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Penn State Turns Attention to Ohio State

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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.

Penn State Looking Toward California Challenge

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is 2-0 to start the 2018 volleyball season, with victories coming against Mount Olive and Alderson Broaddus last weekend at home.

This week, a much more daunting pair of games lies ahead, as head coach Mark Pavlik and company will be in Los Angeles, California to take on UCLA Thursday night and USC Saturday afternoon.

With two matches already under their belts, the Nittany Lions have a lot to be excited about looking toward the road trip, but a few things they'll need to get sorted to find continued success.

The Nittany Lions came out a bit flat to open their season and subsequently dropped their opening set to Mount Olive, but that was the only set they would lose the entire weekend.

They were lights out offensively, combining to hit higher than .500 as a team during the two matches. Despite it being early in the season, Penn State did not appear to have much rust on this end of the court.

"The fact that we hit .500 last weekend tells me we didn't hit a ton of balls out of bounds," Pavlik said. "Most of our hitting errors were the result of their block, which I like."

Pavlik attributed much of the offensive success over the weekend to the play of setter and team captain Luke Braswell, who combined for 69 assists in the two games, also earning EIVA Player of the Week honors. 

"I think Luke did a good job of putting the ball in spots where the hitters need it," Pavlik said. "It didn't look like we were trying to find our way offensively, so that was encouraging to me." 

One of the areas of concern, however, was from behind the service line, where the Nittany Lions combined for 27 service errors in their first two matches. Although, most of these errors came in the first set of both matches, Pavlik felt the Nittany Lions settled down nicely following the opening set of both contests.

"I think the areas of concern are the first two games of both matches that it takes a while for us to get in a serving rhythm," Pavlik said. "I've got to find a way to make sure as the year goes on that we're in our serving rhythm when that first game starts."

Pavlik also believes this weekend will be a big test for Penn State's blocking, with a distinct advantage in size and athleticism in the opening two matches of the season.

The biggest question he will have going into this weekend is how long can they play clean fundamental volleyball against two outstanding teams, especially when looking closer at the upcoming opponents.

UCLA will enter Thursday's match as the second-ranked team in the country and will have an advantage on its home court at Pauley Pavilion.

The Bruins are arguably the top serving team in the nation, ranking second nationally with 2.47 aces per set. Like Penn State, they have also started the season strong offensively, ranking sixth in hitting percentage. 

"They're going to execute, execute, execute and when you don't execute, they're going to take advantage of that and they'll score points," Pavlik said.

UCLA is led by two-time All-American outside hitter Jake Arnitz and middle blocker Daenan Gyimah, who reportedly can touch more than 12 feet.

"He is more than a handful to even slow down," Pavlik said. "Their outsides also do some really good things with the ball. They'll play really good volleyball and just wait for you to break down and once they get that crack they're going to score."

USC, on the other hand, is currently the 12th-ranked team in the country despite being one of the younger squads in Division I volleyball.

Pavlik's early focus on the Trojans will be to limit freshman middle Sam Lewis, who is hitting a remarkable .625 from the floor to open the season.

"They're going to figure out how to be good volleyball players," Pavlik said. "[Head coach] Jeff Nygaard will have them ready to compete and they're just going to get better and better throughout the year. It will be an interesting matchup Saturday morning."

Both teams will provide a tough early season test for Penn State, which will prove to be an early indicator of where it stands as a team before heading into conference play.

"Winning is the world's greatest anesthetic - nothing is wrong when you win and that's as far from the truth as everything is wrong when you lose," Pavlik said. "Every weekend is a test. How well we prepare for them is really the question that we have."

Penn State Caps Successful Opening Weekend

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa - Penn State collected its second consecutive win to start its 2018 season, defeating the Alderson-Broaddus Battlers in straight sets (25-20, 25-9, 25-15) in Rec Hall's south gym Saturday evening.

The Nittany Lions did not play under their usual circumstances, as they took the floor in south gym for the first time this year. 

"It's not out of the ordinary for us to play there," middle blocker Jalen Penrose said. "It is a hard gym to play in but that's our home gym and we're used to it, so it wasn't that hard for us really."

"There's a different kind of atmosphere down there with the stands holding a lot less," right side hitter Calvin Mende said. "We have to bring our own energy since it can get pretty quiet in there, so we need to be able to pick each other up."

