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Nittany Lions Sweep Weekend, Remain Atop EIVA

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10934375.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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 rate...you'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, GoPSUsports.com 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 plays...it'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, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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.

VIDEO: Men's Volleyball Alumni Weekend

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUsports.com takes an inside look at men's volleyball alumni weekend in Happy Valley.

Nittany Lions Continue Sweep Streak Against Erskine

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10757389.jpegBy Matt Allibone, GoPSUSports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's volleyball team is starting to get accustomed to quick matches.

Against Erskine on Friday night, the Nittany Lions didn't lose a set, winning three straight by scores of 25-17, 25-14, and 25-19. The victory marked the third straight sweep for the Blue and White, who defeated Saint Francis and Mount Olive in similar matches last weekend.

The Flying Fleet entered the match 7-1 on the year and played tough throughout the match, but the Nittany Lions refused to allow them to develop any rhythm. According to head coach Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik, the goal for his team was to force their opponent to play "big-boy volleyball."

"This match was really won by our physicality behind the line," Pavlik said. "We ended up serving the ball really well and it gave them trouble. There were balls being binged off of people and not great passes. The best description of it was a workman-like approach. They punched the clock, came in and we did what we had to do and got out of there."

While Erskine managed to score the first point of each set and even led 3-0 to open up the first, the Lions were able to stay focused and took control of the match every time the Fleet seemed close to starting a run.

In the first, the two teams went back and forth for the first 29 points, with Penn State holding on to a 16-13 lead. At that point, the Lions began to heat up, going on a 6-0 run in which they forced Erskine to commit four errors.

That would be a theme throughout the three sets. While the Nittany Lions played a clean, disciplined game and only committed four attack errors, Erskine had 20 and hit just .118 overall.

"I thought the last seven or eight points [of the first set], all of a sudden we started to get really on-track with our serving," Pavlik said. "Any ball that came over we were putting back, we were literally running our offense at a pretty high efficiency in transition. We eventually wore them down in game one and they made their spurts in [sets] two and three early and we just settled into a, if not exciting level, a good level."

The Lions were certainly at a good level in the second, registering a .652 hitting percentage that helped them finish the match with an excellent .500 mark, high above their season mark of .254.

It was also in the second that the team's most reliable offensive player, senior Aaron Russell, began to heat up. After not finishing any kills in the first period, the outside hitter completed eight of 11 attempts in the second on his way to a team-high 12 and a .435 percentage.


"It was just kind of [junior setter] Taylor [Hammond] letting me settle in," Russell said. "I think I only had a few attempts (three) in the first too. In he next few sets I ended up with 23 total, so obviously I got settled a lot more."

Russell may have been reliable as usual, but he was not the only Nittany Lion to perform strongly on Friday. Senior Nick Goodell had seven kills, including six in the first set, Hammond was his steady self with 32 assists and sophomore outside hitter Chris Nugent tied Russell with 12 kills to go with a .526 hitting percentage.

Nugent's performance was especially pleasing for Pavlik to see, as it was the sophomore's second straight strong game, after he finished the Saint Francis match with six kills and seven aces.

"He's passing the ball," Pavlik. "And that's what we're looking for. If we can get Chris's offense and his passing can settle down and allow our offense to run as it needs to that's a bonus. We know he has a great arm, it's if his platform can keep up with it."

Having now won three straight matches (and nine straight sets) the Nittany Lions are beginning to establish some momentum after starting the season 0-6.

"I think it boost's [our confidence]," Russell said. "We've improved a lot, we're playing some good-level ball, and we're playing with some intensity so we're excited." 

Men's Volleyball Notches Weekend Sweep

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10741350.jpegBy Maria Canales, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The Nittany Lion men's volleyball team is now happily relieved to be in the win column following a pair of dominant performances in Rec Hall over the weekend.

After tough losses last weekend to Loyola University Chicago and Lewis, the Nittany Lions found their groove and came home with a win Friday night against Mount Olive (N.C.). Sophomore Chris Nugent led the team Friday with 16 kills, a career-high, that helped the Nittany Lions power past the Trojans in straight sets (25-18, 25-11, 25-10).

"I tried not to focus on anything other than just playing my game," said Nugent. "You know, doing what I've been doing my whole life. It was my first home start and it was a really good experience, so it was a lot fun to play with such a big crowd and play well with our team."


Head coach Mark Pavlik was proud of the team's performance in Friday's match as well.

"We did what we had to do, we were clean, and I think that's what pleased me the most," said Pavlik.

