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Seifert Leading Nittany Lions

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Leadership is a key component on all teams in all levels of sports. For the Penn State men's volleyball team, the leadership extends from head coach Mark Pavlik, all the way down through the ranks of the team. However, if you were to ask the Nittany Lions who the leader of the team was, they would all point to captain Matt Seifert.

Seifert is a fifth-year senior and is now in his third year of serving as a team captain. The captaincy is voted on by both the players and the coaches, as coach Pavlik explained.

"Most of the time the players decide on the captains," said Pavlik. "The coaches can step in if they feel otherwise, but this group has always gotten it right when it has come to choosing the captain and I think Seif is a perfect example of that."

Seifert is a calming force both on and off the court. Though his six-foot-nine frame can be intimidating, Pavlik says that he is one of the most approachable guys on the team and is always looking for ways to help people out. He believes that is one of the main reasons why Seifert has been chosen to fill the role of captain for three years now. Seifert says that he doesn't think much of the actual title of captain, but that he is much more humbled by the fact that his teammates have chosen him now for multiple years to lead the team.

"For me, what means the most is that the guys picked me to be in that role for them," said Seifert. "Just because I'm the captain doesn't mean anything, I still get treated the same I'm just more of a communicator from the coaches to the guys."

Despite Seifert's humility, Pavlik says that he is much more than just a communicator between himself and the rest of the team.

"He isn't afraid to say something and he understands that keeping a team functioning together through the whole season is very important," said Pavlik.

In many people's minds, there are two types of leaders - leaders by example and vocal leaders. Pavlik says that the reason Seifert is such a good leader is because he is great at exemplifying both types of leadership.

"I would say that he is a perfect combination of both," said Pavlik. "I think he models the effort level that we want everyone to have and that is a great quality. I think what you really want in a leader is someone who can stand up in the middle of the locker room and not be afraid to say something."

Seifert also believes that he has both qualities of leadership and says that he understands that being the captain that is expected of him.

"I know that if I talk, the guys will listen," said Seifert. "I think I communicate really well with a lot of the guys and relay messages to all of them pretty well. On the court it's kind of the other way around, I just try and stay as calm as I can. I think if the other guys on the court see that I'm calm they know that we are in a good spot and everything is going well. I don't believe that there should be any added tension by saying too much when you're on the court."

Pavlik says that what really separates Seifert from lots of other players he knows is his work ethic on and off the court. Seifert has battled through injuries for a lot of his career and Pavlik says that he has continued to work hard to get where he is now and to continue to compete at a high level.

"Seif is just a beast in the weight room," said Pavlik. "I don't think he has ever been afraid of the weights, they may have been afraid of him at times, but never the other way around. He has battled a lot of injuries but Seif at 100 percent is really really good. Even when he is 80% he is a very good volleyball player and you know he will always battle for us."

Being a fifth-year senior, this is Seifert's last chance to win a national championship. Add the fact that Penn State will be hosting the national semifinals and finals at Rec and you have the recipe for storybook ending. The finals are also the most intense time of the season and Pavlik says that Seifert has done a great job of preparing the team for the possibility of a tournament run.

"I think Seif has a real good view of what it takes to get there," said Pavlik. "We have to take care of business in the regular season and EIVA first so we can't get ahead of ourselves. I think he has been doing a very appropriate job of letting the guys know 'here is what we have to do first'. The ultimate goal is to get there, but he knows there is a process to go through."

For Seifert and the whole Nittany Lion team, the goal is to walk out of their own locker room for the last game of the season. As Pavlik mentioned, Seifert is fully aware of not only what it takes to get there, but also the uniqueness of the opportunity ahead.

"We have the possibility for an opportunity that not many Penn State teams have had," said Seifert. "Instead of making us nervous I told the guys that it's a unique opportunity so let's take it pretty seriously. It's my last year and I'm from Pennsylvania so it's pretty cool to finish my senior season where I started it."

With Seifert at the helm, the Nittany Lions seem poised for a tournament run, knowing full well what they have to do to achieve the ultimate end goal of a national championship. The team returns to action this Saturday against Mount Olive with first serve set for 7 p.m.


Competitiveness and Depth a Recipe for Success for Nittany Lions

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The mark of a great team isn't necessarily how much star power it has. Sure, having a superstar boosts your chances of winning games just because of talent alone, but the mark of a true team is felt through their eagerness and willingness to battle every time they step out on to the court.

For the Penn State men's volleyball team, this type of competitive nature has already been prescribed by head coach Mark Pavlik as the team's DNA.