Saturday night's match was the second consecutive one for Penn State against a much smaller school, but the Nittany Lions were once again tested in the opening set.

"I think that something we're going to focus on in our next couple of games is just coming out with the same high intensity and not waiting for the whole set to pick up our intensity level," Mende said.

The opening set was in a lot of ways homogeneous to Penn State's performance in set one of Friday night's match. Eight service errors were committed on Friday night's opening set, while the Nittany Lions missed a nearly identical seven serves on Saturday.

"When you can't put service pressure on a team, their offense amends games," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "Hopefully by the time May rolls around we'll cut down on our service errors, but we just can't give the ball to teams that we want to beat late in the season."

While there is room for improvement behind the service line, Penn State was incredibly efficient offensively in its first two sets. Friday night against Mount Olive,  the Nittany Lions hit just under .500 as a team and then followed that up with a .527 hitting percentage Saturday night.

"In practice we talk all the time about hitting the court offensively," Pavlik said. "We had six hitting errors the entire match and they had six-and-a-half blocks, so all of our hitting errors were a result of their block.  We want to make sure we keep hitting the court that way."

While this efficiency may be partly the result of two matches against much less physically imposing teams than Penn State, Pavlik was very pleased with the way his team played offensively in the opening weekend.

Mende and Aidan Albrecht led the way for Penn State with eight kills each, while middle blockers Kevin Gear and Penrose chipped in six kills and five kills, respectively. For the second night in a row, Penrose looked quite comfortable playing a position he had no experience with prior to this season.

"It's a great confidence boost, but the guys around me are a lot of the backbone to my success," Penrose said. "Our passers were pretty good today too so I was able to run the middle a lot."

"It's nice to see how he's developed after kind of getting thrown in there in the fall," Gear said. "He's accepted that and he's been able to do pretty well. He's getting better and better, so it's fun to see."

Penn State also saw several Nittany Lions off the bench enter the match after building big leads in both the second and third sets. Frank Melvin recorded a kill on his lone swing of the match, while Jason Donorovich added two kills out of the middle. Lee Smith also saw his first action since an injury last season.

"It's always fun to see because we see what they're capable of every day in practice," Gear said. "Those guys are good players, so it's nice to see them get rewarded whenever they go in."

The competition level will continue to rise next weekend as the Nittany Lions travel to Los Angeles, California to take on third-ranked UCLA next Thursday and USC Saturday. 

"The team's that we're going to be facing are probably more physical than what we played this week," Penrose said. "We're pretty good at what we do too, so I think we just stick to the game plan and just have confidence in what we do. We can bring it to them just as well as they can bring it to us."

Penrose Shines in Nittany Lion Opener

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State defeated the Mount Olive Trojans in its first match of the season Friday night at Rec Hall, overcoming a first set loss to win in four sets (23-25, 25-19, 25-12, 25-14).

Head coach Mark Pavlik was impressed with the energy and confidence that the Trojans played with to start off the match, but the Nittany Lions did themselves no favors by committing eight service errors, which was the difference.

"We gave them 14 points, so they only had to score 11," Pavlik said. "Throughout my career we've seen this scenario happen where decided underdogs come in, but they are senior laden, and they've been here before. There was no real intimidation factor for them. The tighter it got the more they loosened up."

Penn State made key adjustments from that point, making a concerted effort to establish their two middles in Jalen Penrose and Kevin Gear. Penrose finished with 10 kills (.615 hitting percentage), two blocks, and four aces in his first career match as a middle blocker. Gear, on the other hand, was steady with eight kills (.462 hitting percentage) and three blocks.

"We passed well throughout the whole game, which allowed us to run the middle and make them commit on us a lot," Penrose said. "That opened it up for the pins to do what they do best and just swing away."

Penrose, a redshirt senior, was moved to middle blocker this season after spending his first four years in the program as a right side, looking remarkably comfortable for someone who has never played a match at that position. 

"It's not an easy adjustment but having these guys behind me and having faith in me has been the backbone of my success," Penrose said. "There is not really any one thing that I like more about it than opposite, but it's my role and I'm just going to control what I can control and do the best I can."

Penrose's efficiency in the middle paved the way for sophomore right side hitter Calvin Mende, who finished with 15 kills and hit .667 for the match.

