Recently in Men's Volleyball Category

Seniors Spark Two Wins in Final Home Weekend

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10993443.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Thanks to a pair of wins inside Rec Hall over the weekend, the seventh-ranked Penn State men's volleyball team (15-9, 9-0 EIVA) clinch its 31st EIVA regular season title.

Sparked by the senior class, the Nittany Lions survived Harvard (11-11, 5-5 EIVA) in five sets (25-20, 20-25, 24-26, 25-21, 15-10) on Friday night. Then in Saturday's senior day match, the Blue and White defeated Sacred Heart (12-11, 3-7 EIVA) in four sets (25-15, 20-25, 25-17, 25-18).

With the two wins, the Nittany Lions clinched the top seed in the EIVA Tournament. That means that Penn State will have home-court advantage once again in the postseason. All matches will be played at Rec Hall on April 29 (Semifinals) and May 1 (Championship).

Being in our home gym and just maintaining our normal routine is really helpful," senior libero Connor Curry said.

Looking back on Friday evening's five-set match, the Nittany Lions committed their most attacking errors this season (36), which led to just a .178 hitting percentage, but found a way to score a victory.

We weren't great at times, but I thought we were great when we had to be," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I think that's a mark of a pretty good team."

After winning the first set, the Crimson took games two and three before Penn State clawed back and won the last two frames.

Seniors Aaron Russell and Curry led the way. Russell posted a match-high 26 kills, while Curry compiled a season-high 19 digs. Redshirt junior Taylor Hammond added 56 assists to complete the comeback against Harvard.

We knew what we had to do," Russell said. "We didn't take losing as an option, and I think that we just kicked it into another gear."

The fourth game electrified the great crowd at Rec Hall. Down 19-20, the Nittany Lions used two straight kills from Russell, two aces from junior setter Zack Parik and a Harvard attacking error to regain the lead, 24-20. After a Harvard kill, Russell answered with a kill of his own to help Penn State tie the match at two games apiece.

"I told Hamm to start setting Aaron, and we won," Curry said. "Simple as that. And then we started cleaning up the ball in transition."

Russell tallied half of his 26 kills in the final two frames to jumpstart the Nittany Lions.

"The guys just asked me to step up, and I think I did that," Russell said.

Saturday's senior day concluded the regular season home slate for Penn State as the Blue and White won in four sets over Sacred Heart. The team posted a season-high 20.5 total team blocks, featuring Nick Goodell, who sealed the victory with a solo block in the fourth set.

"It felt good just because I haven't blocked a ball for a while," Goodell said on winning the final point. "It's just something I've been working on all year. It's what our team has been working on, so regardless of who it was, getting a block to end a match is great for us."

According to Pavlik, Sacred Heart's offensive tempo, paired with Penn State's understanding of the scouting report and match execution, led to the team's block total.

To go along with his 3.5 blocks, Goodell also scored a match-high 14 kills. Plus, Russell and Chris Nugent each earned eight kills, while Matt Callaway led the team with 6.5 blocks.

"Having it be senior night, it's always a little emotional," Russell said. "It's just a lot of fun to play in front of fans and represent a university that has given so much to you."

The final three regular season matches for Penn State will be on the road, starting with Princeton and NJIT next Friday and Saturday.

Resilient Senior Class Sets Standard

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10978272.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Head coach Mark Pavlik always talks about the evolution of collegiate athletics. Being in his 21st year at the helm of the men's volleyball program, Pavlik understands that he has just four or five years to coach his student-athletes before they must graduate.

This season is no different for Pavlik as libero Connor Curry, opposite Nick Goodell, outside hitter Aaron Russell, and student manager Mike Hobson's Penn State careers near a resilient end.

"They went out, and they represented the very best of Penn State and Penn State student-athletes," Pavlik said.

Curry and Goodell are redshirt seniors and arrived in Happy Valley back in 2011. Russell, a senior, started his career in 2012. Hobson transferred to University Park in 2013 after two years at Penn State Behrend. Each has taken different paths to arrive at the university, but together they have left a lasting impression on the athletic and academic community.

"Everything that's right about Penn State Athletics is embodied by these guys," Pavlik said.

