PARK, Pa. - In an EIVA regular season weekend as critical as Penn State head
coach Mark Pavlik
can remember, the No. 13 Nittany Lions put on a gritty performance to emerge
with a four set win against NJIT Saturday evening at Rec Hall.
this capped off a pretty successful weekend for us," Pavlik said. "If we would
have stumbled and gone the other way, it would have really tightened things up
and its given us some breathing room right now."
thrilling five-set victory against Princeton Friday night, the pair of wins widened
the Penn State lead in the EIVA standings, with the Nittany Lions currently
owning a two-match advantage in a title race that could shake out any number of
ways with four of a remaining seven league teams all with six conference wins.
Highlanders came out swinging in the first set, maintaining control through the
midpoint of the opening frame before using a 3-1 streak to pull ahead by as
many as four, 19-15, prompting Penn State to call its first timeout of the
Lions regrouped with back-to-back kills from Adian Albrecht. NJIT answered with
another 3-1 spurt, as a Nittany Lion miscue prompted Penn State's final timeout
before the Highlanders finished off the set, 24-21.
battled point-for-point in the second set before Cal Mende slammed a kill and
paired up Albrecht and Matt Callaway for a triple block to break open a 9-all
tie and give the Nittany Lions their largest lead of the stanza, 11-9. Penn State
struggled to settle into a rhythm though as the Highlanders came right back to
keep the set locked up. Tied at 18-18, NJIT capitalized on three consecutive
Nittany Lion errors to jump ahead by three, 21-18.
was hardly finished though, as Mende followed an NJIT service error with a
crucial kill to spark a 4-0 stretch that lifted the Nittany Lions ahead by one,
22-21. The Highlanders cut off the streak with a kill to tie the score, 22-22,
but Penn State responded with a 3-1 stretch capped off by another triple block
to secure a 25-23 win to tie the match at 1-1 heading into the intermission.
built its lead to as many as five, 15-10, by the midpoint of the third set and didn't
look back, knocking off NJIT 25-21 in sets three and four to wrap up the
once we got aggressive in this game, in game two, that's when things started to
happen for us," Pavlik said.
finished tied for first on the team with 13 kills, stuffing the stat sheet with
six kills in the second set alone.
there was a stretch in there where Cal didn't have great balls to swing at and
still managed to do some things and then Nathan found the shape that he needs
to give Cal and when you give Cal that shape, he's going to put the ball away,"
Pavlik said. "I think that he worked through some of the tough spots and I think
Nathan found him when we needed him and shaped the set the way we needed it
It was Penn
State's veteran leaders though who balanced out the offense, with Albrecht
finishing with 13 kills and a team-high four blocks, just ahead of senior Chris
Nugent, who totaled 12 kills on .407 hitting with six digs. Callaway added
eight kills on .800 hitting. Nugent and Albrecht also registered double figure
kills in the win against Princeton, with Callaway leading the blocking unit
with six total blocks.
seen that movie before and it's a huge advantage," Pavlik said reflecting on
the contributions of his upperclassmen leaders. "It's something where they know
three points here, two points there, it really doesn't matter if you keep
playing the game the way it needs to be played. I think there is something to
be said for the seniors who not only have a settling effect, but also the
opposite when they can look at the younger guys and say, follow me, we're
Along with experience
and leadership, not to be underrated is the performance from Nathan Smith, Penn
State's freshmen setter first thrust into the lineup on the road at Loyola last
weekend after an injury sidelined Luke Braswell. Upon returning home from the
road, Smith directed the Nittany Lion offense to wins in back-to-back
five-setters against top-ranked Ohio State and Princeton before closing out the
weekend with the victory against NJIT.
Nathan did a yeoman's job this weekend, winning a five-gamer and being in a
tight four-gamer," Pavlik said.
his stride with each passing match, Smith has proved nothing short of pivotal
for the Nittany Lions headed into the final stretch of EIVA play.
Nathan's really settled in the last couple of games," Albrecht said. "He's
feeling more confident, he's talking more."
will look to keep its momentum alive on the road next week in yet another key weekend
of conference matchups.
"Next week has become the second most important EIVA
weekend that I can remember," Pavlik said. "You have to take care of business
against Sacred Heart and Harvard."