"Having the middles have such a dominant performance in the first game made their middles commit to ours earlier in the next set, which gave us one on one opportunities and just made it a lot simpler for us the rest of the way," Mende said. 

Mende also commented on Penrose's performance in the middle and was impressed with the way he played in his debut.

"Off his first swing of the game, I don't know if I've seen someone hit that hard in a while," Mende said. "You see the immense potential there is and when he capitalizes on it, our whole team just gets filled with energy. To see him swing like that and serve like that is something that he really brings to the table."

"He was plus nine for the match," Pavlik said. "That's what we need from the guys on the court. Score more points for the guys wearing the same uniform you are and you're going to be pretty good. I think we were able to use the strengths that Jalen brings to the court and use them in more advantageous situations." 

Outside of Penrose and Gear, one of the other critical differences in Penn State's turnaround after set one was the service line. After committing eight errors in the opening frame, the Nittany Lions served aggressively and were much cleaner from behind the line, compiling eight aces in the final three sets. 

"We just got in a rhythm, starting doing our routines back there and doing what we do in practice," Mende said. "In the first set we had some jitters but after that we just settled into it."

"I don't think there was any type of panic or doubt, we just knew at some point we were going to start to roll," Pavlik said. "We kept the ball on the court more starting in game two and all of the sudden our size and athleticism started to work for us."

For Pavlik, his team still has a long way to go, despite taking a lot of positives from Friday night's opener. The good news though, is that they have time to get there.

The Nittany Lions will be back at Rec Hall on Saturday night for a match against Alderson-Broaddus at 7 p.m. 

Preseason Five: Penn State Eyeing Start of 2018 Season

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By Will Desautelle, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State men's volleyball returns to the hardwood Friday evening to kick off its 2018 campaign. Head coach Mark Pavlik enters his 23rd year at the helm with 542 career wins as Penn State returns from a 2017 season where it captured the EIVA regular season and tournament titles for a berth to NCAA Championships.

Pavlik returns the large majority of his team's production from a year ago, looking to build on a successful 2017 campaign.

Take a look at five 2018 storylines before heading to Rec Hall to catch the Nittany Lions open the season this weekend.

Replacing Nugent and Callaway
Penn State loses just two major contributors from last season's team in outside hitter Chris Nugent and middle blocker Matt Callaway. Nugent, a three-year starter, was the team's top outside hitter and was excellent both behind the service line and on defense. Callaway, on the other hand, was a reliable blocker up front and one of the key veteran leaders of last year's team.

"We're hopeful that Aidan Albrecht, after the second half of the season he had last year, steps up and continues the run that he had," Pavlik said. "Along with Aidan, you've got Matt McLaren, who's in his fourth year. We've got Lee Smith who's coming back from the injury, who looks like he hasn't left. We've got some experience back there. I think it's just going to take a little time for the chemistry to roll around."

When it comes to Callaway, the Nittany Lions will also look to lean heavily on redshirt senior middle blocker, Kevin Gear, who had a strong second half of the season last year. 

Who's Returning
The Nittany Lions return almost all of their key contributors from last season, including All-EIVA honorable mention setter Luke Braswell. Braswell has a chance to be the top setter in the league this season. 

Despite losing Nugent, there will be no shortage of reliable pin hitters for Penn State this season. Albrecht was a second team All-EIVA performer last season and Smith could be a potential breakout player for the Nittany Lions, with Pavlik impressed with the progress he has made following his recovery. 

"Lee [Smith] before the injury and right now is probably our best pin blocker and one of our top passers. We'll see where his jump is when we get into the real live stuff, but everything we see in practice leads us to believe he's right there," Pavlik said.

Then there is first team All-EIVA right side hitter Calvin Mende, who could be in for a huge year. A 6-foot-11 inch lefty, Mende is a matchup nightmare on the right side for opposing outside hitters.

Looking toward leadership on the team, Pavlik noted that Albrecht, Smith, and Braswell will serve as team the captains, who will be called upon to lead a relatively youthful group. 

"Our strength lies with our youth and our numbers lie with our youth, first, second, and third year guys, but our fourth and fifth year guys understand what's at stake," Pavlik said. "They are feeling that athletic mortality and I think that's what has jumped up their leadership abilities."

