about how there is nothing on the line for us, we're in the playoffs, but that can be a kiss of death. The last thing you want to do is try to ramp back up." 

Penn State's Calvin Mende returned to the floor, collecting six kills in his first game since late March.

"I started practicing Tuesday and started to get back into the swing of things," Mende said. "I feel pretty good. I don't see a major difference from where I left off, maybe just a little slow here, a little smaller jump there." 

Penn State won't have much time to make adjustments but Mende does think there are some simple things the Nittany Lions could work on ahead of Saturday's regular season home finale. 

"Definitely our energy to start off the sets," Mende said. "You can't go down 5-1 or 6-1. If you come out fast, it could be a different game. We definitely need to improve communication. We had some scramble plays where the ball dropped but somebody could've gotten it."  

For the Nittany Lions, a quick turnaround playing Saturday night might just help them move past the tough loss.

"I think we already have," sophomore Jason Donorovich said about the loss. "After what coach said and what we feel right now, it's not too hard to flip the switch because no one wants this feeling again. Basically you walk out of the locker room and it's over with."

That message from Pavlik after the game was simple, shake it off.

"Nobody had a good night including myself," Pavlik said. "I told them the chart that I kept was probably one of the worst kept charts of my career and I think the whole idea here is what's done is now done. You can't get it back and we can't carry it with us. So let's make sure we don't carry it with us. Shower it off, pass and serve tomorrow, let's get ready for New Jersey Tech." 

The goal remains the same for the Nittany Lions, to close out the season strong and take it game by game working toward an EIVA Championship and a NCAA bid for a shot at the title.

Penn State is back in action at 7 p.m. hosting NJIT in its final regular season match.

Smith Taking Reps at Libero

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State handed George Mason its first EIVA loss this season in a five-set thriller last Saturday. The Nittany Lions did so without their star right side hitter Calvin Mende, but more intriguing was the libero situation.

Incumbent starter Royce Clemens did not travel with the team over the weekend. Redshirt freshman Declan Pierce is Clemens' backup, but in a critical weekend, head coach mark Pavlik made arguably his most interesting lineup change of the season - starting Lee Smith at libero. 

Smith, who is listed as an outside hitter, might have the best ball control on the team, according to Pavlik, but plugging him in at libero was highly unexpected for anyone outside of the Penn State coaches' room. The unforeseen switch paid off, as Smith helped anchor a defense on the way to two big wins over the weekend for Penn State.

"We know we were going to be playing in front of a big crowd and [Smith] has the experience and has been in those matches," Pavlik said. "He has the ball control skills to do it, and he did a really, really good job at libero for us."

While the move came as a shock to many, Pavlik added that he has experimented with Smith at libero plenty of times during practices throughout Smith's career. 

"You look at those situations and if we get stuck with a libero situation, how would we handle it and [Smith] has just had more game experience than [Pierce] has," Pavlik said. "Smith has passed with these guys side by side and I think there was a comfort level that existed there that allowed it to pay off for us."

Smith suffered a knee injury in the middle of last season. Although he is physically 100 percent, he has inherited a lesser role at outside this season behind the likes of Aidan Albrecht and Matt McLaren. However, Pavlik praised the way he has handled the situation. 

"There's no question his mindset is that the team comes first. One of the things that is [Smith's] strength is that you define a role for him and he embraces it," Pavlik said.

Pavlik pointed to last week's match against Harvard as an example. Smith started on the outside for Albrecht, who did not travel with the team and was benched in favor of Frank Melvin after hitting -.071 through two sets. Smith was enthusiastically supportive on the bench though, giving Melvin feedback while he was on the court.

"You would have never been able to tell that he started and got benched," Pavlik said. "At one point he even said 'I just want to win.'"

Pavlik believes Smith is physically back to where he was before the knee injury and maybe even a little better. 

"He might be our best pin blocker and ball control has always been a strength of his," Pavlik said. "What I like about him is defensively, he's better at digging balls that are hit with some physicality and some heat than he's ever been, and he proved that this weekend."

Penn State will now enter the final weekend of the regular season with an opportunity to head toward the EIVA Championships with some momentum. The Nittany Lions will take on Princeton Friday night and NJIT the following evening. Princeton, who beat the Nittany Lions at Princeton in five sets earlier this season, is battling for the fourth and final spot in the EIVA playoffs this weekend.

