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Lions Roll to EIVA Title Match

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After going to five sets twice earlier this season with Princeton Penn State rolled past the Tigers in three sets en route to a spot in the EIVA finals, set for Saturday night at Rec Hall.

Perhaps Penn State's only moments of worry came in first set, when Princeton had leads of as many as four twice. However, Penn State fought back and after that, and the Nittany Lions never looked back.

"I think that the main difference between the two matches prior and this one was that the game plan was carried out to a 't' tonight," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I think we have a really special setter here and he was great for us tonight." 

Luke Braswell was phenomenal for the Nittany Lions, mixing up the sets better than he had since returning from injury. Braswell had 36 assists in three sets, also chipping in six digs and two blocks.

Making another impactful contribution was Chris Nugent, who always seems to up his game in big situations. Nugent hit a match-high, .560, with15 kills as a force on the outside all night long. Nugent, who is in his last season with the team, said before the EIVA Championship, the Nittany Lions didn't want to repeat the feeling they had last season against Saint Francis. 

"Our outsides did a great job of getting kills in tough situations," Pavlik said. "All in all, it was a great first semifinal."

"I just wanted to put it all out on the line for my teammates," Nugent said. "Give the best swings you can every time you take a swing, that's always been my mentality."

Penn State dominated Princeton in nearly every aspect of the game with 10.5 blocks to the Tigers' 4.5. They also out hit Princeton .413 to .259.

Although the first set may have been nerve wracking, the energy in the building was palpable following the emphatic finish.

"We definitely started off slow and it took us a little while to get going," Braswell said. "Once we got our feet under us I think we really started clicking as an offense. It was easy for me because I had my pick of who to go to when I was setting and everyone was coming through." 

Calvin Mende led the supporting cast with nine kills for the Nittany Lions. Aidan Albrecht chipped in with eight kills and Kevin Gear had five out of the middle. Matt Callaway had only three kills, but didn't commit an error and also stuffed five swings, including a massive solo block. 

"I think the reason we blocked well is because we served well," Braswell said. "It all starts there and then when we have that it allows our blockers to close with more time on their hands." 

The EIVA crown is just one win away for the Nittany Lions and while they didn't have a chance to compete for it last season, Penn State is more than ready to go this year. 

"What I'm most proud of from our guys is that we have had great practices and the process has been great for us all season long," Pavlik said. "The EIVA has changed and it is certainly much more competitive. There are a lot of great teams and we will need our best game against Saint Francis on Saturday."

The Nittany Lions face the Red Flash in a rematch of last year's semifinals. Penn State split the season series, winning at Rec Hall and losing on the road. Game time is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday. 

Lions Set for EIVA Championship

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Nittany Lions have now shifted their focus for the upcoming EIVA Championships set to meet the Princeton Tigers in the second match of Friday's semifinals. Despite injuries taking their toll and presenting challenges throughout the season, the Nittany Lions are hitting their stride at perhaps, the right time.  

"We're as healthy as we have been all season and that certainly contributes to our confidence level right now," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Come Thursday night, Penn State will meet a Princeton squad who has played them tight in both of their previous matches this season. Both regular season matches between the two clubs have gone the distance, ending in five set decision. The Nittany Lions came out on top in both matches, but Thursday night has all the makings of another tightly contested match. 

For Pavlik, a tough service game from the Nittany Lions will be key in keeping Princeton off balance throughout the match. With a win in the semifinals, Penn State will have a chance to opportunity to secure a championship title that avoided them last season.

"It is certainly important for us to have these matches at home and have a chance to defend home court for a couple more games," Pavlik said. 

Mende Guides Lions to EIVA Championships

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - On senior night for the men's volleyball team, it was an underclassman who stole the show. Calvin Mende recorded 24 kills to help Penn State down George Mason in four sets to claim the EIVA regular season title outright.

