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Penn State Focused on Consistency

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Consistency is often an aspect that all coaches and teams strive for over the course of a season. More often than not, consistency leads to success, no matter what level you are playing at. In the case of Penn State men's volleyball this season, consistency will be the key for success as the 2017 season continues to roll along. 

Four games in and Penn State has put together an even 2-2 record, with splits in a pair of back-to-back weeks of competition on the road. Among the mark, the Nittany Lions' two losses have come against UCLA and Ball State. For Penn State, in its losses and even in its wins against USC and Fort Wayne, sustaining long stretches of high level play, has been reason for concern.  

"I thought against USC, we were great in some sets and not so great in others," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I loved our resiliency in that match, but we were very up and down."

That early season inconsistency can be expected from such a young group, as the Nittany Lions are looking for a multitude of freshman and sophomores to step up and carry the workload. That sign bodes well for the future, as Penn State has already started to settle in to new roles during the first two weeks.

"We've seen improvement," Pavlik said. "We obviously want more but we know that it will be a process and the results we have seen so far have been good." 

For the Nittany Lions, the consistency aspect will come with time. Pavlik believes that one of the only ways to gain that consistency is by competing against the tough opponents Penn State has scheduled early this season. The Nittany Lion's have two upcoming battles against Loyola Chicago and Lewis that will certainly test them once again. Pavlik believes that they will need everyone on board in order to beat the two teams. 

"They are both very physical teams and they play hard all the time," Pavlik said. "I think that it will be another good opportunity for everyone in our group." 

The one thing that is evident with this group is that it is just that, a group. Not one player will be able to win games for the Nittany Lions, but that is the furthest thing from a negative. Pavlik has praised Penn State's depth again and again early on in the season. 

"We have incredible depth," Pavlik said. "Everyone on the team will be looked to to contribute in some way and if someone is struggling, we have the next man up mentality where another player will be ready to go." 

Penn State is set to take the court again Thursday, hosting Loyola Chicago at Rec Hall, before welcoming Lewis Friday. First serve for both matches is set for 7 p.m.

Men's Volleyball Underway in 2017: What You Need to Know

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With a new year well underway, a new semester filled with Penn State Athletics events is beginning to pick up. Among a few programs opening a new season in the heart of winter, Penn State men's volleyball opened 2017 last weekend with a road-split at the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge in Columbus, Ohio.

Ranked No. 14 in the latest release of the AVCA DI-II Men's Coaches Poll, the Nittany Lions dropped a 3-0 decision to second-ranked UCLA in the season opener, before rebounding with a close five-set win against USC.

As Penn State preps for another weekend on the road at No. 15 Ball State and Fort Wayne, take a look at five things you need to know before the Nittany Lions return to Rec Hall the following weekend to welcome Loyola (Chicago) Thursday, Jan. 19 and Lewis Friday, Jan. 20. First serve for both matches is set for 7 p.m.   

1. Braswell Emerges
Penn State redshirt freshman setter Luke Braswell has stepped up to lead the Nittany Lion offense, replacing four-time All-EIVA selection Taylor Hammond who departed last season following graduation. Settling into the new role as the leader of the offensive, Braswell dished out 27 assists in his collegiate debut against UCLA, adding three aces one dig and one block. Against the Trojans, he directed the team to a .371 hitting efficiency, tallying 62 assists to go along with nine digs, three blocks, three kills and two aces.

"I think there were a little bit of nerves in the first match against UCLA both on his part and [Cal] Mende's part and the passers parts, but once everything settled down Luke just looked like a old veteran trying to do what we had asked him to do and followed the game plan really well," Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik said.

2. New Faces on the Court
Along with Braswell, a total of three Nittany Lions made their collegiate debuts during the opening weekend, including redshirt freshman Cal Mende. Mende powered the Penn State offense in the win against USC with a team-high 25 kills on .525 hitting, adding five blocks and four digs, overcoming a slow start in Friday's matchup against the Bruins.

