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Nittany Lions Step Up in Split Weekend

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's volleyball saw solid contributions from a pair of Nittany Lions who have been relatively quiet in this weekend's split against Harvard and Sacred Heart at Rec Hall.

The Nittany Lions took care of business against Harvard Friday night, sweeping the Crimson in straight sets behind an impressive team hitting percentage of .373. On Saturday, Penn State faced an EIVA setback against Sacred Heart, falling to the EIVA leading squad in four sets. 

Despite the sour ending to the weekend, the one constant bright spot was the consistency from Aidan Albrecht and Lee Smith, who both had double digit kills each match in the absence of Chris Nugent.

"With Chris out, Aidan has stepped into the roll now and I think it's huge for him and the team," Smith said. "It can really help our bench and the rest of us grow as a team and Aidan has done a great job." 

Over the weekend, Smith led all Nittany Lions with 26 kills and a hitting clip close to .300. Albrecht was not far behind as he totaled 24 kills with a similar hitting efficiency. With Nugent sidelined, both Smith and Albrecht are now the go-to forces on the outside for the Nittany Lions, having been given their opportunity this weekend.

"I think both of them played very well," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We talk a lot on this team about how you always have to be ready to contribute and you see that with Chris out now."

On Friday, the Nittany Lions swept past Harvard, but it wasn't completely void of a few close call. Most notably, Penn State claimed a close 35-33 win the second set to claim a crucial two-set lead heading into the intermission. In a set featuring 15 times and six lead changes, the Nittany Lions came out on top in one of their craziest sets so far this season. 

"It was a lot of back and forth and both teams sided out really well," Albrecht said. "I think we got in to a little bit better of a rhythm at the end of the set."

The win against Harvard was a big one for Penn State, creating a good separation between them and the Crimson in the standings. Saturday presented a tougher challenge and a bit of adversity for Penn State as the Nittany Lions matched up against one of the top libero's in the country in Sacred Heart's Joshua Ayzenberg. Ayzenberg had 22 digs in just four sets and was the catalyst for the Pioneers.

Despite the loss, once again, Smith and Albrecht were both tremendous and the Nittany Lions will have plenty to build off of heading into a very important road trip to George Mason and Charleston (West Va.). 

"We have to focus on playing as a team and not playing for ourselves," setter Luke Braswell said after Saturday's contest. "Our focus should be Penn State and how we can be better as a team. If we bring our own energy, we can hang with anyone."

Penn State will travel to George Mason and Charleston this weekend for a pair of Friday-Saturday matchups. First serve for both matches is set for 7 p.m. 

Nittany Lion Depth Tested

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer 
   

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Depth is one of the biggest weapons a team can have. It often separates out the true contenders when the season nears its stretch run.

Penn State men's volleyball has already had its depth tested this season with starting setter Luke Braswell out of the lineup with an injury. Braswell has been tremendous this season for the Nittany Lions, but in his wake, true freshman Nathan Smith has been just as promising.

Smith led the Nittany Lions to back-to-back wins on the road in Penn State first conference road test this past weekend. The five-set victories at NJIT and Princeton showcased setter talents as well as the team's resiliency.

"Nathan is very talented and he wasn't fazed by anything on the court," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I think our team as a whole is at the point where we believe in ourselves no matter where the match is." 

That belief was at the forefront of comeback victories in both five setters as Penn State proved to be road warriors in New Jersey.

Despite a minor setback on the road at Saint Francis Tuesday, the Nittany Lions are still positioned at number two in the EIVA standings and sporting lots of confidence.

"I don't think we need much mental reset with this team, they take things one set at a time and don't get too carried away," Pavlik said.

Albrecht Adds Versatility

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For Penn State, Friday and Saturday mark another big road test in the EIVA. For Nittany Lion Aidan Albrecht, the two games mean a little bit more.

Albrecht played high school volleyball at Old Bridge, located roughly 45 minutes from both Princeton and NJIT. It was at Old Bridge that w Albrecht honed his skills and began to polish himself into the player Penn State sees on the court today.

Albrecht was a two-time All-State player, earned player of the state honors in New Jersey in 2013. Last year, when Penn State made the trip to New Jersey, Albrecht had the thrill of a lifetime, playing in front of family and friends who had never seen him play before.