"I think for us we're in a playoff type setting this week," Pavlik said. "It's going to be a great continuation of the last two weekends because after we came back from the [bye week] we basically told the guys they're in playoff mode."

Melvin Bringing Depth at Outside

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State took a step back in the EIVA standings this past weekend with a loss at Harvard Saturday night. Although Penn State dropped to third place in the league standings, this weekend brings a crucial rematch against George Mason Saturday.

It has been an up and down regular season for the Nittany Lions, as head coach Mark Pavlik has said in recent weeks, he believes his team is peaking at the right time. However, with several regular starters out and several self-inflicted errors in set five against Harvard, the Nittany Lions dropped their third EIVA match of the regular season.

"We got ourselves in a good position in game five, then we missed five serves and had two hitting errors," Pavlik said.

Setter Luke Braswell left midway through the Harvard match due to illness and Aiden Albrecht did not travel with the team. The Nittany Lions also suffered a critical loss against Harvard when Calvin Mende left the court after what appeared to be a scary neck injury. The good news is, in the end, Mende was only diagnosed with a mild concussion and should not miss too much time.

"Interesting because [Mende] was playing really well," Pavlik said. "He was scoring at will from the right side. We lost a little bit of his blocking and defense." 

Without its setter and arguably its two best offensive players on the court, Penn State was forced to dip deeper into its bench than usual. Nathan Smith, Kyle Mackiewicz, Jalen Penrose and Frank Melvin all came off the bench, and Pavlik liked what he saw from them in replacement.

"They did a nice job," Pavlik said. "We're getting experience for these guys in crucial situations. The next step is going out there and finishing the situation. We brought ourselves back into the match but were unable to finish."

In particular, Melvin saw more time than usual against Harvard. With Albrecht gone, Lee Smith started the match, but was soon replaced in favor of Melvin after hitting -.071 through two sets. Melvin then entered and finished with 10 kills on 18 attempts.

"[Melvin's] offense has always been the best part of his game," Pavlik said. "Especially the last three or four weeks he's been doing a good job when we've thrown him in at practice and challenging the block. The energy he brought with him just kind of carried over to the rest of the guys."

Melvin added that he had fun being spontaneously thrown into a larger role and focused on bringing energy to the court.

"I think most of the guys can agree that's my personality," Melvin said. "I wanted to be a spark off the bench. I wish we could have pulled out the victory but given the circumstances, we did all right."

Melvin, now a redshirt sophomore, started his career as a preferred walk-on, but has gradually ascended  into more of a contributing role each season for the Nittany Lions.

"He came in with a good jump and pretty explosive arm, but he hadn't played volleyball at a high level," Pavlik said. "He has really made strides with his blocking. He's still working on his first contact ball control, but that has gotten tons better than it was three years ago. He knows what his strengths are and he plays to those when he gets the opportunity." 

Melvin added that the biggest improvements he has made in the last three years has been the mental nuances of volleyball that are often overlooked.

"When I came in I was always worried about making mistakes, kind of just overthinking everything, and then I just started to play with, as lame as it sounds, a have fun mentality," Melvin said. "I like to go out there and just bring energy."

Pavlik has made finishing a point of emphasis over the last few weeks, and Melvin mentioned that would be essential to beating first place George Mason, which swept the Nittany Lions at Rec Hall in February. 

"We've talked about it in the gym the past couple of weeks, and it's kind of gotten to the point where we think about it a bit too much, but if we can just play it point by point, we can come out on top," Melvin said.

George Mason will likely be the top seed in the EIVA postseason tournament regardless of whether or not Penn State beats them this weekend. However, Pavlik and Melvin both agree that the Nittany Lions are capable of going toe to toe with any team in the country, and that they themselves will be their toughest opponent going forward.

"Obviously, we have some good teams left on our schedule, but a lot of this game is mental, and if we can get past the Penn State men's volleyball history, and just focus on the 21 guys in the gym right now, I think that will be the biggest thing to focus on." 

Nittany Lions Refreshed After Bye Week

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State returns to the road for trips to Sacred Heart and Harvard Friday and Saturday after an off weekend. While the Nittany Lions did not practice over the weekend, head coach Mark Pavlik noted the Nittany Lions have had several quality practices over the past week. 

"I thought that last week - Wednesday, Thursday, Friday - we had a pretty good week, and Monday we had another good practice," Pavlik said. "That's the first time they've been in that position this year. I think athletes and coaches to become creatures of habit and I think you get used to certain rhythms. I think it eventually just boils down to us having a job to do and getting it done."

