By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com 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."
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By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com 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."
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - 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.
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com 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."
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Nittany Lions defeated NJIT on Friday and Rutgers - Newark on Saturday, winning both 3-0, the men's volleyball team extended its winning streak to 10-consecutive matches while allowing nearly the entire roster to gain experience on the court.
The Nittany Lions played evenly for the first four points and then began to break away from NJIT with aggressive swings and strong blocking. The players were able to close out each set without allowing the Highlanders to come closer than 10 points as they finished the sets 25-15, 25-12, and 25-13. The strong performance left head coach Mark Pavlik pleased with how the players handled themselves both physically and mentally.
"Mentally we played a match that was pretty solid for us," Pavlik said. "We did not make too many careless mistakes and we focused pretty well on what we could control. We followed the game plan well and we stayed physical with the ball."
One of the challenges that comes with gaining a huge lead is the ability to stay focused and not let the opposing team close the gap. However, with both the players on the court and on the bench, the team played tough and kept a strong focus.
"Sometimes when blowouts start to happen like this, it's really easy to get in the mindset of all we have to do is serve the ball," Pavlik said. "I thought we did a real nice job of controlling what we could control and maintain a focus of what we needed to do."
Helping maintain the focus for the Nittany Lions was Matt Callaway, who led the team in kills and blocks. Registering eight kills combined with six blocks earned the redshirt freshman the opportunity to be named the Mike Anderson Penn State Player of the Match as he continued to build momentum for the squad.
When the match went into the third set, the players knew what plays to look out for from NJIT. The team came out after intermission and got off to a quick 11-3 lead setting up the end of the match. For Callaway, as the match went on he became more and more comfortable and took advantage of the third set to try new things in a competitive setting.
"When you get off to a fast start like we did in game three - it's a lot easier to just keep playing all throughout the match and try some new things and get some new players in there, which is a lot of fun for everybody," Callaway said.
Taking the momentum from their strong performance against NJIT, the Nittany Lions carried their same mentality and determination into the next match against Rutgers-Newark, as they never allowed any of the three sets to end with a margin closer than eight points. They won straight sets with scores of 25-16, 25-17, and 25-13. The weekend left Pavlik pleased with the competitive focus they brought to the court both nights.
"We paid attention to detail and we really followed the game plan," Pavlik said. "We talked a lot about the roster. There wasn't any significant drop off when we made any changes whatsoever. We even threw some things at them that we didn't practice and things went really well."
Taking advantage of what Pavlik saw against NJIT and the St. Francis match, the staff took the opportunity to give more of the roster experience and build off of the energy already in Rec Hall. Of the 16 players on the roster, 13 of them saw playing time while the other three are redshirting this year.
At the service line, Aaron Russell put on a strong performance reaching a team-high of four aces. As he stepped up to the line, his focus was to put the other team in a tough position through his serves.
"I kind of went through the past few games and I didn't get an ace, but I definitely put them in tough positions serving," Russell said. "That's always my goal when I'm behind the service line. Not so much to get an ace, but more so to knock them out of the system. That doesn't show up in the stats, but I think consistently I've been able to show that and tonight I was able to get a couple of aces."
When Pavlik started to make substitutions, he was keeping in mind the length of the season and what would be best for some of the starters. One of the first to come out was Russell.
"It's a long season and he has made some big swings for us," Pavlik said. "We're reaching that time where we have to manage their bodies and anytime we can give them a little time off to recuperate, it's going to pay off for us in late April and early May."
The Nittany Lions get ready for two more home matches this weekend as they face Sacred Heart and Harvard on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 in Rec Hall before traveling to seven matches on the road.
Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As Aaron Russell continues to make play after play for the Nittany Lions, fans notice the energy he brings to the court and how he clicks with all of the other players. However, what fans might not notice is how technically sound Russell's game has become, especially since he hasn't always played as an outside hitter.
Russell has had the opportunity to not only learn the technical side of the sport from his older brother and teammate, Peter, but also from his father, Stew, who graduated from Penn State in 1986 as a student-athlete with a collegiate volleyball career. When Russell was growing up, his father stepped in and became Russell's coach on the club teams he was on, as well.
"He's had a big impact on my career. Ever since I was little he always taught me technique and I think that's helped me be successful so far," Russell said. "A lot of players don't know certain techniques or fundamental skills of volleyball like ball control. That's something I learned at a young age so that's helped me out. Now whenever he comes up and watches, after the game he can't help but coach me some so it's pretty fun."