"He came back and looked to be a little better against USC and as the match wore on, his confidence just grew exponentially and all of the sudden at the end of that match he was taking some big time swings, I think Cal Mende has the potential to become a monster on the right side for us," Pavlik said.

3. Veteran Leaders
Senior Chris Nugent and fifth-year redshirt senior Matt Callaway have returned for their final season in the Blue and White, with both veterans leading the way with championship experience throughout the years. Nugent, who earned All-America honorable mention honors last year had double figure kills in both matches last weekend, including 22 kills against USC. Callaway tied for first on the team with five blocks against the Trojans. For Pavlik though, their experience and leadership is just as important as the on court contributions.

"The leadership has been outstanding," Pavlik said. "Nugent has become more a more vocal leader and Callaway has really just thrown himself into his fifth year," Pavlik said. "Matt has also put up some of the best numbers he has ever put up in the fall for us and we're looking for that to continue."

 4. Looking Toward the Future
Last year, Penn State's 2016 season came to a close earlier than anticipated. This year, Pavlik noted that the approach to success in 2017 will begin with a commitment to getting better each day in the the training gym.

"One of the other things I think they have to understand is how does this team compete, what's their personality going to be like, how do you take the strengths that they have and make it all work, and the training gym is the lab where all of that happens and I like what we've seen so far from this group from top to bottom," Pavlik said.

5. Previewing the EIVA
With each passing year the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA) has only grown stronger. With a variety of challenges awaiting the Nittany Lions in just about every conference match, that's something that has Pavlik very pleased with how the league has come along and how it will prepare the Nittany Lions for a chance at the NCAA Tournament. 

"I think there's a certain pride that our guys have that says we've got to be ready for our conference matches because that's the road to the NCAA's for us," Pavlik said.

The Nittany Lions will begin conference play Friday, Feb. 3, hosting Saint Francis (Pa.), before hitting the road for a three-game stretch, which also wraps up on the road against the Red Flash Friday, Feb. 14.

More from Pavlik on the EIVA below.

Nittany Lions Eyeing Future

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11900173.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It didn't go as planned for the Nittany Lions as they closed out the 2016 postseason earlier than many expected.

Penn State dropped a tough four set match to Saint Francis in the EIVA semifinals at Rec Hall. Arguably the second best team in the EIVA, Saint Francis was ranked fourth in the conference, but alongside the Nittany Lions, were one of two ranked teams in the EIVA at 15 in the nation.

"We were still in it, we had chances, we needed one point in game to go up 2-0 and maybe that changes the timber of the match. We never got that side out, and we were in a dogfight from there on," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

The match ended in four sets, but every set could have gone either way as the teams could not find separation until the later stages of each set. The disappointment for the Nittany Lions was palpable in the postgame press conference but there was still time for reflection from some of the seniors.

"The past five years this program is kind of all I have ever known," senior Matt Seifert said. "I thank Pav for all that he has given me and I will take a lot of the things I learned here with me. I think he cares about his players more than any other coach I've had."

Sometimes you work extremely hard and the results don't turn out in your favor. That was the sentiment shared from many of the Nittany Lions as they team scratched and clawed all season, but in the end couldn't fine the results they desired.

Despite the exit that many didn't see coming, the positives are still there for this season, as they always are. They just usually don't show themselves until a few days after a tough loss. Three Nittany Lions received first team All-EIVA honors in Chris Nugent, Matt Seifert and Taylor Hammond. Nugent was co-EIVA player of the year. Royce Clemens also garnered EIVA honors as the newcomer of the year.

"We have a very strong group of guys here and all of them help the team in some way," Seifert said. "It's nice for the team and a few guys to get recognized like that."

The positives don't just stop with the accolades that the Nittany Lions received this season, in fact they don't just stop with this season. Many of the main contributors and starters this season for Penn State were either juniors or sophomores. The core is young for this team as Pavlik has eluded too many times and this means the future is bright.

