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Albrecht Elevating Game in Starting Role

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11791282.jpegBy Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Aidan Albrecht hasn't come out of nowhere, but his quiet demeanor makes this year's success seem more surprising to many people that it really actually is.

Albrecht is a redshirt sophomore who is seeing an extended amount of playing time in the starting lineup due to the fact that he has continued to elevate his play as the season has progressed. Albrecht started the season on the bench for the Nittany Lions, but ever since a January match against St. Francis, he has been a key part of the Nittany Lion's starting six.

For Albrecht it has certainly been a season of highs and lows, but he is riding a considerable high at the moment.

"The whole year has had a lot of ups and downs," Albecht said. "The beginning of the season really opened my eyes and forced me to dig deep. These last couple of weeks have been a lot of fun and I'm excited for the rest of the year."

Head coach Mark Pavlik says he has seen a change in Albrecht this season. Not necessarily in his talent level, but rather in the way he approaches the game. For the majority of the 2016 campaign Albrecht has been slated in the opposite position and Pavlik believes he has just really figured out how he needs to play night in and night out.

"The thing that I have noticed the most is that Aidan finally understands the opposite position," Pavlik said. "He knows that it is all about taking big swings, blocking balls and being able to serve tough. That is the biggest thing for Aidan in my mind, he is getting over the 'I have to be careful' mentality and just going for it a lot more."

Albrecht has been going for it and it is certainly paying off for him as he matched a career high with 15 kills two weekends ago against the number one ranked team in the nation, Long Beach State. The 15-kill performance was no easy task, but Pavlik says he has confidence in Albrecht that he can be even better.

"He played really well for us in that match," Pavlik said. "Long Beach was taking away our middles and Aidan did a good job of capitalizing on his chances. That being said he could have been even better and that's just something I think will come as he plays more and more."

Albrecht says he was pleased with his effort against Long Beach State as well, but at the same time he also commented on how he knows he needs to get better in all aspects of the game.

"Consistency is the next step," Albrecht said. "I need to be more consistent in all aspects of the game all match long. That includes hitting, serving, blocking and everything else."

Though Albrecht is slated as the team's starting opposite right now, last year he was placed at middle blocker, a foreign position for the then redshirt freshman. The team had injury problems at the middle blocker position and Albrecht was slid into a starting role at an unfamiliar position.

"Playing middle last year was definitely a new experience," Albrecht said. "My team really helped me through the whole transition and allowed me to play with confidence. I think that playing middle last year helped me settle in a lot easier this year despite the fact that it is a different position."

Pavlik said that Albrecht is already considered a veteran on the team due to the game experience he has at multiple positions. Though he is quiet in nature, Pavlik says that Albrecht is the consummate team player and that his stint at middle last season showed his willingness to help his team win at any cost.

"That says tons about someone," Pavlik said. "He was willing to step into an unfamiliar situation to try and help his team and he didn't use that once as an excuse, he just tried to get better all the time and that says a lot."

Albrecht also says that he prides himself in being a team player and that last season really taught him a lot about a desire to get better because of the difficulty of playing a different position.

Now, with Albrecht cemented as a starter, at least for the time being, he continues to keep his modest and quiet attitude that has led him to so much success so far.

"I think my role on the team is to help contribute every game and put us in a position to win every match," Albrecht said. "No matter if I'm playing or not, I think my role is to contribute in any way possible."

Albrecht and the rest of the Nittany Lions will certainly all need to contribute this upcoming weekend as the team faces two tough tasks in St. Francis and Ohio State. First serve against St. Francis is set for 7 p.m. on Friday night. 

Lions Remain Positive After Measuring Stick Weekend Series

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11768320.jpegBy Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State impressed but fell short in arguably their two biggest tests of the season so far.

The Nittany Lions welcomed No. 12 Cal State Northridge and top-ranked Long Beach State into Rec Hall this past weekend. Penn State fell in both matches by a score of 3-1, but showed they can compete with the top teams in the country and kept every set within three to five points.

"I think the best think we can take away from this match is what we have to be ready for in late April into early May," head coach Mark Pavlik said after Friday's match. "There were spurts of that match where our level of play dropped off just a bit and against a top team like this you can't do that."

Chris Nugent and Aiden Albrecht paced the Nittany Lions over the weekend series with 34 kills and 30 kills respectively. Albrecht has been a revelation on the right side for Penn State this season and had arguably his two best matches of the season and his career against two West Coast powerhouses.

"He was awesome all weekend," Pavlik said. "Very proud of the effort he put in and he has always worked hard for us so it was good to see."

The mantra for Penn State this season has been their ability to compete and to fight through adversity even when they aren't playing their best. The Nittany Lions played solid volleyball for large chunks of the weekend, but unlike in matches past when they hit a lull and rolled through it, the competition this week made them pay for it unlike other teams previous.