Penrose to Middle Blocker
One of the more interesting storylines leading up to this season is redshirt senior Jalen Penrose, who will be primarily used as a middle blocker this season rather than a right side, where he has played his entire career so far at Penn State. 

Penrose is arguably the most powerful hitter on the roster and was one of the most dangerous servers last season for the Nittany Lions. It was inconsistency though that kept him from seeing a larger role on the court.

For Pavlik, he refers to Penrose as his new "middle attacker," as the staff hopes that making this switch will help Penrose play to his best strengths this year.

"We can get him the ball in maybe some better situations than he was used to at the opposite position," Pavlik said. "With [Calvin Mende] at opposite, I think we're in pretty good shape back there. With Jalen, trying to figure out a way to get his arm in the game, throughout the fall and certainly through the last week, I think we're seeing some progress made by Jalen in the middle."

Pavlik also acknowledged that his lack of experience at the position at times will not allow him to do certain things from that spot on the court. At the same time, however, his physicality and athleticism could make him a real difference maker in the middle.

Only time will tell how effective this move will be, but regardless it will be one of the more interesting things to pay attention to this season.

West Coast Trip
Following opening weekend at home, Penn State will travel to Los Angeles, California in the second weekend of the season for the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge and take on No. 3 UCLA on USC. 

Matching up against some of the top national talent, the trip will be a great indicator of where Penn State is early on in the season, also serving as a valuable early season experience given that UCLA is hosting the NCAA Championships this year.

"[UCLA] returns just about everybody and they're always a handful to play certainly at their place," Pavlik said. "USC has started off pretty well this year and we're going to get a chance to see them again."

Around the EIVA
Penn State has traditionally been the dominant team in the EIVA, but the league continues to get stronger each year, which will only make things more challenging for the Nittany Lions going forward. 

"There is such a feeling of pride I have for the effort that the coaches have put in the EIVA," Pavlik said. "Are they going to make it tougher on us? Absolutely, but I think that's going to make us better and for years that's what we've needed. With what Princeton is doing, what Saint Francis is doing, George Mason - and NJIT having a brand new facility over there, I am just really excited about this league right now."

Champions Visit State Capitol

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Penn State hit the state capitol today for an afternoon of recognition, celebrating Nittany Lion conference champion student-athletes and head coaches following a record-setting 2016-17 season both in competition and in the classroom.

Joined by select head coaches and staff members as well as student-athletes, the group toured through the Pennsylvania House and Senate, stopping in for lunch with Sen. Jake Corman in his office. Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate before remarks from Corman, welcoming the group to the state's capitol following a few early proceedings.

Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania House, which holds all 203 members, including Pennsylvania's Rep. Mike Hanna, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Rep. Rich Irvin and Rep. Scott Conklin, who read a resolution to again welcome and congratulate the Nittany Lions on an all-around successful season, one that drew a standing ovation from the members on the floor. 

"I want to congratulate the teams for not only what they do on the field but what they do in the community, the outreach they give, the coaches who oversee them," Conklin said. 

Nittany Lion director of athletics Sandy Barbour only echoed the all-around success in her remarks in the main rotunda later in the afternoon, noting that the individuals surrounding her representing a combined 2016-17 total of nine conference titles, among a few other crowns, are only one part of the story.

Penn State was recently slated fourth in the first spring update of the Learfield Directors' Cup standings following a year that saw seven Nittany Lion squads earn Big Ten Championships or tournament titles in seven sports, the most of any league institution and the third-highest total in school history.

As head coach Cael Sanderson brought instantaneous cheers from the floor of the Pennsylvania house upon his introduction, the room was reminded of Nittany Lion wrestling team's stunning second consecutive NCAA Wrestling Championship, marking its sixth in the last seven years, with five individuals earning NCAA titles along the way.

As Barbour pointed out though, the impact of the Blue and White extends much further than excellence in competition.

Nearly a month ago, a school record 114 Penn State student-athletes graduated, bringing the 2016-17 total to 142, with more students on track to cross the stage in August. Penn State also revealed its 89 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate this year, which stands just one point below its all-time program mark. 

"Penn State student-athletes, not unlike their student colleagues and their servant hearts, have dedicated themselves to service," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes served over 6,200 hours of community engagement this last year. This comprehensive excellence is embraced by our Penn State and Pennsylvania community. It's truly Penn State's point of difference. It has historically motivated a state and a community, connected passionately to each and every one of our programs and each and every one of our student-athletes who wear the Blue and White."