"We have gotten contributions up and down the lineup all season long," Pavlik said. "This one hurts, but for the guys coming back next season it should also serve as a motivator, that will be interesting to see how it works out in that way."

For Penn State, the returnees include Nugent, Aidan Albrecht, Jalen Penrose, Matt Callaway, Kevin Gear and Clemens. All these players were main factors in victories at one point or another for Penn State this season.

"Obviously we aren't happy with the way this season ended," Albrecht said. "But we know we have a group of guys who have experience and can help us build a very good team next season as well. We just have to work hard and make sure were ready."

Though the loss may sting for a few more days, the new season has already started for Pavlik and Penn State.

"This is a feeling we haven't felt in a while, now the job is to take this disappointment and make sure the program benefits from it," Pavlik said. 

Senior Leadership to Help Lions in Postseason

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11886641.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Experience is a key factor on any team, especially when the postseason begins.

The Penn State men's volleyball team is loaded with experience. Though the team is only graduating five seniors, the underclassmen on the team have also seen more than enough game experience to be considered seasoned veterans. Everything is magnified come playoff time, including the importance of leadership. This fact is something that head coach Mark Pavlik is well aware of.

"I think that this is the time of year where the seniors step up and lead by example on and off the court," Pavlik said. "They have done that a lot for us and you certainly hope they continue to do so."

Penn State lost its last match of the season, an uncharacteristically sloppy performance at George Mason. Though it was the Nittany Lion's final match, Pavlik says he isn't too concerned by that match and says it shouldn't be too indicative of how the team will come out in their EIVA semifinal match.

"Our mindset after the match was okay," Pavlik said. "We had the luxury of playing in a playoff environment when it didn't matter, so now when we get home on Thursday and then maybe Saturday, we will be prepared for that and I think that is the best thing about playing Mason when we did is it gave us a big time game to prepare us for the playoffs."

Penn State's captains are always the ones to step up and calm the team down after matches, or encourage them after wins on the bus rides back. One of those captains, Matt Seifert said that this team is unselfish and will always be ready to play despite the result.

"We have a group of guys that play very hard so I don't think that effort is ever the issue, we just have to remind ourselves to play clean volleyball and stayed focused," Seifert said.  

As the season has gone on for the Nittany Lions, the leadership of the seniors and other captains has shown not just in their vocal encouragement, but also in their willingness to do what is best for the team. Every senior has been sat at points in the season or pulled from a match, but it never seems to affect the overall team psyche or that individual as well.

"We know what we are going to get from everyone on this roster," Pavlik said. "There are no secrets when it comes to our team and I think that is a big benefit for us come this time of the year because we know that one through 13, everyone on that bench needs to and will be ready to jump into the game. I always tell the guys that because more often than not there is a time in a game where they are going to need to step up off the bench cold and come deliver a play for us."

No senior epitomizes the leadership off the bench role better than Andrew Roberts. The service specialist has seen time at right side during the season but primarily journeys behind the service line one to three times a match to try and provide his team a spark.

"Andrew really helps us out a lot and he is one of those guys who is so reliable off the bench," Aiden Albrecht said. "It's tough to come in and make a good serve while you're cold, but Andrew does it really well."

Leadership and experience are not the only key components to a long playoff run, but they certainly are cornerstones and a good foundation to have. The Nittany Lions will rely on their experienced roster as a whole as they start the EIVA tournament this Thursday in Rec Hall at 7:30 p.m. against Saint Francis. The winner of Saint Francis-Penn State will face the Harvard-George Mason winner on Saturday night at 7 p.m. for the championship. 

Lions Enter Final Weekend with Eye on Postseason

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11867240.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Many consider the playoffs in any sport to be the start of a new season.

The same rings true for the Penn State Nittany Lion men's volleyball team as they begin their pursuit for their 18th consecutive EIVA postseason crown. Although the team has two games remaining on the regular season schedule, the group's mentality has somewhat shifted to the upcoming season, the postseason.

"We will try out a few guys and keep them fresh," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "But if we have a group of guys playing well, we want to keep it that way and give them as much playing time before the tournament as possible."