Great Goodell
An Ambridge, Pennsylvania, native, Goodell has made the most of his Penn State career. An RPTM major, Goodell has achieved quite a lot over his five-year career.

Currently, Goodell is ranked fifth among NCAA D-I active career leaders in kills. He has accumulated 1,058 of them throughout his time while donning the Blue and White. This season Goodell has tallied 204 kills, second most on the team.

"My best times here were just traveling with the guys," Goodell said. "I wouldn't trade any memory on the road with them."

Conceptual Curry
Curry traveled across the country from Newport Beach, California, to play at the highest collegiate volleyball level. An academic all-star, Curry is a constant on the Dean's List, majoring in economics and international politics.

His academic success has translated to the volleyball court, as well.  He has accumulated 959 digs over his career and has been an integral part of keeping the team in system both offensively and defensively. Just this season alone, Curry leads the team with 193 digs (2.41 per set).

"Hanging around with the guys," Curry said is what he will miss most. "Being a part of the team, that's really the best part. It's fun to be able to play volleyball and do something you enjoy, but what I'll remember forever is the experiences with my teammates and my best friends."

Rocket Russell
Russell is unquestionably the most talented player on the team. The four-year starter from Ellicott City, Maryland, played his first three seasons alongside his older brother, Peter, who graduated just last year. With 379 kills this year (4.74 per set), Russell now has 1,384 kills in his career. He leads all NCAA D-I active players with that kill mark.

He is also a superb server, who has accumulated a team-leading 41 service aces this season. He ranks first among active NCAA players with 177 career aces. That means he needs just 30 more aces to match former Nittany Lion Max Holt (2006-09) for the program record for total aces.

Russell was named to the First Team All-EIVA last season and is making a strong case to be crowned national player of the year this season.

"There's school and then there's your team," Russell said. "Your team is your family away from home. Everyone is close, and it's just a nice little brotherhood that we have."

Helpful Hobson
Hobson's older brother, Corey, held the same position with the program prior to Mike arriving to University Park. According to Pavlik, Hobson basically redshirted the summer before his first year at the main campus in order to learn the Data Volley software.

"Mike is one of those people when you ask for 'X' you generally get four or five times what you ask for, and it's done well," Pavlik said. "He is going to make a great coach."

For Hobson, he could not have asked for a better learning experience at Penn State. The team immediately welcomed him in and accepted him right away, something Hobson says helped him transition to the larger campus.

"Just the way I can help these guys and help the coaches out is just awesome," Hobson said. "They've done so much for me that I just want to give everything back to them."

Pavlik used the word "resilient" to describe this senior class. Nothing has worn this team down according to the head coach.

"It's a group that has set a standard for making their teammates believe, making their teammates better," Pavlik said.

This senior class is winners of four EIVA regular season championships and has reached the NCAA tournament every season. It is a special class with clear portraits of leadership and the ability to win.

The question that Pavlik poses for his future student athletes is, "Here's what they did. Can you do that?"

The Nittany Lions wrap up the home portion of their regular season on Friday and Saturday against conference foes Harvard and Sacred Heart. Both matches will take place in the main gym at Rec Hall.

Nittany Lions Win Road Match with Home Feel

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By Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With lots of family in attendance, senior outside hitter Aaron Russell tallied 15 kills on a .700 hitting mark to lead No. 7 Penn State (13-9, 7-0 EIVA) to a straight sets road victory (25-19, 25-22, 25-13) over conference foe George Mason (9-11, 4-4 EIVA) in Fairfax, Virginia, on Saturday night.

Redshirt junior setter Taylor Hammond dished out 38 assists to lead the Nittany Lions in transition and help orchestrate the Blue and White's offense attack en route to their ninth straight win.

"Nice three-game win down here in Fairfax," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "It's always a tough place to play. I thought we did a really nice job with our pass and serve game. Our offense, Taylor did an outstanding job."

In set one, Penn State utilized a balanced offensive pursuit to keep George Mason out of system. Russell, Chris Nugent and Jalen Penrose accumulated four kills apiece to open up gaps within the Patriots defense. Add in two service aces from Russell and the Green and Gold did not have a chance.

"Well, and you got to couple that with the way we're serving and making it tough on them to side out and making it tough on the opponent to hit for high numbers," Pavlik said. "That's what gives us separation."