"Last year was definitely awesome playing in this road trip," Albrecht said. "It was pretty cool seeing a lot of my family and friends in the stands who had never seen me before play. It's pretty cool playing in front of so many people who helped me get where I am today."

Albrecht has been a key contributor for Penn State since his redshirt freshman season two years ago. Adding to his game, it's unique skill to be able to perform at a high level at more than one position. Albrecht has done more than that, having played three different positions for Penn State since his first season. 

"I think when we realized Aidan was the player he is is when [Matt] Seifert went down with an injury a few years ago," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "He came in at a position he was unfamiliar in and played middle very well for us."

Although Albrecht is listed as an outside on the roster, his versatility has seen him play right side and middle blocker. While many people would struggle with juggling two or three positions, Albrecht has done the opposite, working well in all three places.  

"My role on the team right now is basically just do whatever is asked of me," Albrecht said. "I've basically played every position so I feel comfortable taking on different roles." 

Though Albrecht's role on the team this year has been slightly limited on the court, he has still produced solid numbers every time he has been called upon. On the year, Albrecht has 41 kills, 12 blocks and 20 digs. Now a redshirt junior, not only is Albrecht expected to produce on the court, there is an added expectation of leadership as well.

"During practice I feel an added sense of leadership," Albrecht said. "When I'm out there practicing with a lot of younger guys they look for me for pointers and tips. I think it's important to help them because it will pay off for both them and myself in the long run."

Pavlik says that despite Albrecht's calm demeanor and quiet personality, he is as competitive as they come when he steps on the court. What Albrecht has demonstrated in his time at Penn State is that depth and flexibility are important assets on a winning team. 

"It is very nice having someone who has so much experience in a role like the one Aidan has right now," Pavlik said. "He has played more positions than anyone else at this level and there aren't many situations he hasn't seen while out on the court." 

Albrecht and the Nittany Lions will look to continue their hot streak this weekend. Penn State travels to NJIT Friday, Feb. 10 before heading to Princeton Saturday Feb. 11 for its first two EIVA outings on the road. First serve for both matches is set for 7 p.m.

Energy Powers Lions in EIVA Opener

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The energy in Rec Hall was palpable from the first serve, but such is the usual setting when it comes to EIVA conference play inside the historic building. Friday night's conference opener had an added electricity in the air though, as Penn State and Saint Francis met on the court for the first time since last year's EIVA Championship event. 

Penn State came out with a determined and dominant performance in its conference opener, closing out Saint Francis in straight sets in front of a raucous Rec Hall crowd.

"I cant say enough about the support we got from the wRECking crew and from everybody else that showed up," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Penn State hit a blistering .423 in their first EIVA matchup of the season. In front of a crowd of more than 1,000, the Nittany Lions channeled the energy from the crowd and the energy that the team themselves seemed to have beginning with warmups all the way through their victory. 

"It felt more like 3,000 people in that crowd tonight," Pavlik said. "Our players never backed down and we really fed off the energy from the crowd. I thought we were as aggressive as we have been all season long. If we keep moving in that direction, I like where we are headed."

In the brotherly matchup featuring Braswell vs. Braswell, Luke bested his elder brother Stephen, as he steered Penn State to its highest hitting percentage of the season. Braswell also poured in an ace, six digs, a kill and a team-high three blocks. Penn State limited Stephen to just seven kills, holding the All-EIVA honoree to a hitting clip below .100.  

"I think we passed and blocked very well tonight," Braswell said. "When the passers are on and passing it high like they did tonight, it lets me do my job. Also we out-blocked them by five and a half so even if they passed well we had a big block ready to go."

Saint Francis pushed the Nittany Lions at times during the match, most notably in the second set. Penn State was up 14-9 heading into a Saint Francis timeout. The Red Flash answered with five straight points, but Penn State did not waver and struck right back, overtaking Saint Francis to capture the lead and move ahead without relinquishing the lead.

"I thought that we managed to keep a pretty level head when they went on their runs," Chris Nugent said. "When we went on runs we just kept building on it, I think that was a big difference as well."