Senior captain Matt Seifert was quoted after the teams win against Sacred Heart saying that, "This is just one step for us, we have a lot more to go to accomplish what we want." That mentality from Penn State, that the regular season is just the beginning, is an idea of how poised and ready the team is entering postseason play. Although the Nittany Lion's are expected to win the EIVA, the conference is not an easy weekend by any means, and Pavlik was quick to reiterate that point.

"We know that this conference is tough and it's getting better so we took care of the first step, but there are teams in the EIVA that can beat us and we have to be ready during the tournament as well," Pavlik said.

The regular season has been up and down for the Nittany Lions, though the needle certainly seems to be pointing up for the Penn State team who has won six of its last eight contests. Though Penn State is playing some of its best volleyball of the season, Pavlik believes that it doesn't always matter how a team is heading in to the postseason, just so long as they play well when the time comes.

"I've seen it both ways," Pavlik said. "At the end of the day I don't know if it matters one way or another because when you watch enough volleyball you have seen it happen both ways. We just have to take care of our team and make sure we are playing as well as we can."

With the win, the EIVA playoffs will be hosted here at Rec Hall. After a final month that has had Penn State traveling all over the east coast to face EIVA, the Nittany Lions will be home for as long as their season will continue. The national finals will also be held in Happy Valley. If all goes well for Penn State, the furthest the Nittany Lions will have to travel is the 20 feet from their locker room to the main court at Rec Hall. For Penn State, the lack of travel is a commodity that they don't take for granted.

"It's huge for us," Pavlik said. "The fact that we don't have to travel just takes that part of the equation right out of the picture. It is a lot to worry about travel plans on top of actually game planning so the fact that we can stay at home and rest well and play in front of our fans is a big difference."

That difference will be present for as long as the season persists for Penn State. With two more games on the road against Charelston (WV) and George Mason, the Nittany Lions have a chance to close out the season on a high note and enter Happy Valley for what they hope is a playoff run. 

With Eyes On The Bigger Goal, Nittany Lions Honor Seniors and Lock Up EIVA

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11860946.jpeg

By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The domination of the EIVA continues for the Penn State Nittany Lions.

For the 18th-straight regular season, Penn State is on top of the EIVA after closing out Harvard and Sacred Heart for a weekend sweep and clinching blow at the top of the standings.

As he has so much this season, Chris Nugent was once again the leader for Penn State on the court, tallying 31 total kills over the weekend, including 21 on .645 hitting in and impressive performance against Sacred Heart. With the wins, the Nittany Lions did exactly what they said they wanted to do and locked up the EIVA title at home.

"I really liked all aspect of our game," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "No matter who we threw out there I think we played really well. We were in a good point scoring rhythm and a good side out rhythm."

The match, according to senior Matt Seifert, is just one part of the overall goal for the Nittany Lions. Coming in to the season, the Nittany Lions were a top 15-ranked team. Now towards the end of the season, they still are and they are playing exceptional volleyball. All season long, their eyes have been on the overall prize of a national title.

"It's one step towards the big goal," Seifert said. "We know we can't achieve that goal and win a national championship if we don't win this conference. It's just the first step towards what we want to do."

Though Nugent led the Nittany Lions over the weekend, Friday and Saturday, were all about the Penn State senior class. Spencer Sauter, Taylor Hammond, Zack Parik, Andrew Roberts and Seifert were all honored before the match on Saturday evening. Emotions were undoubtedly running high as the seniors took the court for their final regular season match at Rec Hall.

"Historically this is a tough match for us," Pavlik said. "We have to switch gears early, going from the emotions of senior night and honoring the guys who have meant so much to this program for the last four or five years, to getting into a competitive mindset to win a match."

Every senior that was honored contributed to the overall result on Saturday. Matt Seifert was second on the team with eight kills and led the defense at the net with three blocks. Andrew Roberts finished off the match with the game winning kill from the outside. Taylor Hammond was consistent as always and dished out 49 assists. Parik had four assists and Sauter added a kill as every senior found their way on to the scoring sheet.