A main point of emphasis for the Nittany Lions over the past few weeks has been playing with more consistency at the end of sets to finish off opponents. Pavlik noted, however, that this aspect of the game is strongly dependent on mental toughness, not something that can be fine-tuned in practice similar to other parts of the game.

"I don't think you change drills. I think you look at certain points during the drill and say, you have to score right now, right here," Pavlik said. "I think you try to get them in a mindset where you accentuate how important different elements of the game are and get them to think about that while they're in play." 

While Pavlik doesn't believe that a consistent go-to offensive option has conspicuously emerged in these types of situations, one of those Nittany Lions could be redshirt sophomore right-side hitter, Calvin Mende.

"Like most really intelligent people, [Mende]'s got a pretty steep learning curve," Pavlik said. "You don't have to say things to him more than once to have him try to incorporate it and you can tell after a couple of weeks that he's worked on it. Those types of athletes generally improve at a quicker rate." 

Mende is only the second 7-footer Pavlik has ever had in his tenure at Penn State, which is especially unique considering most individuals of that size play the middle blocker position. Mende is left-handed though and has become a great weapon at right-side instead.

"His length enables him to not have to be as perfect in what he does because it can make up for a lot of issues," Pavlik said. "[Mende] does a great job of making his offensive window for sets much wider than somebody who's much smaller than he is, and his ability to block balls when he's not even in perfect position is much greater."

Even though Mende, who was a First-Team All-EIVA performer last season, has already enjoyed plenty of success in his career at Penn State to this point, Pavlik believes he still has immense potential that he has not yet reached.

"I think the area he has improved the most is just his confidence and ability to handle anything that happens on the floor," Pavlik said. "He came from a high school background where he really didn't play at the highest level. He started to have some success and now that has kind of carried over. 

While Pavlik also noted Mende isn't near his maximum potential yet, he's still taking active steps toward getting there.

"I definitely think just the jump in physicality from high school and club all the way to college is incredibly different," Mende said. "The speed of the game picks up, but physically I've gotten so much stronger since being here." 

Mende was sidelined for several weeks with an injury that he suffered against USC back in January but has not missed a beat since his return.

"This is the second injury that I have had to come back from and still be expected to play at a high level after, so I'm kind of used to the mentality of making every opportunity after the injury count to bring yourself back to speed," Mende said. "It can become mentally tedious, but it's just something that you need to put your head down and down and do."

Donorovich Seeing Increased Role

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State dives into its bye week after playing perhaps the busiest part of its schedule this season. The Nittany Lions are fresh off of a seven-match stretch in a span of 17 days, featuring outings against many opponents ranked within the AVCA DI-II Top 15.

Head coach Mark Pavlik is looking forward to a week of, noting his team is beginning to peak at the right time.

"Against teams that are ranked above us, we play well enough to potentially end the match before it gets to five sets," Pavlik said. "We're not good in stretches of two or three points where we absolutely have to have one point, and I think if we turn that corner we can be pretty dangerous."

The aforementioned seven-match streak for the Nittany Lions included a four-match series against BYU, Hawaii, Lewis and Ohio State, all of which are ranked in the top 10 nationally. Despite finishing 0-4 in these matches, Pavlik took many positives from the string of matches. 

"It's what you do to win a national championship," Pavlik said. "You're going to have to play on a Friday, you're going to have to play on a Tuesday, a Thursday and a Saturday to win a national championship. So, you'll have four matches in eight days against good teams, so it gives you that sense of what it's going to be like in a month and a half." 

Over the past several matches, redshirt sophomore middle blocker, Jason Donorovich, has been entered in the starting lineup in place of redshirt senior Jalen Penrose.

Pavlik has been impressed with the energy and consistency Donorovich has brought to the court since being inserted into a starting role.

"With [Donorovich], you know what you're going to get out of him," Pavlik said. "He works really hard in transition, he works really hard with blocking and he's fairly good at independent hands where you'll see some blockers have to move both hands to do something - he can have his be independent of each other."

For Donorovich, it's all about doing what the team needs.

"I'm really trying to work on blocking because if you have a solid block it makes the job for the defenders behind you a lot easier," Donorovich said.

Penn State's two middles in Penrose and Donorovich play with contrasting styles, but both have been very effective at times this year for Penn State.