On a night honoring two of Penn State's most experienced veterans in Chris Nugent and Matt Callaway, the Nittany Lions were able to do their senior justice with a gritty performance. It may not have been Penn State's best effort, but head coach Mark Pavlik was certainly happy with the response and resolve from his team.

"I was very happy with the way that we battled tonight," Pavlik said. "It was a physical matchup and at some point it just turned into both teams slugging it out back and forth. It was good to win a match like that heading into postseason play."

The Nittany Lions biggest slugger on the night was Mende. From the get go, the left handed opposite seemed to have something going offensively. Attacking from right and left sides of the court at will, Mende was the catalyst for Penn State until the rest of the team settled into a rhythm in set two.

"I wasn't really sure I had it going right away," Mende said. "It took a couple of swings to get into a rhythm and really start feeling good. The seniors on the court really helped out tonight with their presence and we all wanted to get them a win in their last regular season match." 

It is the last regular season match for Penn State's seniors, but far from the last time the two will step on the court at Rec Hall. The Nittany Lions now know not only that they will host the EIVA semifinals and championship matches, but also that they will be playing the Princeton Tigers, a team they have beaten twice this season in five sets, in round one.

"It was nice for us to win the EIVA outright," Pavlik said. "That gives us an added little boost heading into Thursday. I know that we will be very focused this whole week and looking ahead to Princeton. Now that we have the victory tonight, that is the next step." 

Nugent and Callway each had relatively quiet nights by their standards. Nugent had 10 kills, Callaway recorded six, but Penn State didn't need the added assistance of their seniors on Saturday. However, there is no denying the impact that the two have on the team and how critical of a role they will have to play in the postseason, not just on the score sheet, but in leadership positions as well. 

"We've talked about it all season long how one of our goals is to win the EIVA championship and now were in a position to do it," Nugent said. "It is certainly huge for us to make sure that Thursday isn't the last match for us in Rec Hall because we don't want that feeling from last year. We have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to prepare for Princeton and that's the focus right now."

Penn State is the number one seed in the tournament and will be taking on the Tigers who get the four spot. Saint Francis and Sacred Heart will square off in the two-three matchup earlier on Thursday. Thursday's match for the Nittany Lions is set for a 7 p.m. first serve in Rec Hall.

Balance Lifts Lions to EIVA Title

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Balance and a few key contributions from the bench were the key to Penn State's EIVA regular season clinching victory against Charleston (W. Va.) Friday night at Rec Hall.

Penn State used a solid all around attack, dipping into a talented Nittany Lion bench to clinch the regular season EIVA berth and home court advantage throughout the EIVA Championships.

"We clinched tonight, so we can check that off our list," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We knew coming in to this game that one win over the weekend would get us the regular season title and we wanted to get that done tonight."

Penn State was lead by a solid performance from Aidan Albrecht, who finished with 11 kills and was the only Nittany Lion to register double figure kills. Albrecht has been a main stay in the lineup all season long, but Penn State has needed an abundance of Nittany Lions to step up this season.

Come Friday night, it was middle Jason Donorovich.

"It was great to get in to a game situation and get some good swings for my team," Donorovich said. "I've been working hard in practice so I'm glad it paid off in the match."

Donorovich finished with five kills on eight swings and a match high .625 hitting percentage. He was in the match from the second set on and it was his longest stretch as a starter this season. Penn State has relied on performances like his all season long to get to reach its EIVA regular season title.

"In practice, the A team pushes the B team and the B team pushes the A team," libero Royce Clemens said after the match. "It has been like that all season long and that's why you see so many people like Jason and others on the team get kills and look comfortable stepping up in big situations. For us it's nothing new."

Something new for the Nittany Lions this year was not being defending EIVA champions. From the outset, they talked about having a chip on their shoulder, noting the goal was to not only host the EIVA's, but win the championship this year.

"We talked about it a lot for sure," Luke Braswell said. "I don't think we ever let it leave our minds. You don't forget losing on your home court like that and we are happy to have a chance to defend our home court this season."