Russell, Nugent and Penrose all carried their rhythms from the first game into the second frame, as the three hitters combined for 14 kills in the middle set. Plus, the Nittany Lions stayed in system in the second game, siding out at 81 percent.

"We went into this match saying, hey we have to win the transition game because we were going to get some opportunities," Pavlik said. "Taylor ran the transition game very, very well. At this point in the year you like to see those stages of the game complementing themselves. I think our serving and passing is starting to really complement our offense."

In the final game, the Nittany Lions played like they wanted to get on the bus and get back to University Park as quickly as possible. Russell killed six swings on six attempts to lead the way in the third set for Penn State. The Blue and White also sided out at 78 percent to maintain a strong transition game.

"At one point Jay [Hosack] leaned over to me in game three saying on first swing side out we were hitting .470 and in transition we were hitting .420, so Taylor was doing an outstanding job," Pavlik said.

Senior libero Connor Curry added seven digs throughout the match, while middle hitter Matt Seifert converted four kills on five attempts and middle hitter Matt Callaway pushed five kills on just seven tries.

A nice contingency of Penn State fans cheered on the team inside the RAC to make the road match at George Mason feel like a home one at Rec Hall.

"It's always a great crowd here," Pavlik said. "The Penn State Maryland and Penn State D.C. area always comes out to support us really well. It's a tough place to play, but with the people in here there's a little bit of Rec Hall with us."

The team returns home to Rec Hall next Friday and Saturday to play in two EIVA conference matches against Harvard and Sacred Heart.

Hammond Sets Tone for Nittany Lions

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10751168.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions are on a roll. They have won eight-straight matches and are ranked sixth in the nation. Such recent and consistent success is a result of the stellar play of Penn State's orchestrator, redshirt junior setter Taylor Hammond.

Hammond, a native of Mission Viejo, California, developed a love for volleyball at a very young age thanks to his dad, Doug, who played club ball at the University of California, Irvine.

"I grew up around the sport, so I started playing beach volleyball first with my dad when he got me into it," Hammond said. "I fell in love with the sport."

Hammond would go on to be a three-year varsity letter-winner and team captain at Santa Margarita Catholic High, guiding his high school to four straight Trinity League Championships and two Orange County Championships.

When it came time for Hammond to look to play at the collegiate level, he sent out his resume to several schools, one of those being Penn State.

"I sent [a resume] to Penn State, and we started talking," Hammond said. "They came out [to California] to watch me. The conversation started, and I just really felt a connection with the coaches and felt a connection with the school. I really fell in love with [Penn State] when I visited."

It was during spring break in Hammond's junior year of high school when head coach Mark Pavlik and his coaching staff attended the Best of the West tournament in San Diego. Intentions were to scout former Nittany Lion Jace Olsen, but knowing his program needed a setter, Pavlik took notice of the young Hammond.

"We knew we needed another setter because it was that time where the generations of setters were changing," Pavlik said. "We're watching the Santa Margarita team, and we're seeing this setter that delivers a nice ball and moves well. That's where we saw Taylor first, during his junior year of high school. We kept in touch. He came out for an unofficial visit later on that junior year. He has turned out to be a really good match for us."

Not only was Hammond selected as the 2013 EIVA Newcomer of the Year after his redshirt freshman season, but he was also selected to first-team All-EIVA last year as a redshirt sophomore. Now in his third full season in a regular role, Hammond is the brain behind the Blue and White's efficient offensive scheme.

"Setters, much like quarterbacks and point guards, have to be the coach on the floor," Pavlik said. "It's more of a cerebral position. They need to understand what the defense is giving them. They need to understand and execute a game plan. They need to understand the tools that they have at their disposal...Look at any successful team, there's always been a great relationship between setters and the coaching staff."

In Hammond's case specifically, the strong relationship he has with the coaching staff is a huge reason why he has been able to continue the program's winning tradition.

Despite a slow start to the season for the entire team, Hammond has made the necessary midseason adjustments. Most notably, Hammond has worked with Pavlik and assistant coach Jay Hosack to hone in on going against the flow - establishing more offensive quick and bic plays - which has opened space for the pin hitters. He currently sits fifth in the country with 10.78 assists per set.

