By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State men's volleyball returns to the court Sunday night against the third-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Ohio. The Nittany Lions are coming off a weekend trip to Los Angeles, California where they fell to the second-ranked UCLA Bruins in a competitive four set match, before defeating the 13th-ranked USC Trojans in five sets.
Playing Ohio State will be a tall task in of itself, but the Nittany Lions will have another major obstacle to climb, as they will be without star right side hitter Calvin Mende due to an injury last week. Head coach Mark Pavlik noted he has not decided on a replacement yet.
"We're still looking at that from a practice and statistics standpoint to see who we move and not only who plays well over there, but also - does it balance out the hit we've taken from the position we'll move that player from," Pavlik said
One possible option would be to move middle blocker Jalen Penrose, who played right side in each of his four years before switching to middle this season. Pavlik however, noted that option might disrupt his development from the middle, opting not to consider it an option.
Throughout his time at opposite, Penrose struggled with inconsistency, but so far, he his hitting .368 since making the move to the middle spot this season.
For Pavlik, Penrose's powerful serve will be a key piece of preparation leading up to Sunday's match, especially considering Ohio State is arguably the top serving team in the country.
"They are really physical," Pavlik said. "We're looking at a team where anybody can get hot and really force you into some bad situations. It will be a real challenge for our passers."
Aiden Albrecht was one of the top performers last weekend for Penn State, registering a combined 31 kills in the two matches last week. Albrecht currently leads the team in kills with 49 for the season and is second behind only Penrose in service aces.
"Aiden is at a point where his belief in what he can do is just starting to come on," Pavlik said. "I thought as the weekend went along he just reached a point where it was the Aiden we knew from last year. His attacking out of the back row is a big part of our offense and his left side attacking provides us with a big guy out there who can hit a high level and challenge some good blockers we're going to face."
Penn State also showed some great balance offensively, particularly in its match against USC that saw four Nittany Lions eclipse at least 15 kills for the match. More of this production from multiple players will be needed on Sunday.
"Balance is good because it keeps teams that are preparing for you understanding that they've got to cover the entire net," Pavlik said. "I don't think you have to stay away from somebody because they're inexperienced or whatever the case may be. I think that shows that your offense is able to look at somebody and say here you go get us a point."
The Nittany Lions will need more of that offensive production from multiple Nittany Lions this weekend without their big lefty in Mende. Looking toward Ohio State, the Buckeyes are the third ranked opponent in a row Penn State will face early on in the season. Match time is scheduled for 2 p.m. from St. John Arena.