"I think we played really well for a lot of the weekend," Chris Nugent said. "We just hit a few lapses here and there and that's what really cost us. We have to be more consistent against teams like this or else they will make us pay."

The matches that Penn State played this weekend can be looked at in multiple ways. One could say it was a lost weekend as the team did not win a game, but against top competition sometimes that is to be expected. A better way to look at it is in terms of a measuring stick. To essentially see where the team stands at this point in the season and what they have to do to get to take their game to the next level.

"That's why we schedule these games at this time in the season," Pavlik said. "That way we can really gauge how our team is playing against some of the top competition in the nation. I think what we learned this weekend is that they play at that higher level longer than we do. We're learning that the difference at that level is really only two to three plays per match, but it's there and that's where we want to get to."

Despite back to back losses for the first time all season, the general mindset for the team remains positive as all their loses this season have come to teams ranked inside the top 12.

"There is so much we can learn from every single point that we played and I think we know that and were remaining positive," Albrecht said. "I think everyone knows when we do what we can do, we can compete with anyone. We're just going to relax for a few days and then get right back at it."

Penn State's next match will be in a couple weeks when they take on St. Francis for the second time this season, this time inside Rec Hall. That match will be on March 18 with first serve set for just after 7 p.m. 

Pavlik a Model of Consistency At The Helm Of Penn State

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11747210.jpegBy Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coaching can be overrated and underrated, but it should certainly never be undervalued.

For the Penn State men's volleyball team, the position of head coach has been filled by Mark Pavlik for the last 21 seasons. During this time, Pavlik's Nittany Lions have been a fixture in the NCAA Tournament, and the program has dominated the EIVA conference with 17 consecutive titles. In 2008, Pavlik led Penn State to national championship glory.

Pavlik has ushered Penn State through multiple eras of volleyball, meeting each new challenge with success. Through the years, there is no doubt Pavlik's philosophies and style has changed and he says that is mostly a byproduct of the fact that the game has as well.

"I think no doubt my coaching has changed, it's had to," Pavlik said. "When I started coaching, we didn't have rally scoring. Recruiting has changed in the sense that there are more opportunities to see more kids, so I've been able to recruit a wider scope of talent as a result. The biggest thing I think is the increased use of technology in coaching and how that has really revolutionized almost all sports."

For a coach who has made it through so many eras of volleyball and who has recorded so many accolades, the ability to adapt and change to the times is always an important trait. Pavlik also believes that possibly the biggest improvement he has made as a coach is to have the wherewithal to know when to step back and not do as much instead of over coaching.

"I've learned to give control away," Pavlik said. "I think that is really important and with the guys that I have been able to coach over the years I've learned that they need to have ownership and so for me that means taking a step back. I need to make sure to delegate to my assistant coaches because their strengths are so much different than mine. It's not really a 'me' thing anymore its much more of a 'they' thing where I'm just more of an arbitrator or helmsman."

One thing that hasn't changed much is Pavlik's in-game philosophy. A considerable amount of coaches are vocal in all levels of any sport. However, Pavlik chooses the more stoic approach when the match begins. Though he will talk to his players and engage with them during timeouts, for the most part, the coaching takes place during practice and when it is game time, there is no more time for coaching.

"My belief has always been that coaching takes place in practice," Pavlik said. "You're not going to make people play better in matches by saying something. Shouting in the game or carrying on doesn't make them get better. We work real hard in practice so that they don't feel like they always have to look to the bench during games. All I'm trying to do essentially is gauge things like if we have to slow things down or switch out players."

Coaching comes with a lot of stressors, but also a lot of rewards as well. One of those awards for Pavlik was the pick up of his 500th career win last season. Pavlik secured that accolade in the regular season finale against St. Francis and if not before, surely after was cemented as one of the best volleyball coaches of all time in the men's college ranks.

For all the time he has coached at Penn State, Pavlik has seen a large number of student athletes come and go in his program. It is the nature of the sport and the collegiate experience. However, Pavlik says that the four-year development that all these players experience is by far his favorite aspect of being a coach.

"I love just watching the guys to develop," Pavlik said. "They come in as freshman all wide eyed and they can't stay out of the gym. By the time they are fourth and fifth year seniors and have real life staring them in the face you can really see that growth. It's just a lot of fun to see that transformation."

For Pavlik, he says that he never envisioned being in the position he is now when he started 21 seasons ago. However, that is not out of a lack of confidence or belief, rather that is just because Pavlik says he never chooses to look that far ahead and he enjoys every second of coaching here at Penn State.

"My mentality has always been to take it one day at a time," Pavlik said. "I've enjoyed doing that and have enjoyed the coaching staffs that I've had. I've enjoyed the team as well and this year we have a really good group of guys who really want to work well together as a team. Throw Penn State in to the mix and there really is no better place on this earth for me to be than here in Happy Valley."