"We find a way to win," said Pavlik. "That seems to be this team's trademark right now. They are as competitive as any body and they are going to scratch and claw and do whatever it takes to win matches."

That competitiveness was one of the primary factors in Penn State's straight set victory against IPFW last Saturday. The Nittany Lions seemed to be off their game from the moment the first ball was served, up until the midway point in the second set. However, it was their competitiveness that kept them a float and gave them a chance to figure things out.

"Against Fort Wayne, in that first set, we just didn't have it," said Pavlik. "But the guys kept fighting and we found a way to get out of it and then we started playing better from there."

Redshirt sophomore Jalen Penrose echoes his coach's thoughts on the team's competitiveness being a key for them in every match.

"We just want to work hard at all times," said Penrose. We know if we stay in that mindset, no matter how bad we play we will be a tough team to handle."

Not only was the competiveness of the Nittany Lions on hand during the match on Saturday, but also the team depth was thrust in to the spotlight. Andrew Roberts, normally known as a service specialist, was placed in the outside hitter role and rose to the occasion. Roberts finished with nine kills was one of the sparks that propelled the Nittany Lions to victory.

"Andrew has been asked to go in and serve in multiple national championships," said Pavlik. "He has seen a lot of things and he has the experience just about anywhere on the court to get things done."

The performance from Roberts is typical of the norm on this Penn State team. Team depth is something that Pavlik knows can be used as a strength and also something members of the team realize can be very beneficial on any given night.

"It's nice to have depth because if anyone isn't having a great day, no one else is worried," said Penrose. "No matter who comes out on the floor we know the play level and competitiveness doesn't drop off because some parts change."

Roberts is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Penn State's depth. The Nittany Lions boast a plethora of players on the bench who provided an experienced presence on the court. Aidan Albrecht is another Penn Stater who has, in just a few short years on the team, already gained more experience than many players do at his age.

"Aidan is another guy for us who has really stepped up at times," said Pavlik. "He was asked to step in and play middle last year and he did so pretty well. He wont be thrust into situation and say 'hey I haven't been here before' and I think that really pays off for us."

While Penn State has a lot of young experience on the bench, they also have an even younger, possibly less experienced presence on the court night in and night out. Royce Clemens, who has been starting at libero all season for the Nittany Lions, has been thrown right into the fire since he arrived at Penn State. Five of the freshman's first six games in collegiate volleyball have been against team ranked inside the top 15. Pavlik believes that this experience has been invaluable for Clemens and that it will pay off down the road.

"I think that has been immensely beneficial for him," said Pavlik. "Not only in gaining the experience playing against some of the physical team's that we have played against, but also gaining his personal confidence. Royce just keeps going out there and getting better and better every day."

The length of each season presents each individual athlete with a chance to step up and help his time. For Roberts, it very well may have been Saturday, but for other players that time has yet to come, but Pavlik says that it certainly will for each and every one of his players.

"I don't think I have ever coached a year where it has been the same seven guys out on the court night in and night out," said Pavlik. "At some point in the year, everyone is going to get called upon and that's something that we try and get across to them. That's why we say you have to be ready every day in practice and never think that you won't be coming in the game at some point."

Setter Taylor Hammond also echoed the team's ability to plug in pieces when needed and produce a complete effort. After last Saturday's match, when IPFW targeted Hammond with the majority of their serves, he commented on how well his teammates on the floor filled in for his role when he couldn't.

"We knew that their opposite was going to serve at me," said Hammond. "A lot of the guys like Matt [Callaway] and Chris [Nugent] did a good job providing those second contacts when I could, it speaks to how well balanced we are."

With the Nittany Lions not only able to produce a high quality caliber of volleyball off the bench, but also to be able to count on the players on the court to fill different roles, the team has a multitude of weapons at their disposal. The depth and competitiveness of the team seems to be their calling cards this season and according to Pavlik and his players, that's going to serve them well down the road.

Penn State will take on Saint Francis this Friday on the road. First serve is slated for just after 7 p.m.

Nugent Steers Lions to First Weekend Sweep of Season

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11636506.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Replacing Aaron Russell was never a thought coming in to this season for the Penn State men's volleyball team. But after sweeping through their weekend series against Ball State and IPFW, the Nittany Lions (4-2) may be starting to find a rhythm.

Chris Nugent, the leading attacker on this Penn State team, displayed why he is the best all around player on the Nittany Lion squad and why he may be the best bet in filling some Aaron Russell-like roles on the floor. Nugent complied 28 kills in the two matches, hitting well over .500 for the weekend.