Nugent was spectacular for the Nittany Lions, as he poured in 16 kills on .600 hitting. Calvin Mende was strong in a secondary roll as he had 11 kills on .474 hitting. Both Nittany Lions smashed the ball all night, prompting frequently loud cheers from the crowd.

"[Chris] Nugent was great tonight," Braswell said. "Anytime you have a hitter swinging like that it makes your job as the setter a lot easier because you know that he will probably put it away if you go to him." 

It's now on to the next EIVA matchup for Penn State, as the 13th-rank Nittany Lions will have a small bit of time to rest with only one outing this weekend. The focus though will shift toward next week, when the Nittany Lions hit the road for the first EIVA conference road trip, traveling to NJIT and Princeton for a pair of back-to-back weekend matches. First serve for both outings is set for 7 p.m. 

Brothers Meet in Conference Opener

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Come Friday night at Rec Hall, Penn State and Saint Francis won't be the only intriguing matchup as the outing will place brother against brother. 

There aren't many better ways to open the EIVA conference slate for the Nittany Lions than a matchup against the team that unfortunately put a bitter end to Penn State's season just a year ago. Couple that with the fact that when the two teams line up for first serve Friday, Penn State setter Luke Braswell and Saint Francis outside Stephen Braswell will be on opposite ends of the same court, making for quite an interesting night.

"We've talked about it a little bit," Luke, the younger of the two Braswell's said. "It will be a friendly competition, definitely some trash talking as well."

Luke has already been one of many young bright spots for the Nittany Lions during the early part of the 2017 season. Following a redshirt season last year, Braswell spent time soaking in everything from veteran first team All-EIVA Penn State former setter Taylor Hammond. Hammond commanded the offense for all four seasons at Penn State following a redshirt season in his first year on campus, picking up EIVA Newcomer of the Year honors in 2013.   

For Braswell, that experience has made his transition this year from a redshirt Nittany Lion to a leader on the court, a much easier process. Head coach Mark Pavlik also noted that the year of learning and mentoring was beneficial for Braswell, shaping him into a more mature student-athlete, opposed to someone who has played just nine matches at the Division I level.

"He is a very mature player and very smart as well," Pavlik said. "Luke is extremely detailed, he will always look over the box score after games and try to figure out exactly what he can do to get better. That certainly comes with maturity and is one of the reasons why he has been successful so far." 

That maturity and meticulous attention to detail was a trait of Braswell's well before the collegiate level. Even in high school, Braswell says he would always look at the box score after matches and pick out a few areas he wanted to improve on.

"I've just always had a love for volleyball," Braswell said. "I've always wanted to get better and help my team get better so I think it's something that is pretty much a routine to me now."

Through nine games this season, Braswell has already settled into a routine, dishing out numerous assists to his teammates, while also providing a pleasant surprise defensively during his back row rotations. In six of the nine matches, Braswell has dished out 40-plus assists, including 62 against USC in Penn State's first win. The efficiency has placed him at number nine in the nation in terms of assists per set with 10.40 per frame. 

"He just works very hard," Pavlik said. "He still has a lot to learn, we have talked a lot about foot work the past couple weeks and seeing him make decision a little bit quicker. I think that's the next step for him, but he has already been great this season." 

Braswell will be able to continue his progress on the court this Friday, with a familiar face in brother Stephen right across the net. Pavlik says that he knows the rivalry will be a big part of the match for the two brothers, but it is also a big match for the team in general.

"They knocked us out of the tournament last year," Pavlik said. "This is a big match in general because you always want to get in to a good rhythm to start conference play. I was overall happy with our play this past weekend. It will be a great match and they return almost everyone from last year, so we are looking forward to it." 

The Nittany Lions have just one match this week, set for Friday, Feb. 3 at home in Rec Hall. First serve against the Red Flash is set for 7 p.m.

Penn State Bounces Back with Weekend Sweep

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By Ryan Berti, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Rebounding from midweek road loss at Ohio State, Penn State men's volleyball went 6-1 in a pair of wins against Mount Olive and Coker at Rec Hall this weekend.  

 

Friday night, the Nittany Lions swept past Mount Olive to record its 10th consecutive victory in the all-time series against the Trojans. Chris Nugent and Lee Smith both had big nights offensively, combining for 26 kills, just four less than the Trojan's team total.