"Overall it has been his strength gains," Pavlik said on Hammond's growth. "Here in the last two to three months, he has really paid attention to his footwork. He has really made a conscious effort to be more efficient on how he gets his body in position to set the ball."

Hosack echoed Pavlik's observations of Hammond's development.

"His decision-making has improved," Hosack said. "He used to just set the best hitter as opposed to the best matchup. He's learned how to take the blame. When a hitter makes a bad swing, Taylor takes full responsibility to take the pressure off the hitter."

As opposed to three or four passers and four or five hitters rotating during a match, there is only one setter on a volleyball team. As a result, Hammond is an integral part of almost 97 percent of the plays.

"Hammond is touching every second ball, so he must be the standard that has to put the ball in a good place for the hitters," Hosack said.

According to the entire coaching staff, Hammond has transformed into a naturally strong leader by way of his consistent personality and response.

"Taylor is the one that runs the show," Hosack said. "He is the quarterback of the team. And, we still get him for another year, which is even better."

Nittany Lions Sweep Weekend, Remain Atop EIVA

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10934375.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 8 Penn State (12-9, 6-0 EIVA) defeated EIVA opponents Princeton (9-8, 5-2 EIVA) and NJIT (8-9, 1-6 EIVA) this past weekend in the South Gym at Rec Hall to not only extend its match winning streak to eight, but also increase its cushion atop the conference standings.

On Friday night, the Nittany Lions topped the Tigers in straight sets. However, late Saturday afternoon's match against the Highlanders required five sets to determine the outcome.

After losing its first six matches of the season, Penn State has learned how to win.

"A lot of our [positive] turn came in practice," outside hitter Aaron Russell said. "We just wanted to make a statement that we were going to work our butts off every single day in practice, and we've been having good practices. We just have a more competitive nature. We love playing right now, and we want to keep it rolling. We don't want to lose."

In Friday night's match, Penn State trailed in several statistical categories, but took advantage of Princeton's 28 service errors to win in straight sets (25-19, 25-21, 25-23). The Tigers had more kills than the Nittany Lions (40-32), a better hitting percentage (.427 vs. .356), and more assists (38-25), yet the Blue and White prevailed.

"This was a game with some very odd rhythm to it with the 28 missed serves," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I don't think we particularly blocked well. I don't think we played defense particularly well. I thought we served the heck out of the ball. I thought that even though we hit .356...this was a match where there wasn't a lot of rallies."

Senior Aaron Russell continued his torrid pace, swinging a team-high 12 kills on a .348 hitting percentage. Redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose, who has been terrific filling in for redshirt senior Nick Goodell, posted ten kills on a team-high .571 hitting percentage.

"I think the biggest thing with Jalen is just that he's proven to himself that he can play and play well," redshirt junior Matt Seifert said. "For [Penrose] being his first couple of starts I think that's really big just getting out there...He's doing a great job."

The story was written a little differently late Saturday afternoon, as the Nittany Lions needed five sets (27-29, 25-15, 23-25, 25-16, 15-13) to outlast conference foe NJIT.

"I thought tonight's match was a great show of resiliency," Pavlik said. "Coming off of a pretty emotional match and a pretty intense match last night with Princeton...and then to come here less than 24 hours after you play...from the latter part of game three on, I thought we played well."

In set one the Blue and White looked to have total control, but NJIT never gave up, winning the frame in extras, 27-29. Penrose accumulated eight of his total 21 kills on .700 hitting in the opening game.

"You have to be clean as a unit, making sure that we're making good first contacts to allow Taylor [Hammond] a good set to get...any of the guys the ball and just execute," Penrose said.

Penn State took no prisoners in set two, using timely kills from Matt Callaway, Chris Nugent, Penrose, and Russell, as well as four digs from Connor Curry to win, 25-15.

Jabarry Goodridge and TJ Jurko each tallied six kills to pace NJIT, as the Highlanders battled back to win, 23-25.

"They forced us to play a little bit more," Russell said. "They kept a lot more serves in.... They were scrappy, too. They forced us to play in long rallies."

With their backs against the wall, the Nittany Lions, thanks to six kills from Russell, took down the Highlanders in the fourth game, 25-16, to force a decisive fifth set.