Despite all the festivities and the label of Senior Night, the Nittany Lion seniors still said that they don't feel like this match was actually their senior night.

"I think myself and the other guys don't really consider this our senior night," Seifert said. "We know that were going to get another match here and it felt a little different at the start, but when I was walking through the line and talking to the guys I was just saying lets get ready to go."

The Nittany Lions have two regular season matches left before the postseason and they seem to be rounding into the form that helped them rattle off 11 straight wins earlier in the season. Though the regular season may be winding down, for Penn State, the season is just starting.


Lions Focused on Rest Heading Into Stretch Run

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11849114.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State has dominated the EIVA conference for the last 17 years, winning titles in each of those seasons.

The Nittany Lions have a chance to make that 18 straight this coming weekend, depending on how things shake out, Penn State could sit atop the EIVA on Friday or Saturday. If NJIT wins its matchup against George Mason on Thursday and Penn State beats Harvard Saturday, the Nittany Lions claim the regular season crown. If Mason wins, Penn State would need a weekend sweep over Harvard and Sacred Heart to claim the title.

There are many scenarios, but the scenario right now for Penn State is simple, keep winning and stay consistent. The Nittany Lions have gotten back to the level of play they were exhibiting during their 11-game win streak early on in the season. For Penn State, though, its fate may somewhat lie in the hands of other people, the focus remains on what they can do.

"We may watch a little of the game on Thursday," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I'm sure we will be paying attention to the game in some capacity, we definitely won't ignore it but we have to win Friday regardless."

Last week, Pavlik was quoted saying that the NJIT match that weekend was Penn State's biggest of the season. Now, it very well may be that this Harvard matchup on Friday is the biggest match. If the Nittany Lion's can't clinch Friday, the importance shifts to the match Saturday against Sacred Heart.

"Sacred Heart caught us by surprise the first time," said Pavlik. "I think we took them a little lightly and they took it to us early on in that match. They are one of the more physical teams in the EIVA and they certainly can play so we can't take them lightly to begin with this time."

Penn State is fresh off a loss to Ohio State, but Pavlik made it clear to the team that the EIVA matches remaining are the ones that are critically important for the Nittany Lions.

"We want to win every match," Jalen Penrose said. "Still, Coach has said that the EIVA is what matters and we are focused on this weekend."

Penn State not only faces a few tough conference opponents this coming weekend, they also face an adversary in fatigue. Penn State is currently in a stretch that consists of five matches in nine days and if you look even further back, 10 matches in 21 days. It is uncommon for a team to face games this closely together meaning rest and relaxation and even more important for Penn State in the coming days.

"We are definitely putting a big emphasis on it," Pavlik said. "Especially in the end of the season it is even more important. I've said we are playing the equivalent of an NHL playoff schedule in these past weeks so we have to be mentally and physically prepared for matches."

Aidan Albrecht shares the sentiments of his coach, saying that the players certainly know how important it is to be healthy and fresh during the season.

"We've taken a lot of swings so at this point in the season the rest is even more important for us as a team so we can be ready for our matches," said Albrecht.

Penn State will take on Harvard and Sacred Heart this upcoming weekend. First serve against Harvard is set for 7 p.m. on Friday and Sacred Heart and Penn State will square off at 7 p.m. Saturday. 

Tough EIVA Schedule Awaits Penn State Down The Stretch

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's volleyball team has seven games remaining on its regular season schedule.

Six of those games are against EIVA conference foes, while the seventh is against the No. 1 team in the nation, Ohio State. Despite the fact that Penn State has won 17 consecutive EIVA titles, the remainder of their schedule is anything but easy and head coach Mark Pavlik will be the first one to admit that.

According to Pavlik the EIVA has changed dramatically in the past few years. Once a Penn State dominated league, the quality of the other teams has significantly increased over the past four years or so. Now, what may have been six easy contests to end the season for Penn State has suddenly turned into six matches that will really push the team.