The Penn State Nittany Lions have been in a state of consistent success for the better part of the last two decades and that is largely due to the fact that the man at the helm has not changed or wavered in his commitment to the community or the Penn State men's volleyball program. 

Nittany Lions Extend Winning Streak To 11

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11738401.jpeg By Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions made it 11 wins in a row after sweeping the weekend series against Charleston (W.V.) and George Mason in Rec Hall.

The EIVA-leading Nittany Lions (12, 6-0 EIVA) swept Charleston in three sets on Friday and dispatched George Mason in four sets on Saturday to claim their 11th and 12th wins of the season. Charleston, a newly-minted program was a match that head coach Mark Pavlik believed may be a let down for the team, however, Penn State started strong and finished stronger in the first match of the weekend.

"I thought this match could have been a let down for our guys," Pavlik said. "To their credit, everyone on the court competed and played well for us tonight."

Penn State uses the mentality of constant team improvement as is evident by the way that they quickly fix mistakes or issues during matches. For Friday's match, the theme was obviously to win, but more so to get better during the match and use it as a tool for improvement.

"I think we are always trying to improve when we go out there," said redshirt freshman libero Royce Clemens. "Everyone out on the court did a great job of keeping the energy at a high level and most importantly just doing their job point in and point out."

Chris Nugent led the Nittany Lions on the night with a team-high eight kills. However, there was a somewhat unexpected bright spot for Penn State as Matt McLaren poured in seven kills on a .500 hitting percentage.

"Matt did a great job," Pavlik said. "I think that this match was a great opportunity to get some guys playing time and to keep everyone fresh and Matt was certainly a guy who stepped up for us tonight. We know what he is capable of since we see it in practice, but it's always nice to get out on the court and produce."

In game two of the weekend, Penn State defeated George Mason in a matchup of the two preseason EIVA favorites. Penn State dropped the third set, but won sets one, two and four fairly handily to complete the solid weekend.

For the Nittany Lions on Saturday night, Nugent was the star of the match, terminating 16 swings at a clip of almost .400 to lead Penn State once again. However, it was the play of Spencer Sauter that really balanced the Nittany Lions on offense and led to the win.

"Any time that Spencer comes in it kind of helps everyone else relax," said Matt Seifert. "You know what you're going to get with him, some good ball control and just an overall solid demeanor and that was really helpful for us tonight."

The Nittany Lions have been labeled as grinders this season and as a team that doesn't give in easily. That mantra was on display against George Mason as Penn State didn't have its best match, but was able to grind things out and ultimately commit fewer errors than George Mason.

"I don't think we played our best tonight by any means," Pavlik said. "That's going to happen, but what great teams do is they find ways to win when that is the case. For us tonight we let Mason commit the errors and when we had chances we usually put them away. It wasn't anything flashy, we just battled very well tonight."

George Mason committed 22 service errors, effectively handing the Nittany Lions a set off of those points. For Penn State and Seifert, the mentality was to keep it clean and don't fall in to the trap of trying to do too much.

"We always try to keep our game clean," said Seifert. "We practice a lot of high pressure situations so we are ready for them when they come our way during the game, it was good to see us limit errors for most of the night."

Penn State has one more weekend series before spring break. The Nittany Lions will take on Cal State Northridge and No. 1 Long Beach State on March 4 and 5. 

Callaway's Consistency a Big Part of Penn State's Success

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By Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Consistency is the name of the game when it comes to Penn State's Matt Callaway.

The redshirt junior occupies the middle blocker position on the court for the Nittany Lions and also boasts a team high .482 hitting percentage. That means that Callaway puts away roughly half of the balls he is set, resulting in an efficiency that effectively enhances Penn State's offense.

"I really try not to make errors and just be one of the steady guys on the court," Callaway said. "I think being consistent is something that every player aspires to do so I'm happy that is how my play is looked at."

Head coach Mark Pavlik certainly agrees with the consistency sentiment directed toward Callaway saying that he is a guy that they can count on to limit errors and put balls away when the team needs points.

"You know what you're going to get from Matt," Pavlik said. "When he is up quick he makes good decisions and he can move the ball around. He has also been on the court for quite a while so nothing much out there surprises him."

Callaway has indeed been a large part of the Penn State team for a few years now and has gained experience through matches against some of the toughest competition in the nation. Although he has always been consistent when it comes to attacking, Pavlik and Callaway agree that the blocking aspect of his game has certainly improved, especially coming into this year.

"His blocking has really gotten better," Pavlik said. "It's so much better and I think that 'get it' alert has gone off. He gets it and he has worked real hard to be a middle that scores points for us."

Pavlik says that the process for Callaway to become that offensive middle hasn't been easy. Despite always being consistent, he says the offense last year didn't come easily for the 6-7 middle. However, Callaway has been patient and that is one of the things he feels like he has learned the most here at Penn State and through playing at this level.