Nugent showed his versatility with cut shots, roll shots, back row quicks and all around power at times. The junior is a six-rotation player, who leads not only with his attacking prowess but also with his power behind the service line. The well-rounded play of Nugent was in full effect on Friday and Saturday. However, no matter his stats on the court over the weekend, Nugent stayed modest and was quick to deflect the praise to his teammates.

"I never really expect to get a kill, I always hope I can get one," said Nugent. "When Taylor [Hammond] puts it up there for me to take hard swings it makes it pretty easy because I know where that ball is going to be all the time."

Even his approach to hitting seems simple when Nugent explains it. On the court it may seem complex, moving around, taking swings from back row and front row, but Nugent sees it a different way.

"I just see the ball go up in the air from Taylor (Hammond) and try and hit it past the block," said Nugent. "I don't think too much about it."

The best attribute for Nugent this season is filling a role that Russell filled so effectively all of last year, stepping up when the game starts to get tough. He is a dynamic player at all times, but brings a sense of calm to his team when they need him the most.

"I try not to do anything differently, I just try and stay confident no matter what the situation is," said Nugent. "The big thing is I try not to let the game effect how I'm playing and just try and keep hitting high hard swings."

Nugent would be the first to tell you that he was not solely responsible for the stellar effort put forth this weekend by the Nittany Lions. In game one, it was his teammate Jalen Penrose who proved to be electric with 15 kills on 25 swings. Penrose is one of, if not the most dynamic force on the Penn State team and it showed with a great performance in game one.

"I just treat every game like a new game," said Penrose. "I wanted to finish all of Taylor's good passes with good swings and was able to for the most part."

In game two, the supporting role fell on a more unassuming character in Andrew Roberts. Roberts, known more for his role as a serving specialist on the team, stepped in during the second set for a struggling Penrose and had an immediate impact on the court.

"He really helped out a lot," said Nugent. "I was able to get single blocks to hit past and they had to pay a lot more attention to Andrew because he was hitting so well so he really helped the whole team."

Roberts has been on the team for four years now and is one of the veterans who head coach Mark Pavlik leans on for leadership. He also knows the system extremely well due to the amount of time he has been a Nittany Lion.

"He's an old man," said Pavlik. "He did a great job coming in and filling a role for us. He knows the system very well and he is a reliable player so we feel confident putting him in a lot of different scenarios."

Roberts compiled nine kills on the night and hit over .400. He was consistent and really provided a rhythm for the Nittany Lions who were lacking just that in the first set.

"I wasn't really sure how it was going to go," said Roberts. "After I got that first kill I started to get into a rhythm and then I just played my game and took swings like I know how to."

Coming off their first weekend sweep of the year, Penn State has now won seven sets in a row and nine of its last 10. The Nittany Lions will have a lighter schedule next weekend as they only play one game. They will be away at St. Francis on Saturday. 

Nittany Lions' Grinding Mentality Could Make Them a Crowd Pleaser

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11624779.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every sports season is a grind. It is no easy feat to play 30-plus games, while practicing and training when you're not playing, not to mention there is the added pressure of classes for collegiate athletes.

Everything about each season encompasses this grind. When you play at a high level, nothing comes easy. Hard work is necessary and vital for a team's success.

For the Penn State men's volleyball team, this blue-collar style of preparation and competition is nothing new. In fact, the entire 2016 team quite literally embodies what the grind is and what it means to be grinders.

The loss of key pieces from last year's team has been well documented. Aaron Russell was one of the most dominant players in the nation and Connor Curry and Nick Goodell were key components of a very strong starting six. However, despite the pieces that they lost, Penn State is off to a solid 2-2 start with wins over USC and Lewis. Coach Mark Pavlik is very pleased with the start and believes that once again, he has a special team here in Happy Valley.

"I think this team is going to be a crowd pleaser," said Pavlik. "They have a work ethic and an energy that I think is fun to watch for everyone who does."

Last year's team had the same energy, led by the emotional and physical leader Russell. Though this team might not have same star power, it embodies the same intensity that the teams before have forged.

"I think that it is something inherent that has developed over a long period of time," said Pavlik. "Each year there are new personalities added to it and they either add to that dynamic, or dampen it and to me it seems that this year's team really enhances that work ethic."

That work ethic was on display against Lewis as Penn State outlasted the Flyers in a five-set thriller. The match was back and forth, but the Nittany Lions never conceded.