 

The next night, Penn State completed its undefeated weekend, taking down Coker in the first meeting between the two teams in program history.

 

Coker entered the matchup with an undefeated record, but it was strong outing by the Nittany Lions that handed the Cobras their first loss of the year in four sets.

 

The Cobras were the first to five in the opening set, but the Nittany Lions quickly worked their way to a lead. When Penn State pulled ahead at 16-13, neither team was able to build a lead of more than three, before the Nittany Lions scored five consecutive points to break the 20-point mark with a commanding 20-13 lead.

 

A big part of the Nittany Lions success came from Smith, who finished the night with 16 kills, eight digs and five blocks. Smith was joined by Nugent and Calvin Mende, who each had 12 kills each, to give Penn State a total of three Nittany Lions with double-digit kills.

 

Postgame, Nugent gave credit to his team's ability to execute its plays with quality passing.

 

"We were able to stay in system a pretty good amount," Nugent said. "When we hit .479, it's usually pretty good passing, so Luke [Braswell] can kind of run whatever he wants, so I think that helped us a lot too."

 

Penn State rode their hot streak to set point at 24-17, but the Cobras answered to arrive within two at 24-22. Setter Aleksa Bijelic's service error ended the comeback giving Penn State the first set, 25-22.

 

An emphatic block by Mende and Kevin Gear opened the second set, establishing the tone for the Nittany Lions for the rest of the set. Penn State followed with three more blocks and 13 kills, attacking at a .600 clip as they cruised to a 25-16 victory for a 2-0 lead at the intermission.

 

With Penn State leading the match, 2-0, Coker came out aggressive behind the big arms of Joao Victor Santos and Luca Berger, powering the team to a 25-22 victory.

 

Head coach Mark Pavlik and his squad came out with a different look than they did in the third set, battling back with stellar all-around play, limiting Coker to -.045 hitting to secure a 25-14 win in the final frame to secure the win.

 

With the big weekend, coach Pavlik said he was pleased with the team's ability to finish out the month strong as the Nittany Lions head toward conference play.

"I think it's important every weekend that you close on a high," Pavlik said. "And it just propels you into a week where we can sit down and look at the shortcomings that popped out at us and attack it."

 

With February looming and EIVA competition drawing closer, Penn State is happy to have earned its wins, but will not remain content, continuing to push forward/'

 


"This team enjoys the win, and then it's over with," Pavlik said. "They tend to turn things around pretty quickly. I'm sure they'll enjoy this win tonight, and then Monday get in the gym and start preparing for Saint Francis."

 

Nugent Stepping Up in Senior Season

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9641347.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Trust your arm, or T.Y.A. It's a phrase that Penn State senior Chris Nugent has been hearing that from head coach Mark Pavlik since the beginning of his freshman season. One day in practice it was Nugent who struggling with his back row attack, the next Pavlik was telling him to trust his arm. 

"I just blew up at him," Pavlik said. "My final words, very emphatically, were trust your arm. T.Y.A. has kind of become a little mantra between the two of us and it's something he has bought into."

Nugent came to Penn State in the midst of former Nittany Lion All-American and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Aaron Russell's career, so Nugent was able to learn from the success of the upperclassman. Nugent's potential that has come to fruition throughout a stellar career though, has always been on Pavlik's radar. As a role player early on, it's sometimes tough to trust the physical gifts that you have. After that talk with Pavlik, Nugent has never doubted his ability though.

"He doesn't let me forget it either," Nugent said. "I hear it from him every day in practice and it's true. A lot of confidence has to be in every swing and so I keep trying to work toward that and helping the team on every swing I take."

Nugent has been taking swings with added importance as each year has passed. Transitioning from a role player to a leader on the court and focal point of the offense hasn't been easy, but he has made it seem that way. Last year he finished 12th in the nation in kills per set and was named an AVCA Honorable Mention All-American. The progression for Nugent has been noticeable and tremendous in his time at Penn State.

"He has the mentality where he always wants to get the best out of himself and his teammates," Pavlik said. "I think that has served him extremely well here in his playing career."