Penn State turned to Russell yet again in the final set. Last week's EIVA Offensive Player of the Week tallied five kills in the last frame to will his team to victory. He finished with a match-high 26 kills on a .362 hitting mark. Setter Taylor Hammond added 59 assists to keep Penn State in system.

Up next for the streaking Nittany Lions is a road trip next Saturday against EIVA opponent George Mason.

"It's always difficult to play in [George Mason's] gym," Russell said. "They always play hard. They pack the place. They have a lot of energy and emotion. I personally like playing there because it's closer to home, and I get to see a lot of friends and family.... They're definitely looking forward to playing us, so we have to be prepared and ready."

Nittany Lions Clicking at Right Time

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By Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After opening the season losing their first six matches, the scale has tipped in the Nittany Lions' favor.

No. 8 Penn State (10-9, 4-0 EIVA) enters this weekend's conference home slate against Princeton and NJIT riding a six-match winning streak. Simply put, the team is clicking at the right time.

"The season is nothing more than an evolution of improvement," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "If you can get everyone improving at a good're always going to be getting a little bit better."

Exceptional leadership and elevated play from the veteran players is an integral part of the Nittany Lions being able to turn the corner this season. Aaron Russell's torrid pace, along with Taylor Hammond's setting and Connor Curry's passing has jumpstarted play. Plus, Matt Seifert is not only back to full strength, he's also back to making an impact on the floor.

Taking a look at the stat sheets tells all for Pavlik's experienced student-athletes. Russell, who was named EIVA Offensive Player of the Week, is second in the nation with 4.72 kills per set. Hammond is tallying an average of 10.84 assists per set. Curry is leading with 2.49 digs per set.

"We're at a very good point now," Pavlik said. "Right now I think Connor is passing the best he's passed all of his career. The same could be said about Taylor's setting and decision-making. It feeds the team confidence and guys can't wait to get back out on the floor."

It's not just the seasoned players that are helping take the 2015 Nittany Lions to new heights. The underclassmen are making a name for themselves, as well.

One of those underclassmen is redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose. After tallying a career-high 19 kills versus Ohio State last Saturday, the outside hitter was tabbed Co-National Freshman of the Week.

"It's a really good feeling to know that I've been put in with the starters," Penrose said. "I've been practicing with the starters here and there. The coaches have felt comfortable with me there, and I think the guys around me have felt comfortable with me there. They've just been embracing me and vice versa. It's a really nice feeling to know that whatever unit we put out there, we give it our best and just go hard."

Despite the fact that Penrose is still adjusting to the speed of the collegiate game, Pavlik notes that the athletic redshirt freshman is starting to discover himself on the court.

"I think Jalen...has to learn how he can take his gifts and maximize them on the court," Pavlik said. "He's figuring it out...the learning curve very rarely is constantly positive...but he's also going to shine. 19 kills is nothing to sneeze at in a five-game match."

As the Blue and White stay hot, the focus is slightly beginning to turn to the postseason, a word that brings one thing to mind for the annually favored Nittany Lions.

"We'd prefer to be undefeated as much as possible. I'm sure any team wants that," Penrose said. "It's really important to win these conference matches too because it sets us up to have home advantage, one, and two, it puts us in a better position in the long run for when it comes time for playoffs."

Pavlik echoed the words of his young, dynamic player.

"I would love to have the conference championship here to where our guys can stay in their routine and play in their gym in front of their fans," Pavlik said.

In order to obtain homecourt advantage in the playoffs, Penn State must take care of EIVA foes this weekend at the South Gym at Rec Hall. Princeton on Friday at 7 p.m. NJIT on Saturday at 4 p.m.

Russell, Penrose lead way in win over Ohio State

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10925764.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Senior outside hitter Aaron Russell notched a double-double (30 kills, 14 digs) and redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose added 19 kills as No. 10 Penn State (10-9, 4-0 EIVA) extended its winning streak to six matches after topping Big Ten foe No. 11 Ohio State (15-6, 7-3 MIVA) in five sets (22-25, 25-22, 25-20, 22-25, 15-9) this past Saturday night at Rec Hall.

Back on Feb. 11, the Nittany Lions lost in straight sets on the road against the Buckeyes, but thanks to Penrose's strong start and Russell's impressive finish, the Blue and White prevailed.