Penn State will have a chance to defend home court and will also have a chance to honor its seniors tomorrow night against George Mason. Chris Nugent and Matt Callaway are the only two seniors on the Penn State team, but have meant so much for the Nittany Lions, their fans and the entire community through their five years on campus.

"It will be great to recognize them," Pavlik said. "In their years they have seen just about anything you can see on a volleyball court, this year is no difference and they have taken everything in stride. It is exciting to honor them and it is even more exciting to know that it won't be their last match at Rec Hall."

Penn State will honor its seniors before the 7 p.m. first serve against George Mason. Round one of the EIVA tournament will be next Thursday with Penn State's opponent yet to be determined.

Lions Looking Toward EIVA Finale

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer 

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -  The EIVA Championship push is often one of the most exciting parts of the season for any teams when in contention. For the Penn State men's volleyball, they find themselves in a similar spot, at the top of the EIVA standings with one weekend left in conference play.

Penn State currently sits one game ahead of Saint Francis with a 9-3 record, but because the Nittany Lions hold the tie breaker, they will need to win just one of their final two games against Charleston (W.Va.) and George Mason to clinch the top spot and home court advantage headed into next weekend's EIVA Championship.

The madness of the final weekend of the EIVA regular season doesn't include Penn State though, as the Nittany Lions have locked up a playoff berth, but with five teams separated by single game below them, there is still much to play for. 

Take a possible look at some potential first round matchups for Penn State in the EIVA Championships.

Princeton (11-12, 7-5 EIVA)
The Tigers have been scrappy all season long, especially when it comes to playing the Nittany Lions. In two matches, both teams have gone the distance, with Penn State coming out on top in each outing. Parker Dixon and Kendall Ratter pack a one-two punch on the outside, averaging 2.75 and 2.71 kills per set respectively.

NJIT (13-10, 6-6 EIVA)
Another team playing Penn State extremely tough this season is the Highlanders. In the first match up, the teams went five and Penn State came out with the victory and in the second of the season Penn State came out on top as well. NJIT has arguable one of the most exciting players in the conference in Jabarry Goodridge. Goodridge leads the conference in kills per set with 4.51 and is a beast behind the service line with 45 aces. As Goodridge goes the team goes as well, but he is a player who can single handedly win a series. 

Sacred Heart (13-10, 6-6 EIVA)
Penn State has seen its struggles with Sacred Heart all season long. The Pioneers have dealt the Nittany Lions two of their three conference losses and have looked strong against the best team in the conference. Joshua Ayzenberg has been a rock in the back row, averaging more than three digs per set. The attack for Sacred Heart is balanced with Chris DeLucie leading the way with 264 kills. Four others have at least 125 kills. The Pioneers also serve tough, making them a formidable opponent.

George Mason (13-12, 6-6 EIVA)
George Mason was projected first in the preseason EIVA poll, but stumbled early on and has not been able to regain the form they possessed last year in the conference championships. Still dangerous, Jack Wilson, who has 299 kills is the key to Masons success. He will be tasked with a heavy work load and if Mason can get past Saint Francis and Penn State, they will be in the playoffs, it just wont be easy against the top two teams in the EIVA. 

Harvard (9-12, 6-6 EIVA)
The Crimson are the last of the 6-6 group in the EIVA, and also are still very much alive in the race for a playoff spot. Penn State hasn't dropped a set to Harvard all season long and has dominated the Crimson. Harvard is supported by senior Casey White and freshman Erik Johnsson on the outside. Trevor Dow and Riley Moore are tremendous blockers in the middle of the court. Harvard has some fire power, it is just a matter of consistency and a lack of self inflicted wounds for the Crimson. 

Penn State's road to the EIVA title is yet to be paved and the Nittany Lions are unsure which road blocks will stand in their way. One thing is certain, however, and that is Penn State will have a chance to compete for the EIVA title that eluded them last season and that has been the goal since day one of the 2017 season. 

"That certainly has always been our goal," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "The win on Saturday against Harvard was huge because now we only have to win one game to host and to be able to play a few more games in front of our fans here will be nice." 