When Russell first came to Penn State, he competed as middle hitter and had the most experience in this area. However, the coaches knew that with his body type and athleticism that they wanted to transform him into an outside hitter.
"We knew that when we recruited him, our long-range goal was to make him an outside hitter because of his movement skills, his size, but we also wanted to make sure he was comfortable his first year here and we wanted to get him onto the court in some way," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We threw him on the court as a middle and he did a really good job in the middle for us, but then last year we moved him to the outside."
Although switching positions could present tough challenges, Russell adjusted well and relied on the skills that he learned at a young age to make the transition easier for him.
"I came here as a middle hitter and they don't pass or really play much defense," Russell said. "I think that all the technique and the fundamentals that I learned early on really helped me out because I already had a jump on it. I wasn't just starting now so it made the transition better."
One aspect that Russell has been working on since his time at Penn State is his passing game. The changes he has made from last year to this point of the season have attributed to his success on the court and his comfort of the relatively new position.
"Last year he had success, but you could just see he was playing the outside hitter position like a middle who was moved," Pavlik said. "This year, he's totally different. He looks so much more comfortable passing. I think he gives better direction, better heat to his swings. You can just see Aaron's whole game improve and now he just looks so much more comfortable."
Before he steps on the court to compete, Russell clears his mind and reminds himself of what he has learned - to forget about any mistakes and just to play and compete. This mentality adds to his comfort on the court and gives the coaching staff ease knowing where the team is headed.
"His comfort makes me feel good about where we are as a team right now," Pavlik said. "Aaron's coming along at a rate we really thought he would - he might even be exceeding that rate right now. That is certainly something that gives the staff great comfort knowing that he's on the right path and we want to keep him going in the direction he needs to be going to make our team better."
After 10 matches, Russell leads the team in kills, registering 145, and he has made 65 digs for the Nittany Lions. The stats he contributes to the team combined with the hard work he puts into each and every practice gives the junior the confidence to continue developing into an even stronger outside hitter that the team can depend on.
"The faith that our team has in him, we can say that if we need to ride one person, Aaron can carry us a little bit," Pavlik said. "When you have that faith, your offense starts to evolve off of him and the defense has to know where he's at and pay attention to him and that opens up opportunities to other hitters. I think your just starting to see him scratch the surface of becoming an outstanding outside hitter."
By Jackson Thibodeau, GoPSUsports.com
Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Strong defense and solid serving helped the Penn State men's volleyball team sweep Erskine and Pfeiffer on Friday and Saturday, respectively, en route to their eighth-straight win.
Saturday's contest in the South Gym of Rec Hall marked the fifth match in eight days for head coach Mark Pavlik's squad.
"Five matches in eight days makes me feel like I'm on an NHL playoff run here," Pavlik said. "This team is very good at grinding this thing out and even better at walking into a training gym with the idea of meaningful reps."
Friday's sweep of non-conference foe Erskine (25-14, 25-23, 25-23) in Rec Hall was characterized by a quick Nittany Lion start that established the tone and momentum. Penn State swiftly took a 6-2 lead in the opening set in which they outhit their opponents .403-.180.
"I don't know if they had a ball that cleared our air space (in the first set)," Pavlik said. "I was very pleased with our start."
Juniors Aaron Russell and Nick Goodell each tallied double-digit kills in the winning effort against the Flying Fleet. Russell's performance earned him Mike Anderson Penn State Player of the Match honors as he led the team with 13 kills and a .667 hitting percentage while also registering an ace and four digs.
"One thing that Coach Jay Hosack says is that the game is very organic," Russell said. "Today I kind of saw the openings. I think we ran an effective offense and spread out very well."
The style of play on the Erskine side was a little different than what the Blue and White are used to seeing. Shorter blockers and slower serves weren't necessarily a disadvantage for the visitors, who stayed close with Penn State in the second and third sets.
"The pace that they serve with is a little bit slower than what we are used to," Pavlik said on Friday. "Those serves were coming in slower and falling. Their serving allowed them to stay close in games two and three."