"New Jersey Tech is playing really well, they are second in the conference now and Princeton is always tough to play at their place," Pavlik said. "That is just this weekend and then we have Harvard and Sacred Heart soon after. We have a real chance to solidify our position in the EIVA and play volleyball like we were doing earlier in the season."

Pavlik says that while the EIVA is improving, it still may not be getting the attention it fully deserves. However, the group of players on the Penn State team at the moment have all grown up in the era of the EIVA being a very competitive conference and therefore Pavlik says he doesn't have to worry about his team taking any of their last six conference matches lightly.

"I don't think we need to say a whole lot because these guys didn't know the EIVA of 10-15 years ago," Pavlik said. "They have known the EIVA in the last four years and it has gotten much better. This group has battled and lost to a lot of teams so they understand what they are getting into with the EIVA right now."

Penn State is coming off of an up and down month of March in which they played some of the top competition from both the West Coast and the Midwest. The wins or losses don't matter much to Penn State overall since they are out of conference games, but Pavlik said it gave the team a good indication of what they need to do better and how they can improve down the final stretch of the season.

Every team wants to hit its stride coming down the home stretch and Penn State is no different. Pavlik says he thinks that playing the tough competition of the EIVA the remainder of the season will not only give Penn State a more battle tested mentality, but it will also make sure that the Nittany Lions are playing good volleyball come playoff time.

"I think this is where we want to be playing our best volleyball," Pavlik said. "We want to ramp up to EIVA championship and NCAA championship level but we also want to make a concerted effort to play our best this last month of the season."

The last month of the season will start with road matches this weekend against NJIT and Princeton. Princeton is one of the tougher environments to play on the road in the EIVA and NJIT is second behind Penn State in the standings. For the Nittany Lions it could be a weekend that propels them forward in the standings and gets them started on some late season magic, or it could make the rest of the games that much tougher.

"We know what the task at hand is and now it's about getting it done," Pavlik said. NJIT and Princeton are very tough opponents so we know we have to play well to beat them."

Friday's match is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start while Saturday is slated as a 4 p.m. first serve. 

Nittany Lions Starting To Regain Identity

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11822600.jpeg By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is slowly getting back to where it wants to be and where it was earlier on this season.

The Nittany Lions took a few steps forward in their weekend games against Lewis and Loyola Chicago. Penn State beat Lewis in five sets on Friday night and lost to Loyola Chicago, the defending national champions, in four sets on Saturday.

The last couple of weekends, the Nittany Lions have been searching for two things according to head coach Mark Pavlik, consistency and their overall competitiveness. The weekend, much like the last couple of weekends, was up and down. However, Penn State continued to make strides, albeit small at times, towards getting back to its top form.

Match one was a match that mirrored the efforts of Penn State in mid-February. The Nittany Lions didn't necessarily play their best volleyball, but their compete level was off the charts, resulting in a thrilling finish in the fifth set. The Nittany Lions battled to a 15-12 victory to secure the season sweep over Lewis.

"Game five, to me, was probably the best game five we've played all season," Pavlik said. "We were steady late. When they tied it at six I thought we just got stronger and stronger. That was a very good win for us against a very good team."

Much has been made of Penn State's up and down run these past couple weeks and right now, though some things have been figured out, on nights like this it's as simple as being up or down during the right time.

"Well us playing well in the fifth tells me that we're up now," Pavlik said. "If there was a game six, who knows but I was very happy with how we played overall in this match, not just game five."

In game two of the weekend, Penn State took a step back against the defending national champions. Despite a convincing victory in game one, Penn State couldn't maintain a high level of play and fell in four sets, dropping the last three in a row like they have in their down period.

There were some bright spots in the match as Jalen Penrose saw substantial action for the first time in almost a month and made the most out of it. The redshirt sophomore had 12 kills on 18 attempts and limited his errors to only two. Penrose could be a major contributor to a playoff run if he is able to maintain his consistency.