Despite a setback against Sacred Heart, Penn State rolled by Harvard in straight sets to secure a berth to the EIVA Championships. The Nittany Lions have now arrived at Friday in hopes they can secure home court sooner rather than later. 

"It is absolutely huge that we get the win Friday," Pavlik said. "We don't want to put more pressure on ourselves than we need to so coming home and having a week to prepare we should be more than ready Friday and hopefully we can get things done."

First serve for both matches against Charleston (W. Va.) and George Mason is set for 7 p.m. Prior to Saturday's matchup, the Nittany Lions will honor their seniors in the annual senior night ceremonies. Chris Nugent and Matt Callaway will be the two Nittany Lions honored, but for Callaway and Nugent, along with the rest of the team, they are hoping Saturday won't be the last time they take the court at Rec Hall this season. 

Smith Settled in at New Role

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Setter is arguably one of the most important positions on a volleyball team. As a sort of floor general, if all goes according to plan, a setter should touch the ball on every offensive attack and almost never leave the court. Often times when an injury strikes, replacing the setter is a difficult task.

That has been far from the case for Penn State this season. Amidst another strong year with Mark Pavlik at the helm, the Nittany Lions have put together their fair share of lineup combinations. Some have been voluntary, some involuntary, but every step of the way the team has responded, opting to take changes in stride.

Two weeks ago when Luke Braswell, the team's starting setter for most of the year, was sidelined with an injury, freshman Nathan Smith stepped in and didn't miss a beat. In Braswell's absence, Smith has led the Nittany Lions to a 3-2 record, with no win bigger than last Tuesday's upset against top-ranked Ohio State. 

"It's weird because that win doesn't do anything for us in the standings, but it is such a big confidence boost," Smith said. "It really gave our whole team and myself especially a good feeling going into the weekend and you could tell we played with some confidence there too."

Smith carried the Nittany Lions into a weekend that Pavlik called one of the most important in recent history. Penn State did not disappoint, with Smith guiding the Nittany Lions to back-to-back weekend wins against Princeton and NJIT.

"You could tell that he was certainly dealing with some freshman nerves," Pavlik said. "What is great about Nathan is that he is always able to bounce back quickly. He is a very fast learner and when he learns something he doesn't forget about it." 

Smith's intelligence is evident on the court, but also off the court as well. The freshman science major is a member of Schreyer Honors College excelling just as much off the court. 

"That is probably what is most impressive about Nathan," Pavlik said. "Not only are we asking a lot from him on the court, but a lot has been asked of him off the court as well, and he is delivering in both aspects." 

Smith has delivered in a stretch of the season when the Nittany Lions have needed it the most. The weekend series against Princeton and NJIT was crucial in terms of the finality of the EIVA standings. True to form, Smith was able to guide the team through some rough moments and emerge with two wins, widening Penn State's lead at the top of the EIVA standings.

"We knew they were going to be a couple of tough games going in to them and we were ready," Smith said. "It certainly wasn't easy at times but when we stick to our game and keep it simple we are at our best and that's what we did."

Moving forward the Nittany Lions have two upcoming matches that loom large in the standings as they take on Harvard and Sacred Heart this weekend. With another pair of wins, the Nittany Lions will move closer to securing the top ranking in the EIVA tournament.

"We just have to continue to have a good week of practice and keep improving on the little things," Smith said. 

"We like where we're at right now, but we also recognize that we still need to win games to get to where we want to be," Pavlik said. "For us, that means winning a couple of games on the road this weekend and making things easier for ourselves the rest of the way."

Veterans Power Lions in Key Conference Weekend

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9772195.jpegBy Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY 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.

"I think 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."

Following a 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.

The 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 evening.

The Nittany 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.

Both teams 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.

Penn State 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. 

Penn State 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 victory.

"I think once we got aggressive in this game, in game two, that's when things started to happen for us," Pavlik said.