"We have all EIVA matches coming up, and we're feeling good," Russell said. "We definitely want to host the EIVA Tournament and go back to another Final Four."

This was a match that head coach Mark Pavlik expected between two very physical teams, noting that whoever controlled the net, won the serve and passed well would come out on top.

"When you see the guy next to you working hard and making's pretty easy to get excited and keep things flowing," Russell said.

Setter Taylor Hammond passed extremely well, tallying a season-high 61 assists. Plus, libero Connor Curry dug 12 balls to keep the Nittany Lions balanced defensively.

"It always feels good to unload on a ball," Russell said. "Credit goes to Taylor [Hammond] for putting it in the right place."

Twelve of Penrose's 19 kills came in the first two sets, while 21 of Russell's 30 kills took place in the final three frames.

"I've just been connecting well with Taylor and that [starting] unit," Penrose said. "They've been embracing me, and I've been embracing them. It's a core work."

According to the veteran Russell, Penrose has really grown and developed into a serious asset for the team.

"It's always fun to see him fly to a ball and unload on it, too...He's a big, physical guy and it's a lot of fun playing with him," Russell said about Penrose. "You can tell that he brings a lot of energy to our team."

After dropping a close set one, the Blue and White battled back to regain the lead by winning sets two and three. The Buckeyes took control and were victorious in set four, presenting a final frame to determine the outcome.

"I think the way we came out of set four is what really set us up for five," Pavlik said.

The Nittany Lions trailed in set four, 19-13, when four straight powerful serves from redshirt sophomore Andrew Roberts tilted momentum. Penn State would eventually lose the set, but carried stellar play into the final game.

"[Roberts] started the whole attitude for game five with that serving run and turning some points," Pavlik said. "Next thing you know, instead of being down by seven or eight, we're now in a three, four point game.... Andrew comes in and serves the ball well...and got us right back on track."

Penn State would side out a perfect 9-for-9 in the fifth set to win a highly competitive non-conference match.

"In order for us to turn points we need to play some defense," Russell said. "With only six blocks we have to come up with points somewhere else.... We were able to just read around our block and see the hitters pretty well."

The Nittany Lions will look to extend their winning streak and conference unbeaten streak this upcoming weekend when they host Princeton on Friday and NJIT on Saturday in the South Gym at Rec Hall.  

Nittany Lions Intend to Remain Hot

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By Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 10 Penn State men's volleyball team returned to the University Park campus red-hot following a superb spring break trip to the West Coast.

Since losing on the road back on Feb. 21 in four sets to No. 1 Loyola Chicago, the Nittany Lions (9-9, 4-0 EIVA) have rolled off five straight wins, four of which in straight sets.

Last week, the Blue and White kept the ball rolling as they notched three straight-set wins in California against No. 7 USC and Cal State Northridge and then No. 8 Long Beach State in the Asics Invitational Tournament.

"You're trying to make sure that all of these [Southern California] distractions don't take away from the business trip that you have at hand," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Despite all the distractions that the lovely weather in Southern California presents, Penn State had no problem staying focused.

"The match against USC, we played as complete a match as we've played all year long," Pavlik said. "It was a very good trip for us as a group, let alone the win-loss record."

Senior outside hitter Aaron Russell continued his torrid pace by accumulating 55 kills on the west coast voyage. His efforts not only earned him Asics Invitational Tournament MVP and EIVA Offensive Player of the Week, but he was also named AVCA National Player of the Week.

Redshirt junior setter Taylor Hammond added 113 assists and redshirt sophomore Matt Callaway added 13 blocks to earn Asics Invitational All Tournament Team honors. Callaway's performances earned him EIVA Defensive Player of the Week, too.

"It's really cool," Callaway said on winning the weekly conference honor. "I don't know if I've ever gotten that before, so I thought that was really sweet. My dad was super proud of me. It was really cool."

The honor certainly caught Callaway by surprise, but he says it was his teammates that made all of the difference.

"Service pressure," Callaway said. "Aaron [Russell], Nick [Goodell], Jalen [Penrose] when he was in just kept the other teams off the net, and that really helps us as a blocking team.... Keeping ourselves in system and handling the other teams' serves as well was awesome."

After a huge week against three strong west coast teams, the Nittany Lions intend on carrying that momentum into their Saturday night home match against Big Ten foe No. 11 Ohio State.

