By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State improved to 3-0 in EIVA play with a dominant win against the Harvard Crimson in Rec Hall's south gym.
For Penn State, the story Saturday afternoon was its prowess behind the service line, along with a stifling defense that limited Harvard to a meager .115 team hitting percentage.
Erratic serving has at times been a point of emphasis for Penn State, but Saturday the Nittany Lions posted nine service aces to Harvard's two, while committing just 15 service errors, a number well below their season average.
"Our serving was what won the match again for us tonight," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "The physicality of our serving really knocked them off the net. It can just wear people down."
Jalen Penrose has been known throughout his career to possess a rocket arm and it was on full display during the match. After tallying three service aces against Sacred Heart Friday night, he followed up with four aces and 10 kills against the Crimson Saturday.
"It's like getting beat by a baseball bat," Pavlik said. "You just keep absorbing those punches and sooner or later the physicality just wears people down especially when you don't see it in your own gym."
Penn State was frequently able to force Harvard out of system, which allowed the Nittany Lions to take a substantial amount of pressure off its defense. The Nittany Lions went on to record nine blocks in the match, holding Harvard's leading hitter, Erik Johnsson, to just seven kills and a .115 hitting percentage.
"We served them well, kept them off the net and they couldn't run their fast offense," setter Luke Braswell said. "It just had to be high balls everywhere, and then our middles could get there and close blocks."
Friday night, Penn State's offensive efficiency was the story of the match against Sacred Heart. While Saturday's offensive performance against Harvard was a bit overshadowed by the Nittany Lions' serving and defense, they still saw Matt McLaren, Calvin Mende and Kevin Gear all hit higher than .300 for the match.
McLaren led the way with 11 kills, while Mende and Gear had six kills and five kills, respectively. Through these two matches this weekend, Mende's offensive value has been quite apparent.
"With Cal [Mende] being back now, blockers will cheat towards him, which leaves our middles and pin hitters open to get more attempts with less blockers in front of them," Braswell said. "It makes the other team worry more about him and less about the others and we've had success that way."
Penn State's preseason goal of finishing undefeated in the league is off to the start it's hoping for. However, in a league that has improved significantly this year, the Nittany Lions still have a long road ahead.
"We need to just keep making steps forward," McLaren said. "Our goal is not to win just the first three, our goal is to win all of them. We need to keep working at practice, keep getting better every day and taking steps forward to reach our goal."