The transition for Nugent hasn't just been one of increasing offensive offensive production, as there has also been an added emphasis for Nugent to step up as a leader of the team. This year, Nugent is serving as one of the captains for what is a relatively young Nittany Lion squad. 

Pavlik describes Nugent as someone who always wants the best for not just himself, but for everyone around him, a trait that has made the leadership transition easier for both Nugent and Pavlik. 

"It's not only easy, it's desperately need every year," Pavlik said. "The guys who have been through four and five years and have found success, or maybe more importantly survived failure, are the ones who can turn around to a freshman or sophomore and say something." 

Nugent has been a part of a lot in his time at Penn State, however last year's first ever loss in EIVA Tournament is one that has hung around throughout the offseason, not in a negative light, but more so as a motivational tool for this year's season.

During the offseason there was a lot of discussion surrounding Penn State's ability to come out and play with a chip on their shoulder. This year the focus is right back where it always is, working toward an EIVA championship.

"I think both being a senior and losing the EIVA last year have added motivation to this season for me," Nugent said. "Obviously I want to go out on top and losing the EIVA last year now we aren't the team to beat, so were trying to get back to number one."

The quest for number one continues for Penn State against Mount Olive and Coker this Friday and Saturday. Nugent and the Nittany Lions have dropped two matches to a pair of ranked opponents, but will look to get back on track at home inside Rec Hall. First serve is scheduled for 7 p.m. on both nights.

Catch up with Pavilk following Penn State's early Tuesday road trip to Ohio State this week. 

Five Set Matches Challenge Nittany Lions

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.- A five set volleyball match tests a team's resiliency like nothing else in the sport. Pushed to the brink, both teams are tired and often the match is won solely on guts. For a young team, sometimes there is nothing better than competing in a five-setter to truly gauge where the team is at.

For Penn State men's volleyball, one five-setter in its home-opening weekend wasn't enough. The Nittany Lions pushed both of their matches, against Loyola Chicago and Lewis, to a fifth and final deciding frame. In Thursday night's home-opener, No. 15 Penn State battled in a back and forth affair, before downing ninth-ranked Loyola Chicago in a close five-set outing. Friday night presented a minor setback, as Lewis outlasted a Nittany Lion comeback attempt in yet another five-setter. 

Despite Friday's loss, the Nittany Lions showed a few things that head coach Mark Pavlik has talked about all season long - depth and the belief that no matter what, Penn State has the chance to turn a match around at any point.

"We are never out of a match," Pavlik said. "What we are doing is seeing how far and how long we can push our opponents until they kind of throw up their hands and say, we just can't match them."

Thursday night, that mentality was at the forefront of the match, as Penn State and Loyola traded points, exchanging sets to force a fifth frame. Chris Nugent and Calvin Mende were the spark plugs for the Nittany Lions, leading the way with 15 and 13 kills respectively. However, Penn State also received 10 kills from Aiden Albrecht. Middles Kevin Gear and Matt Callaway added six kills apiece.

"Our depth is going to be one of our biggest strengths this season, Pavlik said. "We are going to use just about everyone in a match because everyone has a role on this team. We just have to work on finding exactly what that is."

On Friday, Penn State continued to maintain the mentality that they've embraced throughout g the course of this early season, fighting all the way down to the final whistle. However, the Nittany Lions came up just a bit short, falling to Lewis in five.

It was Nugent again, who led all Nittany Lions with 15 kills. Unlike Thursday, Penn State battled back from a 2-0 deficit, but couldn't come up with the win in the deciding frame.

"I liked the way we came back in games three and four," Pavlik said. "The way we played in game three and four kind of gives you glimpses of where our future could be."

Certainly the future is bright for the Nittany Lions and matches like Thursday and Friday should only strengthen the confidence throughout the roster. The challenge now, is to find consistency and Pavlik believes if the team finds that, they will find success as well.

"We need to start stringing together those runs of good play over the course of an entire match," Pavlik said. "I think the next big step for us is consistency and once we get that going, we have the talent to do a lot."

The Nittany Lions return to action quickly, as they head to Columbus, Ohio to face defending NCAA national champion Ohio State on the road. First serve is slated for a 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

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.

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