Back on Feb. 11, Penn State lost to the Buckeyes in Columbus in three highly competitive sets (24-26, 22-25, 23-25). For Callaway, the key to preparation during the week is to simply stick to the routine.

"Just stay focused and keep doing what we're doing in the gym," Callaway said. "Working really hard. Continue what we've been doing in scouting. Just listen to our great coaches."

Momentum is certainly a word that has been thrown around to describe the current state of the team, but according to Pavlik, momentum can swing the other way very quickly.

"I think momentum is only as good as your next serve and next side-out attempt," Pavlik said. "You keep it going by getting back in the gym and making sure you continue on the path that we started on three weeks ago, or four weeks ago when we really started to play well in the training gym. I think that's what we're seeing on this five-game winning streak.... We're seeing the fruits of their labor here in the gym."

The Scarlet and Grey are playing great volleyball as of late, as well. They are coming off a non-conference straight-sets win over Princeton and upset No. 2 Lewis (a team Penn State has lost to twice this season) back on March 13.

"You know coming in that Michael Henchy is going to be the guy that looks to put the ball away," Pavlik said about Ohio State's senior outside hitter. "Miles Johnson has really settled their offense down once they moved him from right side to left side. They're used to playing in this arena. We're used to playing in St. John's. I'm thinking it's going to be another similar match to what it was like out at their place; close, could go either way. I like where we are. If you miss this match Saturday, you'll miss a good Big Ten rumble."

This week's matchup starts at 7 p.m. in the main gym at Rec Hall.

Leadership Leads Nittany Lions to Successful Road Trip

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10741348.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Thanks to the veteran leadership of outside hitter Aaron Russell and opposite Nick Goodell, the Nittany Lions (6-9, 4-0 EIVA) earned their first two conference road wins of the season over the weekend at Sacred Heart and Harvard.

After a long bus trip from University Park to Sacred Heart, the Blue and White defeated the Pioneers (4-8, 1-4 EIVA) Friday night in straight sets (25-16, 25-11, 25-21). Then the team continued their journey to Cambridge where the Nittany Lions topped Harvard (9-5, 3-2) in four sets (21-25, 25-14, 25-23, 25-22) in a heated match Saturday evening.

"Hopefully it's the first two of many," said Goodell. "It feels good finally to see the hard work pay off."

Being on the road is not as easy as it looks. It is imperative to maintain a certain standard of balance. For Penn State men's volleyball, the preparation for an extended trip away from Rec Hall starts at the beginning of the week.

"Earlier in the week we tell them what the deal is," said Russell on mentoring the underclassmen. "For this trip, we know it's a long bus ride, tough gyms to play in and Harvard is a good team, so we just lay that out first and foremost. I just tell them how to cope with such a long trip: sleep when you can, take naps, get as much sleep at night whenever you can, and try to make yourself feel at home as possible."

According to head coach Mark Pavlik, the success that his program has achieved over the course of his 21-year regime is why his team is always ready for the road.

"It's become such an ingrained expectation with this program that we will be on long road trips," said Pavlik. "It's now the day-to-day grind. You talk about recovery. You talk about sleep. You talk about taking care of classes and making sure you spend your time wisely at those things so you can recover and get ready for the next trip."

A scheduled itinerary helps keep the team on the same page. From when breakfast is, to serve and pass, to the scouting report and film session, all the way to the pregame meal, an organized plan maintains order.

More importantly, the close quarters on the bus allows the team to come together and build a tightknit rapport.

"Cooped up with your teammates in a relatively small space on the bus, because we are so tall, we just use it to our advantage," said Russell. "We get to know each other better and are able to build team chemistry. We're having fun, and we're building relationships, too."

After both wins this weekend, the Nittany Lions stand alone atop the EIVA standings, a conference that the Blue and White has dominated over the years.

Penn State rolled past the Pioneers on Friday night. Eleven kills apiece from Russell and Chris Nugent and six digs from Connor Curry and Russell led the charge. The Blue and White hitting percentage was .403, while the Lions held Sacred Heart to just .125.

Saturday was a different story, as the Nittany Lions went into the match against Harvard knowing it would be a war. Goodell took charge though, compiling a match-high 25 kills to pace Penn State. Curry added 12 more digs to keep Penn State on its toes defensively.