Mende finished tied for first on the team with 13 kills, stuffing the stat sheet with six kills in the second set alone.

"I thought 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 shaped."

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.

"They've 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 winning this."

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.

"I thought Nathan did a yeoman's job this weekend, winning a five-gamer and being in a tight four-gamer," Pavlik said. 

Reaching 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.

"I think Nathan's really settled in the last couple of games," Albrecht said. "He's feeling more confident, he's talking more."

Penn State 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."

Passers Shine as Lions Outlast Buckeyes

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State has played with resiliency and resolve all season long amidst injuries and adversity. They have gutted out wins and relied on nearly everyone in the lineup to provide a spark. On Tuesday night, the Nittany Lions did just that, against the number one team in the nation. 

The Nittany Lions downed the Buckeyes in a five set instant classic that showed the potential of the team's young talent, coupled with the experience of the upperclassmen. In what was one of, if not the finest performance from Penn State on the season, the Nittany Lions rode wave of momentum after wave of momentum to their biggest victory of the season thus far.

"I think this match was one going into it that we thought we would need a concerted sustained focus throughout if we were going to win," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I think everyone outside of our locker room looked at this and thought Ohio State would take care of business. We're really proud of these guys."

With numerous standout performances, Chris Nugent totaled 19 kills hitting .515, while Nathan Smith dished out 39 assists, 10 digs and four blocks. Aidan Albrecht added 14 kills, seven digs and a pair of blocks. However, the performance that was probably the most instrumental in Penn State's victory isn't one that shows up in a column on the stat sheet, and not produced by just one individual. 

"I think our passers were our unsung heroes in this contest," Pavlik said. "Anytime you can hold a team like this to around a service ace per game, you're doing something really well."

"We knew that we would have to pass well throughout the entire game," Nugent added. "Save for a couple of missed opportunities, I thought we had one of our better games in that department."

The seven service aces that Ohio State recorded were their third lowest total in a match this season and their lowest all season in a match that lasted four sets of longer. Not only were the Penn State Nittany Lions on the ball with their passing, but their defensive effort as a whole also stood out. 

"We just stuck together, that was the bottom line," Nugent said. "Everyone was communicating well and quite honestly I think a lot of the times it comes down to energy and we just had great energy all night."

The energy was palpable in Rec Hall Tuesday night, as is usually the case when the best team in the nation comes to town. Penn State energized the fans right out of the gate with a tremendous first set, taking the lead early and never looking back. Set two went the way of the visitors, but set three was right back to the Nittany Lions, who seemed to never waver under the spotlight.

"We certainly had our bumps at the beginning of the match," Smith said. "That comes with playing with a lineup that you haven't seen in a match yet, but once the third set rolled around we felt like we found a nice rhythm." 

Penn State is hoping the rhythm continues into the second half of EIVA play as the Nittany Lions currently sit atop the standings. Penn State will host NJIT and Princeton in Rec Hall this upcoming Friday and Saturday, marking the first conference matches the team will have played since February 25th. 

"This is certainly a shot in the arm for us," Jalen Penrose said. "Anytime you can take down the best team in the nation it's a nice feeling. We just have to stay focused because we have two good opponents coming into our gym this weekend. 

"At the end of the day, this is a feel good match for us," Pavlik said. "It's a great win, but it doesn't move us up in any standings. We will see how the team responds but were hoping that we can use it as a springboard match for the last three weekends of the season."

Lions Focused on Buckeyes

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com student staff writer


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State Nittany Lions will embark on yet another busy week in their 2017 season, set to take on Ohio State, NJIT and Princeton all within the next five days. Penn State has dealt with adversity in terms of injury and illness all season long, but the team still sits in a solid position heading into the second half of EIVA play. 


"We like where we're at," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We sit a game ahead of both NJIT and Princeton, so these next couple games are going to be very big." 


Penn State fell to both Lewis and Loyola Chicago this past weekend, but there were still lots of positives during the weekend, most notably the fact that the Nittany Lions never looked like a team that had given up on the games. 