On Saturday, the squad put together another sweep--with visiting Pfeiffer at the losing end (25-18, 25-20, 25-19). Once again, the visitors' playing style prompted some adjustments from Pavlik and his coaching staff. A strong defensive effort, headlined by redshirt junior Connor Curry's nine digs, guided the Nittany Lions to their eighth win.
"We've been playing some pretty good defense in the first month of the season," Pavlik said. "Other teams have players too that practice and have pretty good arms. But I'm pleased with where we're at defensively and we can only get better."
It was Russell leading the offensive attack again on Saturday, leading the team with 17 kills on .560 hitting with an ace and seven digs. Goodell wasn't far behind with his 15 kills and a team-leading three aces. Pfeiffer's talented blockers created challenges for Penn State's hitters early in the match, but adjustments and some mind games countered the Falcon's defense.
"We talked about in our scouting report that their blockers are very good and we have to keep them guessing," Russell said.
Erskine traveled to Happy Valley from South Carolina and Pfeiffer made the journey from North Carolina, but both teams arrived in Rec Hall with sizeable fan bases behind them. The schools are much smaller in terms of student body compared to Penn State, and treated the opportunity to play in University Park as a great learning and building experience.
"We are a school of about 600 people and coming to Penn State is a great treat for us," said Erskine head coach Derek Schmitt. "This has been outstanding--the hospitality in Happy Valley has been great and hopefully we'll be back again soon to play in Rec Hall."
"They are two young programs doing some really great things," Pavlik said.
The Nittany Lions will be able to catch their breath a bit and work on some adjustments in practice this week before hosting NJIT on Friday at 7 p.m. for a Valentine's Day showdown. The Highlanders (4-2), enter Happy Valley fresh off a loss to Fairfield last weekend.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As true freshman Joey Farrell saw his first opportunity to play in Rec Hall against Mount Olive, middle hitter Matt Seifert was the one to give him last minute advice before he stepped on the court and the confidence needed to make his collegiate debut.
"When I went out on the court, Matt just looked at me right in the eyes and said, 'You've got this. Don't be nervous.' It was my first time playing and he helped me calm down. He's a captain so him believing in me means a lot and helped me relax. I really look up to him," Farrell said.
Since the Reading, Pa., native has been in Farrell's position of transitioning from being a new face to the program into playing in front of a lively crowd; he knew how to lead the freshman.
"I've been there before so I try to throw my two cents out or give my opinions on things whenever needed, but our freshman do a really good job adjusting and they've done a great job so far this year," Seifert said. "I think they've seen us go through it and it's easy for them to take coaching from us and the coaches."
As Seifert was adjusting from being a redshirt freshman to becoming a starter he learned from the leaders before him. The upperclassmen told him "don't be afraid to make mistakes" which has stayed with him and attributed to his success on the court.
"If you're in there as a starter, the coaches believe that you can do it and they have the expectations that you can hold that role and perform well," Seifert said. "One of the bigger things I learned from the older guys was just let the game come to me and to not try to do anything that's out of your reach."
As a starter, Seifert has made19 total blocks and registered 41 kills throughout eight matches. Over the course of his time learning from head coach Mark Pavlik, Seifert has made improvements to his blocking and attacking helping him to become more dominant on the court.
"His blocking has gotten so much better over the course of the last 12 to 18 months," Pavlik said. "With his attacking, he can become very, very intimidating and we've seen strong stretches, but we're trying to put that together right now. On the court, you put those two things together with his competitive fire; everybody will look at him first. You can't miss him on the court."
That competitive fire that keeps the redshirt sophomore going after starting volleyball his freshman year of high school is fueled by his hatred of losing.
"I think I hate losing more than anyone I've ever played with," Seifert said. "I might not show it, but in my mind I hate losing. You play to win a game for obvious reasons. If you play competitively, it's not about shaking hands after the game anymore - you're expected to win every time you step on the court. Knowing the program I play for and my attitude towards losing is what drives me."
His competitive edge is one aspect that helps keep the team moving in the right direction. For Pavlik, having leaders who keep the team on the right path allows him to truly coach instead of being the one who motivates them.
"If that happens internally with the guys that are actually competing it's a blessing and I think we have that with this group," Pavlik said. "(Matt) does a really good job of being the heart and soul of our team on the court competitively. He doesn't back down. He just keeps doing what he does for as long as he can and as well as he can. I think that really permeates to the guys on the court and off the court."