"You know Jalen is going to go in and put balls away consistently because there's not many people in the country who can stop him," Donorovich said. "I think what I bring is more defense and energy. Whatever we need, I think that's how coach decides who will play when. I think we have two really good options."

The area where Donorovich has separated himself lately, however, has been in consistency, which Pavlik says has made things easier for the team offensively. 

"He is finding ways to put the ball to the floor and block balls," Pavlik said. "It's all about trying to score points and if we can get six guys on the court that we know are going to score four points each and not give up any - there's 24 points right there. I think we can then find a way to score one more." 

With the week off, Penn State will have extra time to recover from its physically demanding schedule over the past couple of weeks. The following weekend, the Nittany Lions will be on the road against Sacred Heart and Harvard looking to close the gap in the EIVA standings behind George Mason. 

Penn State Back on Track

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State swept Saint Francis (25-20, 25-22, 25-19) Sunday afternoon to put an end to its five-match losing streak. In arguably the cleanest match of the year so far, the Nittany Lions committed just seven attacking errors and hit .370 for the match.

"We're playing the game well and we're putting ourselves in position to be in spots where we can win games," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I'll take four percent hitting errors like that."

Penn State turned in an exceptionally balanced effort offensively Sunday with five Nittany Lions chipping in at least seven kills. Aidan Albrecht and Calvin Mende led the way with 11 and 10 kills, respectively while Matt McLaren, Jason Donorovich and Kevin Gear combined for 22 kills and zero hitting errors.

Setter Luke Braswell spoke about just how much easier his job becomes when the offensive effort is balanced .

"It makes it easy on me and a lot harder on the other blockers because when a team's blockers are trying to guess where the set is going, they have no idea when everyone is hitting as well as they are right now," Braswell said.

Donorovich has seen an increased role over the last few games for the Nittany Lions in place of former starting middle, Jalen Penrose, playing very well.

"[Donorovich] works real hard in transition," Pavlik said. "He makes himself available to [Braswell] and when that happens the imposing middle has to respect where [Donorovich] is and where [Braswell] is at. There is a flow to our offense that he brings, and he is right at the cusp of becoming a very consistent offensive player."

Donorovich's teammates also offered similar praise for the redshirt sophomore middle blocker. 

"He is a really good blocker, especially in two-pass," Albrecht said. "It makes our defense a lot easier to play around. It also helps me out blocking too because he covers a lot of ground." 

It has been a difficult stretch for the Nittany Lions over the past few weeks, as they have now played seven matches in the last 17 days.

Despite the possible fatigue from playing that much volleyball in a relatively condensed frame, Penn State still managed to play one of its most efficient matches of the year.

"It's all about determination," McLaren said. "It's hard to play fatigued, but you've just got to keep talking to yourself and telling yourself you're okay and keep working hard."

Another big key to the Nittany Lion success Sunday was their productivity in transition. 

"We did a good job of staying engaged the entire way," Braswell said. "We worked hard in transition and tried to get good swings...if we stick to what we know - good approaches, good sets and hard swings - that's when we become pretty lethal in transition.

Penn State improved to 11-8 (6-2 EIVA) on the season and currently sits at second place in the conference standings behind George Mason. The Nittany Lions will have two critical EIVA matches next weekend on the road at Sacred Heart and Harvard.

Nittany Lions Remaining Confident

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will be back at Rec Hall this weekend after a long road trip to Hawaii for the Outrigger Invitational. While spending spring break across the country, the Nittany Lions played three matches against some of the nation's top competition.

The Nittany Lions are currently on a four-match losing streak, but despite the unfavorable results, head coach Mark Pavlik and the team believe they are beginning to play their best volleyball of the season.

"We played really well [in Hawaii]," Pavlik said. "We just have not had the results showing yet, but I like where we're at, I really do.

Pavlik said before the trip, the three-match span against BYU, Hawaii and Lewis would be a great measuring stick to where the team is at this point in the season.  

"I've been at this tournament enough to know that by the second match it almost feels like you're playing at midnight our time, and against Hawaii we just couldn't get moving," Pavlik said. "But I like where out serving is, that continues to improve. I thought are passers did a nice job against some very physical servers the teams had. It just seems like we're playing the game well right now." 

The Nittany Lions will now turn their attention to their fourth ranked opponent in a row, as they take on the ninth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes Friday night. In their meeting earlier this season, the defending national champions swept the Nittany Lions in Columbus. 