Representative of just a small piece of a variety of community engagement close to Penn State student-athletes is THON, a beloved annual event that encompasses the entire university and Happy Valley community.

Led by the efforts of the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB raised $59,679.49 for THON in 2017, which ranked third among the 400-plus general organizations represented. Surging past a fundraising goal of $50,000, the 2017 figure is SAAB's second-largest total in the history of the organization, adding to a career total of $680,000, all for THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, with four Penn State student-athletes joining the 703 dancers on the floor this year.

Among those dancers this year was women's soccer's Megan Schafer, a Big Ten Champion from Langhorne, who joined the group today for her second trip to state capitol, but first as a Nittany Lion. 

"A couple of years ago I got recognized for winning a state championship, so I think it's pretty cool coming back at the collegiate level to get recognized for our hard work all season," Schafer said. "I think it's really cool everything that people put together just to recognize us today."

Prior to Penn State, Schafer scored the overtime game-winner to lead Neshaminy high school (also the alma mater of Penn State head football coach James Franklin) to a Pennsylvania state title.

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The entire group of Nittany Lion coaches and student-athletes were treated to a personal meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped by the steps of the main rotunda to greet the champions before heading back to Happy Valley.

Lions Optimistic Despite Season-Ending Setback

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Penn State's 2017 season officially came to a close in the NCAA Opening Round on the road at St. John Arena. Although uncomfortably reflective of season dotted with highs and lows, the fifth-seeded Nittany Lions were once again resilient, but ultimately came up short in a five-set loss to fourth-seeded Hawaii.

In an opening set that featured 12 ties and four lead changes, the Nittany Lions and the Rainbow Warriors set the tone early, beginning the back-and-forth battle with run after run.

As Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik mentioned just last week though, the game of volleyball is all about momentum and come Tuesday evening, Penn State happened to find itself on the wrong side of the momentum swing.

With the Nittany lions owning a four-point lead in set one, 10-6, the Rainbow Warriors battled back with a 5-0 run to take over a one-point lead, 11-10, causing Penn State to call a timeout. 

Kevin Gear came out of the break with a kill to halt the streak, sparking a 7-3 stretch that sent Penn State ahead with a comfortable cushion, 17-14, this time forcing Hawaii to call timeout. The Nittany Lions forged ahead despite pressure from the Rainbow Warriors, arriving at 23-23, which was nearly set point for the Nittany Lions before an overruled touch call. Penn State quickly regrouped, closing out the set 25-23 off a stuff block from Matt Callaway and Cal Mende.

Trailing by as many as five in the second set 12-7, Penn State called its first timeout of the frame. Shifting the momentum once again, the Nittany Lions rallied out of the break, scoring four straight capped by a Chris Nugent kill to arrive within one, 12-11, prompting Hawaii to call a timeout.

Gear ripped a kill off the overpass out of the break to open a 10-8 stretch that put Penn State in solid position to pull ahead 2-0 in the match, leading 22-19. The Nittany Lions couldn't shake the Rainbow Warriors though, as they climbed back to fend off a pair of set point attempts before securing a 27-25 win to the tie match, 1-1.

In yet another back-and-forth beginning, Penn State broke open a 9-all tie in the third set with a 7-3 run to take over a 15-12 advantage at the media timeout. Nugent and Mende quickly combined for back-to-back kills out of the break to begin a streaky stretch that saw the Nittany Lions reload to build a five-point lead, 21-16, forcing Hawaii's final timeout of the stanza. Penn State had no trouble cruising to a 25-17 win to take a 2-1 lead in the match at the intermission.

A different team emerged from the locker room though, one oddly similar to a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" conundrum that Pavlik noted has challenged his relatively young squad throughout the season.

"Games one, two and three we were right there doing everything we wanted and our first contacts kept us in there," Pavlik said. "Games four and five, all of the sudden the shrapnel exploded. There was no real consistency, we couldn't run the offense that we were running."

Imposing physicality and athleticism, the Rainbow Warriors forced the Nittany Lions into two-pass situations that left the Nittany Lions seemingly rattled. 