Despite the negative impact of the second game on Penn State's record, the first game held many positives that can outweigh the negatives of a weekend split. According to captain and senior Matt Seifert, he feels like the team may be starting to find their identity. If that's the case, they are finding it at just the right time.

"I think we're starting to find our identity," Pavlik said. "We're going to fight, scratch and claw and do whatever we have to do to win for as long as we need to. I think it's just a testament to the team that we can do whatever we need to do for as long as we have to."

Penn State has a few big tests coming up as they take on NJIT and Princeton this upcoming weekend before heading to Ohio State for a Tuesday road contests the following weekend. 


Nittany Lions Regaining Competitive Edge; Poised For Stretch Run

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11812635.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The stretch run in any sport is synonymous with tightly contested games and the push for the playoffs.

The Nittany Lion men's volleyball team finds itself nearing that part of the season as the second half of EIVA play is set to begin. Penn State is currently 7-1 in the EIVA and have proven once again to be the team to beat.

However, recent stumbles for Penn State have seen them fall in the rankings. The mistakes that the Nittany Lion's have made in the past couple matches hadn't happened for most of the season and are something that head coach Mark Pavlik knows they cannot have during the second half of the season.

"We know we can be better, it's just a matter of stepping up and doing so," Pavlik said. "We have a lot of guys who know how to deal with adversity so I don't think it's ever been a question of if we will figure it out, just when."

Penn State gained a much needed win over UC Irvine this past Monday, snapping a four game losing streak and more importantly, beginning the stretch run of their last 10 games, with a significant victory.

Much of the struggle for the Nittany Lions in their past couple of games has been to regain their mentality of competing every single point. There were multiple signs in Monday's contest to suggest that Penn State is close to regaining that mentality.

"We had a point where we were done with how we were playing. We were in a drought and we were done with that. We needed to change what we were doing," said setter Taylor Hammond.

The Nittany Lions still know that they can do better, but the win certainly goes a long way for the team, especially against a West Coast foe who is historically a powerhouse.

"When you compete hard and you win, it kind of pushes everything else to the side," Pavlik said. "It enables you to start with maybe a cleaner mental slate and be more confident in yourself."

Pavlik also said he agrees with the sentiment that the team certainly started to regain their competitive edge against UC Irvine. Pavlik mentioned after the defeat against St. Francis that he felt his team had lost that edge, but that it started to permeate through the team psyche during Monday's match.

"I think it was definitely better," Pavlik said. "We had given up six aces through about one set and a half and I posed the challenge to our passers to just compete. I think from that point on they had one ace and it was a clean serve that clipped the line, that is the type of mentality that we need to carry with us for the rest of the season."

The rest of the season, save for the two games this weekend against Lewis and Loyola Chicago and a mid week game against Ohio State, will be against EIVA foes. Also, for a team who has been accustomed to playing at home, Penn State will have five of their remaining nine games on the road. However, despite the differences, junior Chris Nugent says there is a simple fix.

"We need to make adjustments and be comfortable making them," Nugent said. "The coaching staff tells us the right things to do, we just have to execute it."

The EIVA is a conference that Penn State has dominated for the better part of the last two decades. That being said, even though the stretch run is dominated by EIVA matches, that doesn't mean that it will be easy to finish the season for Penn State.

"The EIVA is very tough now," Pavlik said. "There are some good teams out there and they are just getting better as you can see by the St. Francis match we just played. It's no longer a league where we can go out and not play our best and win, we have to show up and compete with all these teams. I'm expecting big crowds and tough games when we head on the road to NJIT and Princeton."

With the end of the season coming up, Penn State must bear down in their quest to defend their EIVA title and ultimately play for a national championship. If Monday's match is any indication, the Nittany Lions are starting to make great strides in getting back to their competitive and never say die attitude that gave them so much success early on in the season.

Penn State takes the court next against Lewis with first serve scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Rec Hall on Friday night. 

@GOPSUSPORTS

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