"We never stopped playing," said Pavlik. "We were down 17-11 in game two and I was thinking that it may be a short night and then all of a sudden we hit stride. I don't want to say we flipped a switch because that wasn't it, we just grinded it out through all five sets."

There are obviously adjustments to be made in refining the game of the Nittany Lion players, but the work ethic and grinding mentality that Penn State has displayed so far this season can't necessarily be taught, more so, they can just be absorbed. This was evident during Saturday's match when Royce Clemens committed three straight over passes to close the fifth set.

"When Royce walked back into the huddle after that, the look on his face wasn't one of fear," said Pavlik. "It was a real competitive response and he just wanted to get back out there and get another opportunity."

Though grinding is at the forefront of Penn State's success, Pavlik thinks that that doesn't necessarily characterize this team's personality. Instead he feels like the process will take time and eventually reveal itself later down the road.

"I think you'll see this team's personality in about a month or so," said Pavlik. "They are still gelling right now; they have been through four tough matches and I love the way they have stuck together."

With Penn State hosting the national semifinals and finals this year, there will be a buzz around Pennsylvania all season in regards to men's volleyball. Pavlik thinks that this team's "crowd pleasing" mentality will aid the buzz even more.

"I think that the general sensibility of everyone in Central Pennsylvania is to work hard, enjoy what you're doing, enjoy who you're doing it with and let's see what happens," said Pavlik. "I think people get behind that. You don't need to strut around, again the general sense of central Pennsylvania is do your job and get it done and be happy with that."

Penn State will look to get the job done once again this coming Friday as they host 14th-ranked Ball State. First serve is set for just after 7 p.m. at Rec Hall. 

Nittany Lions Looking to Build Momentum During Early Schedule

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11612920.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Revenge won't be on the mind of the Penn State Nittany Lions men's volleyball team as they head to Lewis for their match Saturday against the Flyers.

"They knocked us out of the tournament last year, but we knocked them out the year before," said Head Coach Mark Pavlik. "So in that respect, it's a draw."

Already in this early 2016 season, the Penn State team has faced ranked opponents USC (No. 13), UCLA (No. 2) and Loyola (No. 6), three of the top teams in the nation. The first three matches for Penn State have been hard fought contests and the match against Lewis should be no different.

"Every season is obviously different," said Pavlik. "But the guys who have been in this program for a few years now know that this will be a battle, it always is. History doesn't really enter in to my thinking, it wont score us any points."

This entire 2016 season will be a battle for the Penn State team as the Lions are not only once again one of the top programs in the nation, but they also have a little extra pressure on them as they will be the hosts for the 2016 Men's Volleyball Collegiate National Championship.

"I think this group of guys wants to walk out of their own locker room for the last match of the season," said Pavlik. "I think that serves as motivation enough. I believe we are the flagship for Pennsylvania volleyball on the men's side and the community always rally's around us come the end of the season and I expect that to be the case come May as well."

Though each season possesses its own type of adversity, Penn State has already faced some in having to replace star outside hitter Aaron Russell. However, Pavlik has taken a matter of fact approach to the situation saying graduation and losing players like that is all part of the collegiate game.

"I think you're always game planning for something like that in a sense," said Pavlik. "I didn't wake up yesterday and realize suddenly that Aaron was gone. It's tough to see a guy like that go, but you have to game plan and understand what you need to do in terms of recruiting and coaching so that you don't really take any steps back when someone leaves."

Although Russell may be gone, Penn State has some young talent that has already shown itself in these early matches in the form of Jalen Penrose and Chris Nugent. Penrose secured 17 kills in the first two matches of the season and possess the athleticism to be a dynamic player for a few years. Nugent is another solid figure who can play all six rotations effectively and thinks the game extremely well.

"I think Nugent has handled himself very well and has played like a seasoned veteran," said Pavlik. We really like his consistency as a player. I also really like the physicality that we have got from Jalen. He is going to score a lot of points for us and the opponents and that's something we have to address, but I really liked how he has played."

Penn State is set to face its fourth ranked opponent in their fourth game of the season when they take on Lewis. First serve is set for just after 7 p.m. on Saturday as the Nittany Lions look to notch a weekend split following Thursday's 3-0 decision at Loyola. 

VIDEO: 2014-15 Year in Review with Sandy Barbour

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com talks with Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour to review a superb 2014-15 season for Penn State Athletics.