"I would say they just stayed clean," Gear said. "They were able to get some touches on some balls and turn them on us and we able to run off a couple of points. That's just something we couldn't sustain."

While the sting of the loss will certainly linger, there's no doubt that it's fueling the motivation for 2018. No greater is that motivation for standout true freshman Mende, a first team All-EIVA selection. 

Earning AVCA All-America honorable mention distinction, Mende is one of just two true freshmen to earn to a selection to one of the three AVCA All-America teams (first team, second team, honorable mention) this year. His All-American caliber offensive firepower shined against Hawaii, as he finished with a team-high 18 kills, one of 15 double-digit performances on the year.

"I think he has been somebody who has been a constant all year," Pavlik said. "He has accumulated information, processed it, thrown out what was not necessary and kept was necessary to change his game and improve his game." 

For Mende, the bright lights of the big stage were no reason to be concerned as he and redshirt freshman setter Luke Braswell stepped to the court for their first NCAA Tournament action.

"It was nice to be at Ohio State, we played here before so it's our third game here," Mende said. "Eventually, I think halfway through the first set, it was just another volleyball game."

Despite the usual growing pains of the season, Pavlik has nothing but pride for the endurance and perseverance and display this year, often coming by way of on-the-fly position changes due to injury, resulting in pleasant surprises and clutch contributions. 

"We can't wait to get started again with the youth that we have coming back and have experienced some highs and lows, certainly tonight as one example but I'm so proud of this team for what they've fought through and the resiliency that they've showed through the whole year," Pavlik said. "Everything has the arrow pointed up and sometimes you have to experience a storm before you can really, really like the rainbow." 

NCAA Men's Volleyball Pregame Reading

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VIDEO: Pavlik Previews NCAA Tournament Opening Round

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Penn State men's volleyball has arrived in Columbus, set to kick off the NCAA Tournament in the opening round match against Hawaii Tuesday evening at St. John Arena.

The Nittany Lions left Happy Valley Sunday morning, arriving at Ohio State with time to get in a practice. Penn State hosted one more practice Monday evening before a serve and pass session on gameday.

PREGAME READING

AVCA All-Americans
Penn State saw two Nittany Lions earn AVCA All-America honors Monday. Senior Chris Nugent earned second team honors while Mende picked up honorable mention distinction. While Mende's honor is the first of his career, Nugent's marks his second, having earned honorable mention laurels last year.

Both Mende and Nugent have been atop the Nittany Lion offense this year with Nugent averaging 3.26 kills per set and Mende close behind at 3.23 kills per set, with each ranking seventh and sixth in the NCAA national standings, respectively.

Experience Counts
Penn State and Hawaii last met in the play-in round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament on the road in Palo Alto, California at Stanford. Of the nine Nittany Lions to see the court in the four-set win (25-22, 25-20, 17-25, 27-25), three are still currently on the roster. Among the trio, Nugent finished third on the team with 15 kills on .400 hitting, adding five digs and two blocks. 

As Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik noted earlier last week, while postseason familiarity does help, what it really comes down to is each individual managing a variety of outside distractions and extra responsibilities in addition to what's happening on the court.

Student Athletes
Part of managing postseason responsibilities in May also means finals. To ensure Nittany Lions are not falling behind, Penn State associate director for counseling, eligibility and compliance and academic counselor Jim Weaver is busy setting up time slots and proctoring exams right here on location in Columbus, Ohio.

Nittany Lions Set for NCAA Opener

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As NCAA Tournament time arrives, sometimes it's about hitting your stride at the right time. For Penn State men's volleyball, the Nittany Lions have saved their best brand of volleyball for the exact right moment. 

Penn State is currently riding a three-game winning streak heading into the NCAA Tournament, with wins in six of their last seven outings. The Nittany Lions have certainly upped their game, but their success can also be attributed to a direct result of how healthy the team is right now.

"We have dealt with injuries all season and for the first time since maybe the beginning of the season we are healthy," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "It definitely contributes to how we are playing."

Fifth-seeded Penn State (21-10) is set to face one of the more well-rounded teams in the nation as they drew fourth-seeded Hawaii (26-5) out of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) in the opening round play-in game of the NCAA Tournament. With a win, the Nittany Lions will advance to the NCAA Tournament semifinals set to take on defending NCAA national champion Ohio State.