Seifert's ability to perform under pressure combined with the qualities of being a strong leader, he was selected by his teammates in January as one of the captains to lead the Nittany Lions.
"Through the fall, we discuss what characters they value in the person who's going to represent them to the staff," Pavlik said. "Then the guys get the fall to be with each other and make a decision on who lives up to those ideals. We try to guide them through what the job description is and what we expect out of them as coaches. If we do our jobs right up front and they work hard at making sure what they tell us they want is what they truly want - it usually comes out really well."
One aspect that makes Seifert a strong leader for the Nittany Lions is the desire he has for this team to achieve at the highest level.
"Certainly on a personal level there's no question of his desire that he wants to become the best player that he can become, the best student-athlete that he can become," Pavlik said. "He knows what it means to be a leader. I think some of the best things Matt does is when nobody is looking."
Although Seifert now has the official title of being a captain with added expectations to be a strong leader, he still acts the same way both on the court and in the classroom.
"Nothing has really changed just because I got a "C" put next to my name on the roster," Seifert said. "I'm just a voice for the guys. I'm honored and it's a big deal that I got chosen, but it really doesn't change my outlook on how I play or how I act."
As leaders emerge and go through the team, the athletes begin to build a legacy that helps shape the program. According to Pavlik when Seifert graduates, his legacy will be felt for four to five years after that.
"I think captains who do the right things for the right reasons - their impact and their legacy's to their teams exist far after they're done playing here," Pavlik said. "Seifert's going to be done playing in three years but he'll have two more classes of freshman to really impact. He's like the other great leaders we've had in this program. His legacy will be felt for quite a while on this group of freshman."
By Chelsea Howard, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's volleyball team capitalized on the opportunity to put on a show in front of its home crowd over the weekend en route to defeating Mount Olive and St. Francis.
In the first match of the weekend, the Nittany Lions controlled the ball against Mount Olive, winning straight sets (25-14, 25-13, 25-19) while putting up an evenly distributed offense. Setter Taylor Hammond was key in getting the ball where it needed to go with 26 assists and a .406 hitting efficiency.
"You want your offense to do whatever it takes to win," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I like what Taylor's doing right now. The distribution of points during the match goes to the people who put the ball away. Right now we're getting great play from all of our hitters. It doesn't matter who Taylor is giving the ball to. Our offense is taking shape pretty well."
Helping lead the offense, redshirt freshman Spencer Sauter tallied seven kills for the night while working his way towards earning his first Mike Anderson Penn State Player of the Match honor. Also leading the offense was true freshman Joey Farrell making his first collegiate appearance with six kills, two digs, two blocks, and
Coming off of the bench as one of the youngest players on the court can be intimidating, however, Farrell handled the pressure through the confidence he's developed in the practice gym and the support from his teammates.
"I've had a lot of upperclassmen that have been mentoring me," Farrell said. "I've followed in the footsteps of all of these guys and you have to have that sort of confidence to be able to stay on the court with them. My teammates also had confidence in me. When they have confidence in you, it makes you have confidence in yourself. "
One of the upperclassmen that helped Farrell stay calm was senior Peter Russell, who has been in the same shoes as the outside hitter. From his debut, Russell was impressed with Farrell's performance.
"For most of my freshman and sophomore years, I came off the bench whenever I got playing time and it's definitely not an easy thing to do," Russell said. "There was no lapse what so ever. (Joey) came in, got set, and a couple balls into it he got some kills. I was impressed with how well he played, but not surprised. He's been showing this kind of talent and intensity in the practice gym. It's nice to see it pay off on the court as well."
Farrell wasn't the only player who had to play straight off the bench. True freshman Chris Nugent also made significant contributions on the scoreboard in second appearance at the collegiate level.
"It's tough to come off the bench cold," Pavlik said. "I can coach speak all I want about being ready and making sure you stay with the game. We had great contribution from the bench and that's what you look for. These guys practice hard too so we just try to make sure we get them in the position where their strengths can add to the score board too. "
With another non-conference match behind them, the Nittany Lions had a quick turnaround before facing their first EIVA conference match of 2014. Penn State topped St. Francis in four sets (25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 25-18) on Saturday night.
Penn State closed out the first two matches strong, both with a four-point margin. After coming up short in the third set, the team came out with even more intensity jumping to a 4-1 lead early on. From there the Nittany Lions used their blocking and serving to their advantage.