Follow GoPSUsports.com's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2014-15 Season Highlights

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's 2014-15 season was one marked by excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community. GoPSUsports.com takes a look back at the campaign in a season highlight reel.


Season Draws to a Close for Nittany Lions

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11072564.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The end goal was so close, they could almost taste it.

Penn State's roller coaster season came to a difficult close Thursday night after the Nittany Lions (21-10) fell to the top-seeded Lewis Flyers (27-3) in four sets (20-25, 25-22, 16-25, 20-25) at Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University.

"I think we created opportunities, and I thought we got some good swings, but we could not score points easily against [Lewis]," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I thought we had some good swings against them, but that I thought was the difference."

Since this was as a tight a group of players Pavlik has ever coached, emotions were running high for the Nittany Lions following the match.

For the four seniors, it was difficult to say goodbye to a program that has meant so much to them.

Mythical Mike
If you do not know Mike Hobson, he was an integral part of the program the past two years as a student manager. His efforts are difficult to quantify into words, so here is how his head coach and teammates will remember him.

"He's the most undervalued person on our team," redshirt senior libero Connor Curry said. "He gets absolutely no recognition for what he does, but the amount of hours that he's logged throughout the season and the ways that he's helped us - he's completely sold out for the team this year and last year, too - we owe a lot to him as a team."

"He's always willing to do whatever our team needs," senior outside hitter Aaron Russell said. "That's what you want in anyone on a team.... I had a lot of fun having him as part of this team."

"I will go on record to tell anybody if they want a young up-and-coming coach, he's going to be getting his graduate degree from Northwest Missouri State, and he's going to be helping their women's team out," Pavlik said. "Keep an eye on him, he's worth it.

Groovy Goodell
"He's a fun guy to play with," Curry said. "He's hot and cold a lot of the time, up and down personality wise, but that's what makes it fun. He's been my roommate for the last three years, so I've gotten to know him pretty well. It's been fun."

A 2015 Second Team All-EIVA honoree, Goodell persevered through injury to finish his last rodeo on a high note. The redshirt senior tallied 30 kills and 11 digs in this year's NCAA Tournament, while placing ninth in the EIVA during the regular season with 3.54 points/set.

Clap for Curry
"It's been an unbelievable experience," Curry said. "Coming from California, I didn't come to Penn State for the weather. I came here for the experience. I came for the people mostly, the people on the team and the coaching staff. That's what I've been around for the past five years, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."

With seven digs against Lewis, Curry completes his Penn State career with 1,043 digs. That is good enough for second place in program history behind only Dennis Del Valle, who notched 1,260 digs from 2008-11.

Applause for Aaron
"I've had so much fun playing for this program," Russell said. "When I was being recruited by a bunch of different colleges across the country, I was told that if I went out east that I wouldn't become a good player, or I wouldn't be as good of a player if I went out west. What [the coaching staff] did, I've learned so much through the program. I think that without them I wouldn't be where I am today. I just thank them so much. I owe everything that I am right now to Penn State."

A two-time First-Team All-American AVCA honoree, Russell ends his stellar Nittany Lion career second in program history with 198 service aces. Only Max Holt, who donned the Blue and White from 2006-09, recorded more punch-outs with 207.

What to Watch: No. 1 Lewis vs. No. 5 Penn State

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11061468.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
PALO ALTO, Calif. - The fifth-seed Nittany Lions (21-9) face the top-seeded Lewis Flyers (26-3) in the NCAA semifinals on Thursday. First serve is set for 11 p.m. ET inside historic Maples Pavilion.

Having already lost in four sets twice during the regular season against Lewis, Penn State comes into its 17
th consecutive NCAA national semifinal match on Thursday with a chip on its shoulder. 

"We're looking forward to the battle with the Flyers," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We've seen them twice this year.... It's a lot of fun to play those guys. They play big boy volleyball. It's a very physical game, not only at the net but from behind the service line. It's men's volleyball at its best."

The Blue and White have battled adversity all season long. From starting 4-9 to having to deal with a number of student-athlete setbacks due to injury, resiliency is the word to describe this year's team.

"The first two times we played them, I don't think that we were as physical as we could or should have been," senior outside hitter Aaron Russell said. "I think we also just didn't really compete as hard.... We've come a long way since then." 

In order to top Lewis for the first time this season, the physicality that Russell talked about above will have to be in full force from start to finish.

"If we can serve well...if we can knock them off the net and if we can really force them to not be as physical as they can be, I think that's where we can really expect us to get some separation from them in the game," Pavlik said.