"We loved the response from our guys in both games," Pavlik said. "Obviously it's not the results that we wanted, but we fought in both games and were right there."


 The matchup tomorrow against Ohio State is one that the Nittany Lions have seen already this season. The Buckeyes are the defending national champions and ranked atop the AVCA poll. Though it is an out of conference match, it is still a good tune up for Penn State heading into their continuation of EIVA play. 


"We know that Ohio State is a good team and we are excited for the challenge," Pavlik said. "It is always a good opportunity to see where we stack up against one of the top programs in the nation." 


Penn State and Ohio State are set for a Tuesday, March 28 matchup with first serve set for 7 p.m. at Rec Hall.

Callaway Among Lion Leaders

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fifth year seniors in sports are unique in many ways. The experience they provide from years on the team both on and off the court are invaluable to everyone involved on the team. For Penn State men's volleyball, Matt Callaway is that type of Nittany Lion. 

Callaway started his Penn State career with a bit of adversity, battling injuries through his first couple of seasons on the team. Still, he made steady progress, rising to the challenges and finding ways to excel in his sophomore season.

"My freshman year was tough because of those injuries," Callaway said. "I think that the year after that I started to really grow and I was lucky to play with one of the best players in the world in Aaron Russell for a couple of years, that really helped as well. It's hard to sum up the journey in a couple of sentences but it has certainly been an amazing one."

Head coach Mark Pavlik has also noted Callaway's growth. Pavlik says the fifth-year middle has worked extremely hard to gain more power on his swings and that through all of his time playing at Penn State, he has become one of the smartest players on the team. What Pavlik says he has noticed most about Callaway this season is his continued improvement in blocking. 

"I think his blocking has been the best it ever has this season," Pavlik said. "That might be the toughest thing to be excellent at as a middle, but Matt has continued to improve and his footwork is better than ever this season." 

In a season of so much adversity for the Nittany Lions, the middles have been steady and healthy all season long. Kevin Gear and Callaway have been the main contributors in the middle, providing stability all season long for a team that has had to weather ups and downs.

"It's definitely tough as a middle, I wont lie about that," Callaway said. "As a middle, you have to split time and I am lucky to do that with another great middle in Kevin. At the same time, you wish you could do more, especially with all the injuries we have had this season, but we know we just have to continue to do our jobs." 

As much as the growth on the court has been a major part of Callaway's career at Penn State, it is his growth as a leader that is equally as impressive. For Pavlik, he has certainly seen Callaway take on an added role, calling him a him a further extension of the team.

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"I think Matt is a great leader," Pavlik said. "He is certainly a mix of a vocal leader as well as a leader by example. This is his second season as captain and even between the two of those, you have seen a good amount of growth from him."

Last season, Callaway was captain along with fellow middle Matt Seifert. Seifert, who graduated last spring, took on many of the leadership roles, and as Callaway says, last year was a good learning experience.

"I really let Seif lead more and tried to look at what he did that made him such a good captain," Callaway said. "For me it was both about helping my team as a captain and learning how I could be a better one at the same time. It has certainly helped this season because there have been a lot of tough moments and we have all had to battle through them. I've tried to be as vocal as I can in certain situations when I feel like I can help the team."

In his final season at Penn State, Callaway will cross off another "last" on his list this upcoming weekend when the team heads to Lewis and Loyola Chicago. Both schools are located roughly an hour away from Callaway's hometown, Wheaton, Illinois, making this the last road trip home for the senior. 

"It's always fun to go home and play there," Callaway said. "I know a lot of guys on the teams we will play, just from high school and club. It's fun to compete against them and also it's always nice to see family." 

The road trip has added meaning for Callaway, but is still big for the Nittany Lions. The Nittany Lions are currently slated No. 13 in the AVCA rankings, looking to continue their stretch of successful nononference play. Both matches at Lewis and Loyola are set for 7 p.m. ET.

@GOPSUSPORTS

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