"(St. Francis) is capable of putting together long stretches of good play," Pavlik said. "We just felt that our serving would wear them down a bit. I thought in game four that's exactly what happened. I also thought our blocking picked up in game three and four and we were able to wait them out there."
Junior Aaron Russell helped gain momentum with his serving making four aces. He also had 15 kills and registered two blocks. His brother, Peter, added 13 kills helping to close out the match in front of 1,825 volleyball fans. With a crowd that size and the majority of them club athletes, it was easy for Peter to feed off of the energy to perform for them.
"It's always a little bit different when the invitational for the club tournament is here," Peter said. "I remember coming up in high school and watching these big matches and watching Penn State and thinking those guys were the guys I wanted to be. It's kind of surreal now that kids are looking up to us now. It's a lot of fun putting on a show for the club kids."
With two more victories to add to their record, Penn State will use the next few days to prepare for their next matchup on Wednesday against Ohio State in Rec Hall.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - From making the cover of ESPN Rise magazine during his senior year of high school to putting up strong stats for the Nittany Lions, there is no question as to whether or not Nick Goodell brings a strong work ethic to the court each and every day.
After playing soccer for most of his childhood, Goodell and his friends decided to try out volleyball for the first time. In eighth grade, Goodell realized he had a natural talent for the sport and continued pushing himself to get better throughout high school.
Little did he know that switching to volleyball would set him up for a collegiate career at Penn State. After all these years, his enjoyment for the sport is what keeps him going.
"The biggest thing for me is it's still fun," Goodell said. "It's just easy to have fun with these guys. The only motivation I have is seeing how people progress. I love seeing some of the freshman come in and see how they can go from being so raw into complete players and really good kids. Also just getting better myself is exciting."
While Goodell helps the underclassmen adjust and improve their volleyball game through his leadership and his own experiences, head coach Mark Pavlik has noticed the development Goodell has made from the first day he stepped onto campus to where he is now.
"Nick has matured very well from day one as a redshirt freshman trying to figure out how things work academically, socially, and athletically here," Pavlik said. "Everything we've asked him to do - he's done it. Whether he agreed with it or not, he has put his best effort into trying to move himself along the right path in everything - not just in volleyball. Nick has been one of the guys I've really enjoyed watching the journey he has taken here."
Through his journey, Goodell went from a redshirt freshman learning the collegiate game to being one of the most dominant players that the Nittany Lions can depend on. Making the transition from redshirting to starting, Goodell knew he would have to adjust to having more responsibilities on the court.
"As a redshirt freshman, you're only responsibilities are yourself and to get stronger and as far as putting points on the board that's got to wait a year," Pavlik said. "When that time came, Nick understood that the work he put in his first year was only the start of what was asked of him. His responsibilities as an opposite are we want him to block well, we want him to serve tough, we want him to hit the ball. I think he's getting more and more confident with that already."
The outside hitter has done just that. After registering 57 kills, six block assists, and seven service aces in five matches; Goodell has proven he has the motivation to keep getting better. One thing that's driven his determination and work ethic is doing everything with a purpose.
"We had lift at six in the morning during the fall and one of the things we always said is if we have to be here, we might as well make it useful and not just go through every motion," Goodell said. "That was the biggest thing was we are trying to be the best that we can be in everything that we do. Same thing with practice, our coaches have been saying every touch that you make - make it meaningful."
The mentality the redshirt junior brings to the team of doing everything the right way helps inspire the other players to give it their all, especially for his teammate Peter Russell.
"Goodell has definitely taken on a leadership role and he's always there to provide a spark," Russell said. "When you see someone busting their butt whether it's in practice or in the weight room or wherever, you almost feel guilty if you're not giving 100 percent when you see someone like that giving 100 percent no matter what it is. Goodell is one of those guys that always wants to get better no matter what aspect of the game.
The hard work he puts in is not only obvious to the players, but also to the coaching staff.
"I just see him from a coaches eye on the court and I know that when he's working hard and when he's fully invested in what we're doing, I think everybody else buys into it also," Pavlik said. "Nick is somebody that is not afraid to work hard whether it's in the weight room or whether it's academically. If Nick is going to achieve anything it's through the work he puts in. It's not that he's more gifted than somebody else in any given area - he's just not afraid to work hard."