The win came as a relief and validated the hard work the team has put in over the past few weeks. With as tough a schedule as the group had to open 2015, and even though it resulted in losses, the team had been motivated by their performances against some of the top-ranked teams in the country, including No. 1 Loyola-Chicago. Redshirt senior Nick Goodell believed the team's time for a win had come, and they took advantage of it.

"The first win's the hardest," said Goodell. "Other than that I mean we knew we were gonna get it, just we were playing some of the best competition. Since I've been here the past five years we've never had a schedule like this. And I mean we'd rather be in a different position right now but I'm glad that we played some top teams, they really exposed our weaknesses. So we're fixing what we need to and work off that."

A boisterous crowd welcomed the Red Flash of Saint Francis University to Rec Hall on Saturday night. The Nittany Lions went on to win three straight sets again (25-18, 25-18, 25-18) defeating the EIVA conference foe.

"We preach process, process, process, you do what you have to do over time," said Pavlik. "The wins take care of themselves and really I was feeling good after last weekend. The way we played against Loyola and Lewis you knew it was just gonna be a matter of time of putting things together."

On Saturday, senior Aaron Russell led the way for the Nittany Lions with 17 kills, enabling the team to take the lead in every set. Russell emphasized that the hard work the team had put in over previous weeks led to their ability to stay energized. He noted that although his individual stats on the court stood out, it was a team effort that led to back-to-back wins on consecutive nights.  

"Makes me feel like I did my job and the guys around me, everything's clicking," said Russell. "It feels good. I hope this winning streak continues."

Coach Pavlik was quick to emphasize that the team takes matches one at a time, rather than looking at winning two games in a row as a winning streak. Overall, Pavlik was pleased with the weekend's results, but was ready to move on after the team's first wins of the season.  

"As I said, the roll with the punches tour of 2015 continues," said Pavlik. "Glad we'll take this and get ready for Erskine on Friday."

Russell and Family Make Noise in Opening Home Weekend

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10722812.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After four straight road matches to begin the 2015 campaign, the Penn State men's volleyball team (0-6) returned to Rec Hall this past weekend to open up a five-match homestand.

Despite dropping Friday night's match to defending national champion and No. 1 Loyola (5-0) in four sets (26-28, 26-24, 23-25, 21-25), as well as Saturday evening's contest to No. 2 Lewis (6-1) in four frames (18-25, 25-18, 22-25, 20-25), senior Aaron Russell and his family positively impacted the home opening weekend.


Russell produced standout performances in both matches, tallying 14 kills in the close contest against Loyola. Then, the senior outside hitter tallied a match-high 23 kills in the competitive bout against Lewis.

He wasn't the only Russell in attendance, however. In fact, his older brother, Peter, who was the lone graduate from last year's team, as well as the rest of his family, was in attendance to cheer on Aaron and the squad.


"It was great," said Russell when asked about having his family in the stands. "Earlier this week I was texting with Peter, and he was trying to encourage me about the matches this upcoming weekend facing number one and two in our gym. He told me that 'You guys don't lose in your gym. You guys should have all the confidence in the world. You have nothing to lose.' I thought it was pretty cool to hear him say that and see him up here supporting me."

For Russell, this is not the way he envisioned the season to start, but he sees growth from his teammates each and every day.

"It's tough," said Russell. "That's something that we've been talking about every single day, every single week. We just continue to work hard to try and get that first win. I know it's frustrating to hear myself say that, but I think that we continue to get better. I think that was a different team on the court than we were last week."

Russell's parents Stewart and Marian are his two biggest fans. So much so that Stewart was the cheerleader in the stands, initiating the "We Are" chant time and time again to fire up the crowd.

According to Aaron, this comes as no surprise.


"After every match he always comes up to me and - he's been my coach since day one - so he'll always come on to the court after and just encourage me and give me some pointers," said Russell about his father. "A lot of it right now is about leadership. I'm trying to learn a lot from him."

Russell family aside, the biggest takeaway from this weekend is that Penn State's record is not reflective of the team's talent and ability. Five of its six opponents thus far are ranked nationally.

A challenging regular season slate prepares the team for postseason play. As head coach Mark Pavlik always says, "No team has ever won a championship in January."

In addition to Russell, outside hitters Nick Goodell and Spencer Sauter, as well as middle hitter Matt Callaway all displayed strong play on the court. In the two matches, Goodell totaled 36 kills, Sauter netted 18 kills and Callaway generated 19 kills. Setter Taylor Hammond added 99 assists over the two games.

"I like this team," said Pavlik. "We're not where we want to be. They haven't blown apart. There's no finger pointing. We're in this together. It's going to get better. The challenge in front of this team is to say, 'How good can you get over the course of the rest of the year?' My money is on them."