MVBHawaii.jpgPenn State is focused on the Rainbow Warriors though, as the two teams have been fairly regular postseason opponents. Most recently, Penn State and Hawaii met in the play-in round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament with the Nittany Lions coming away with a 3-1 win to advance to the semifinals in Palo Alto, California at Stanford.

Regardless of postseason familiarity among both squads, the Nittany Lions are armed with a healthy roster and ready to turn their focus toward the present, prepping for next Tuesday's matchup. 

"They serve the ball really well," Pavlik said. "All six of them come at you with jump serves. Not only do they jump serve speed-wise well, they hit the court, so you have to sideout yourself, they aren't going to hand you any stretches of missed serves." 

Penn State's serve receive has been a strong suit though, especially in the EIVA Tournament, as an area where both Pavlik and the team noted as a key reason behind the Nittany Lions hoisting the championship trophy. 

Hawaii also enters the matchup with an experienced setter on the court with All-MPSF First Team selection senior Jennings Franciskovic running the offense.

"Franciskovic does a really nice job getting the ball to his hot hitters," Pavlik said. "They have an opposite who they want to score with, they have a backup opposite, who is a lefty with a live arm too. They have two good outside hitters who can face any type of block, they aren't huge in any way shape or form, but they are good players."

The Nittany Lions will take the court at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio Tuesday at 8 p.m. with an appearance in the NCAA semifinals on the line. To check out the full bracket, click HERE

Balance Guides Lions to EIVA Championship

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The theme all season long for Penn State men's volleyball has been battling. Saturday night, Penn State cruised to the EIVA title with a dominant straight set victory over No. 2 seed Saint Francis. 

The Nittany Lions recorded one of their most convincing wins of the season in a match where they needed it the most, dispatching the Red Flash 25-19, 25-14 and 25-20.

Penn State didn't have a single player in double digit kills, but they were able to showcase their depth and a healthy lineup in the victory.

"Once again, Colin [McMillan] and Ryan [Walthall] had a great game plan put together and I thought we continued to execute like we know how to," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "It was a good weekend for us and now were focused on the matches ahead."

Chris Nugent was awarded the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament award, finishing the match tied for a team-high with nine kills. Calvin Mende, Aidan Albrecht and Luke Braswell joined Nugent on the EIVA All-Tournament team.

The atmosphere was palpable from the beginning of the match and Penn State certainly fed off of the energy, as the Nittany Lions jumped out to early leads in each set.

"It's a big volleyball community out there and we're certainly happy to have such great fans in the stands for our matches," Michael Fisher of Saint Francis said. "Penn State certainly fed off of the crowd tonight."

The Nittany Lions only echoed the extra boost of intensity from the home crowd in Rec Hall. 

"We definitely feed off of the crowd, especially in matches like this," Nugent said. "To get 1,300 fans in our gym for a match like this is huge. We knew that they had beaten us in the playoffs last year so we wanted a little revenge."

Early on, the Nittany Lions utilized their middles to great effect, throwing Saint Francis off their game. Penn State totaled 8.5 blocks in the three sets, compiling 31 team digs in one of its finer defensive performances, showcasing depth.

"I thought our defense was the key to us having a good attack tonight," Nugent said. "We passed really well and that allows you to set up the rest of the game." 

Not only was the defensive depth in the spotlight, but so was the offensive depth. Again, the Nittany Lions did not have one guy in double digit kills, but they did have five with five or more terminations. Showcasing true offensive balance, Penn State received a variety of production when it mattered most.

"When you have the option to set four attackers ever time you get the ball it makes it pretty easy, I like easy," Braswell said. "I had confidence in all the guys that when they took swings they would put them away. Its a lot of fun playing in a match like that."

Joining Nugent, Albrecht also tied for a team-high mark with nine kills, adding four blocks and five digs for a complete performance. 

"Aidan was huge for us," Mende said. "He has been one of our best players all season long and he went from an opposite, who almost never passes to one of our best passers and most consistent players."

Penn State will have a little time to celebrate the win before they are right back to the grind, preparing for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. With the EIVA conference title, Penn State is ensured a spot in the postseason. However, the Nittany Lions have yet to find out who their opponent will be. The NCAA selection show announcement and brackets will be revealed at 1 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon.

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