Scouting No. 1 Lewis
After finishing 15-1 in conference play, Lewis ended the regular season as MIVA champions. However, the Flyers completed the season by falling to No. 3 Loyola (25-2) in the MIVA Championship game. Nonetheless, the committee rewarded Lewis with the top ranking for this year's NCAA tournament.

Having lost just three matches all season long, the Flyers have a host of quality wins. Strong wins include: UC Irvine, Stanford, Penn State (twice), Ohio State, IPFW (twice), and Ball State (twice). Lewis's three losses have all come at the hands of ranked foes in BYU, Ohio State and Loyola.

Offensively, a three-headed monster leads the Flyers. Redshirt senior outside hitter Geoff Powell, senior outside hitter Greg Petty, and senior opposite Eric Fitterer are incredibly physical pin hitters that have challenged opponents all season long. Each of the three are averaging more than 2.75 kills per set and hitting higher than .296.

All three players detailed above are AVCA All-Americans. Together, the Flyers combined for five this year, however. The other two? Senior libero Lucas Yanez who is averaging 2.02 digs this season and junior middle blocker Bobby Walsh who is averaging 1.53 blocks per set this year.

"Bobby [Walsh] is an up-and-coming middle who is really doing the right things and playing the right way," Pavlik said. "They use him so well...Walsh is in the middle saying 'hey, don't forget about me.'"

What's at Stake?
The winner will advance to the 2015 NCAA title match on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET and will play the victor of No. 2 UC Irvine and No. 3 Loyola.

Pin Hitters Help Nittany Lions Advance to NCAA Semifinals

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11059407.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
PALO ALTO, Calif. - Thanks to the superb play of its pin hitters, fifth-seeded Penn State (21-9) upended fourth-seeded Hawaii (24-7) in four sets (25-22, 25-20, 17-25, 27-25) in the second of two play-in games Tuesday night at historic Maples Pavilion.

With the win, the Nittany Lions advanced to the NCAA national semifinals and will face top-seeded Lewis at 11 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 7. This is the 17th consecutive season Penn State has reached the final four. 

The Blue and White's pin hitters - made up of Aaron Russell, Nick Goodell and Chris Nugent - accumulated 92 percent of the team's kills (54 out of 59). The trio's dynamic offensive balance created defensive problems for the Rainbow Warriors.

"I thought that our outside hitters did a good job," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "Nick [Goodell] balanced out the rights side with the night that he had. Overall, when the match was on the line, our competition level was as high as it's been all year long."

First-team AVCA All-American Aaron Russell led all hitters with 20 kills in the match. He swung at a match-high 46 sets and finished with a .239 hitting percentage. Russell also added seven digs and a perfect receive percentage.

"I think we've come a long way since the beginning of the year when we faced Hawaii and it feels good to get a little revenge and next we have Lewis who we also lost to twice," Russell said. "And I think the adversity we experienced at the beginning of the season really has helped us improve, and I definitely think that's one of the reasons why were on this run that we're on right now."

The senior outside hitter has been a leader all season long but is using the postseason platform as a pedestal to help make sure his teammates and coaching staff achieve their end goal, a national championship.

"I think I'm getting more comfortable," Russell said. "Being out this past summer in Anaheim really helped me learn a lot, it was a good experience. My experience being a senior now, I've been through a lot and played with a lot of these guys and so were getting comfortable with each other and gelling, and it's a lot of fun."  

Redshirt senior opposite Nick Goodell and sophomore outside hitter Chris Nugent were the two x-factors, however. Goodell was magical, killing 19 attacks on a .378 mark and adding one service ace and four digs. Nugent was spectacular, as well, tallying 15 kills at a .400 attacking percentage.

The performances described above would not be possible without setter Taylor Hammond. The redshirt junior kept the Nittany Lions in system and served up a match-high 54 assists. His play certainly did not go unnoticed by his teammates.

"Again it starts with the passers," Goodell said. "Once they're able to get in a rhythm, then Taylor [Hammond] can get in a rhythm. Then with our middles getting up like they did, everyone is going to be successful. We're a very hard team to stop like that."

Prior to upsetting Hawaii yesterday, the last time Penn State had beaten a team ranked higher than them in the NCAA tournament occurred back in 2010. That year, the Nittany Lions reached the championship only to lose to host and top-ranked Stanford.

The winner of Lewis vs. Penn State will play the victor of Loyola-Chicago vs. UC Irvine in the 2015 NCAA National Championship on May 9.

 

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