According to Pavlik, his team's level-headedness led to this past weekend's stellar play.

"Level-headed is very accurate because it seemed like on Friday night Sacred Heart just folded the tents, but we didn't let up," said Pavlik. "We didn't follow their lead and say 'well, if they don't want to play, we're not going to play hard.' We kept playing hard. [Against Harvard], we hit that stretch at the end of game one where we made a couple of errors, let it get away from us, but we didn't change mentality, and we played hard through the rest of the match. It just seemed like we outplayed Harvard from about 17 or 18 on for the next three games. We had a very purposeful mindset. Nobody was getting upset at getting punched back in the nose from a good team. That's a good thing to see. We maximized some of our strengths with our serving, and we were pretty efficient with our attacking. More than anything else, we are still on an upward climb with this journey of a season. We will see where we wind up in the next couple of weeks."

Upcoming for Penn State is a bye week. The next EIVA conference match will not be played until March 27 at home against Princeton. During spring break, the Nittany Lions will be headed to the west coast for a few matches, starting with USC on Tuesday, March 10.

"We're proving that we are getting better," said Pavlik. "A season is simply an evolution of change where you hope, at the end of the year when everything matters; your change has been one of maximization and efficiency."

Curry Leads Nittany Lions Over George Mason

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10786024.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's volleyball team used nine acrobatic digs from redshirt senior libero Connor Curry as the Nittany Lions (4-7, 2-0 EIVA) swept conference foe George Mason (2-7, 0-1 EIVA) in straight sets (26-24, 26-24, 25-18) Saturday night at the South Gym at Rec Hall.

"I thought our ball control was really the key tonight," said head coach Mark Pavlik. "Connor and the passers kept us in system really well, especially in the first game when you kind of get a feel for how they're serving."

Penn State's veteran players led by example in the opening set, pushing the Blue and White to a competitive win, 26-24. Redshirt senior Nick Goodell compiled eight kills on a .636 hitting percentage and senior Aaron Russell had three timely kills and a ferocious set-winning solo block to aid the Nittany Lions in the first frame.

"It all starts with Connor and the passers.... If Taylor keeps giving me the ball, I like my chances," said Goodell.

Taylor Hammond added 14 helpers in that first set; a frame Pavlik described as a momentum changer in the match.

"They have some guys who can bring some heat," said Pavlik. "Early on, I think we figured them out, and after that, I think it was really a tribute to our passers. I thought they did a great job. I thought we got some great swings in transition."

Pavlik, who is in his 21st season at the helm of the Penn State men's volleyball program, has stressed lately the importance of strong play from his players when his team reaches the 20-point mark in a set.

Well, another battle ensued in the second frame, and thanks to seven more kills from the 6-foot-9 Russell, who finished the match with 17 total kills, the Blue and White managed to pull out the 26-24 triumph.

Penn State trailed, 24-23, when a Russell swing forced a George Mason hitting error and tied things up at 24. Then a Hammond service ace pushed the Nittany Lions ahead, 25-24. A pulverizing swing and subsequent kill near the right antenna from Russell provided the Blue and White the two sets to none advantage.

"Once we reach 20, just to take care of business," said Goodell. "Five points and out. So I think that really proved this week. That's what we've been working on in drills. I think that's what paid off."

Late in the third set a Matt Callaway solo block put the Nittany Lions up 19-16, firing up the entire South Gym at Rec Hall. The Blue and White would never look back, sweeping the Patriots in straight sets after taking the third frame, 25-18.

Defensively the Nittany Lions were stifling, holding the Patriots to a lowly .136 hitting percentage, while digging 33 George Mason swings.

Offensively the Blue and White dominated, out-killing the Green and Gold, 46-28, and out-assisting, 43-27.

According to Curry, the positive change in play was just a matter of a few points.

"Just a few points here or there," said Curry. "I mean that's really what it comes down to in the end. Volleyball is a game of errors, and like we said, we've been working on, when we get to 20-20, to be the team with the least few errors. I think that was the case tonight. We put the ball away."

Now the Nittany Lions get set to embark on a seven-game road trip, starting with Lewis next Friday, February 20. First serve is set for 8 p.m.