However, the last time Ohio State visited Rec Hall, Penn State defeated the then top-ranked Buckeyes in five sets last season. Interestingly, Penn State starting setter Luke Braswell was injured for that match, and Nathan Smith led Penn State to a huge upset win in replacement.

Smith, who saw time on the court in the matches against Hawaii and Lewis to give Braswell some rest, will not start the match against Ohio State, but the Nittany Lions have a reliable and experienced option behind Braswell should they need him.

"I think [Smith] is very quietly competitive, and he knows that he can win, and he proved that last year," Pavlik said.

Braswell and Smith have challenged each other over the last two seasons in practice every day, and they each bring different styles of setting to the table.

"[Braswell] tends to handle the ball a little bit higher above the net and gives you a bigger block up front and [Smith] tends to deliver the ball to the antenna a little bit better. It's just a different type of setter, but both work," Pavlik said.

"[Braswell] is very consistent and makes really good decsions, and his location is very good," Smith said. "I think I'm a bit more of a risk-taker, and my location is a bit more off, but I'll be a bit more deceptive. The balance between those two styles is something we can learn from each other.

Smith admits he was a bit nervous when Pavlik called his number during the Hawaii trip but eventually settled in and took full advantage of the opportunity.

"It was a really awesome opportunity," Smith said. "Just playing in front of a huge crowd in one of the best places to play volleyball in America was fun to be out there with the team. It is a bit flustering at first, but once you get into and being around people you play with every day, it's awesome to be out there with the guys."

Smith said the team will have some extra motivation for this weekend, but he also agreed with his coach - there is still plenty of reason for optimism.

"Nobody was happy about losing all three games last week, but I think the mentality is pretty good," Smith said. "We've gone in with the mindset to attack every play like it's your last point and trusting our training and getting to where we want to be at the end of the season. 

Penn State will look to knock off Ohio State at Rec Hall for the second year in a row at 7 p.m. Friday night. The Nittany Lions will then be right back on the floor Sunday at 4 p.m. for a match against EIVA foe Saint Francis.

Penn State Moving Past Split Weekend

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State will head back to the road this weekend for back-to-back matches against NJIT and Princeton. After dropping its first league match last Friday to George Mason, the Nittany Lions bounced back against Charleston the following night.

"They won the serve-pass battle and I think that they handled their offense better in non-perfect situations than ours did," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Penn State will have a second crack at the Patriots on April 7th, but Pavlik says for now the Nittany Lions must take it one match at a time and use that Friday match as a learning experience to improve moving forward.

The Nittany Lions are a team full of experienced and resilient individuals, which allowed them to rebound with few issues Saturday. Despite the outcome though, Penn State has been quite upbeat at practice this week, remaining confident about the future.

"I think we know what we can do," middle blocker Kevin Gear said. "There has been plenty of matches where we've been behind and then we've come back. We're a resilient bunch. We've done it so many times and believe that we're never really out of it."

A team with the experience Penn State has makes Pavlik's job much easier, as he can often let his veterans figure things out by themselves on the court without having to get heavily involved.

"I firmly believe that it's really them that leads to their success," Pavlik said. "In a match, I can't stop a rally, so they've got to get used to figuring it out themselves. In practice, we can create situations they'll experience in games so they know what options they have in the match situation and can be successful."

With a trip to Hawaii coming up for Penn State in two weeks, the Nittany Lions will take on BYU, Hawaii and Lewis, some of the top teams in the country.

First, Penn State will look to finish the first half of EIVA action on a high note this weekend. Pavlik mentioned that at this point in the season, it is all about making incremental improvements across the board, so the team can continue to separate itself in closer games. 

"I think we just need to take the same steps that we want to take at this point in the season," Pavlik said. "We've got to refine the offense, further refine the defense and make those small adjustments that give us more opportunities to put a couple more points on the board per game."

For Gear, it comes down to the amount of preparation Penn State is willing to put in.

"We need to take this weekend to prepare like we would against these top 10 teams that we're going to face in a couple of weeks," Gear said.

Despite an always competitive Outrigger Invitation that could be potentially be a big resume booster, Pavlik and Penn State will be challenged this week in two hostile environments.

"We're walking into their home environments, and nothing would make their season more than knocking us off in their home gym," Pavlik said. "We're going to have to play with some poise and just handle the crowd and be sure we're ready to play like we were against Charleston."

Penn State will take on NJIT Friday at 7 p.m. and be right back at it the following night at Princeton at the same time Saturday night.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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