"[I think] I've really learned to be patient," Callaway said. "It's trying not to be frustrated when things aren't going your way because it's a tough sport and a lot of things can happen. So for me it's really been just staying patient and realizing that the games going to come to you."

Pavlik believes that the patience of Callaway has also contributed to his increase in blocking efficiency. So much so that he currently sits No. 6 in the nation in blocks per set. Callaway says that blocking was a huge focus of his in the offseason.

"It was definitely something I focused on," Callaway said. "Our team hasn't been one of the better blocking teams in a while I would say. This summer I watched a lot of international play to see what those guys were doing to help them block so well. It was watching a lot of film and then incorporating that in to my game that really made the difference I think."

Pavlik agrees that Callaway has improved leaps and bounds with his blocking and that the added film time certainly played a factor in where he is at now.

"I think that [blocking] is the hardest skill to master," said Pavlik. "You can do everything right and have nothing to show for it. I think that is toughest thing for blockers to understand and Matt has gotten really good at doing the same thing over and over again."

Even with all of his success this season, Callaway is quick to deflect the praise to his teammates. He credits Taylor Hammond, the top setter in the nation in terms of assists per set, as a big reason why he is having so much success.

"A lot of it is my teammates," Callaway said. "[Hammond] has given me some great sets all season and the pin hitters that we have as well free up a lot of space for me. So first and foremost its them."

Moving forward, Callaway remains in the team oriented mindset, saying that the next step for the sixth ranked team in the nation is a killer mentality.

"We need a killer instinct now," Callaway said. "When were up by eight or nine points we need to play harder, not let up."

For Penn State the next hurdle in the schedule is this weekend when they take on Charleston (W.V.) and George Mason. First serve is set for 7 p.m. both nights.

Penn State Athletics THON 2016 Coverage

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IMG_9032.JPGUNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Athletics was heavily involved with the 44th IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) held at the Bryce Jordan Center over the weekend.

THON's 708 dancers began standing at 6 p.m. on Friday and did not sit down or sleep until Sunday at 4 p.m. to raise awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer in the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Since 1977, THON has partnered with The Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital with one goal in mind: conquering childhood cancer. To date, more than $136 million has been raised by THON. THON revealed a fundraising total of more than $9.7 million for 2016 with 96 percent of THON's all-time funds being donated directly to Four Diamonds. 

Each year, more than 15,000 Penn State student volunteers dedicate their time to THON, making it the largest student-run philanthropy in the world.

Members of Penn State's Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB) were active participants in THON, and led run several fund-raising activities once again this year including sending solicitation letters to friends and family and a lip sync competition. In addition to generating financial support for THON, SAAB also provides emotional support to its THON children, Isabella Messina and Colton Buckley, and their families throughout the year.

Four Penn State student-athletes are represented SAAB as dancers in THON 2016: Liisi Vink-Lainas (Wynantskill, N.Y.) and Angela Widlacki (Naperville, Ill.) of women's soccer, Emily Rivers (Washington, D.C.) from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato (Burke, Va.) from football.

"This means the world to us. As athletes you are given a platform that a normal student might not have," said Zanellato. "It's one of those things that when you come in as a freshman, you know that you will have that platform for a few years. I wanted to make the most of it. I realized that THON was something special to me when I came to Penn State. I wanted to use my platform as best I could."

Additionally, Angela Connors and Jessica Spellman from the Lionettes squad and from Penn State cheerleading Kenny Fuhrman, Paige Gentry, Jordan Hinkle, Kylie Tobasco and Mike White danced in THON.

Within Penn State Athletics, strategic communications student assistants Emily Hesidence and Kate Brandell were also among the dancers at THON, as well.

Check out the extensive coverage from THON 2016 weekend.

Friday - 6 p.m. - THON 2016 Begins
The 46-hour dance marathon kicked off at 6 p.m. on Friday evening when the 708 dancers stood. They will remain on their feet until Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m.


Saturday - 9:30 a.m. - Student-Athlete Interviews
With Bryce Jordan Center buzzing with energy during the 16th hour of THON 2016, spent some time with student-athletes and THON dancers Liisi Vink-Lainas  and Angela Widlacki of women's soccer, Emily Rivers, from women's tennis and Matt Zanellato from football. Representing Student Athlete Advisory Board (SAAB), the group is thrilled to carry the Penn State Athletics banner as dancers in the 2016 THON. Take a look at some of their remarks from the floor at the BJC.

THON 2016_Blog 2.jpg
Saturday - 2 p.m. - Football Hosts THON Explorers Event
Approximately 40 members of the Nittany Lion football team welcomed approximately 30 THON Four Diamonds children and their families to a special event inside the Lasch Football Building on Saturday afternoon as part of the THON Explorers program.

The THON event in Lasch is circled on the calendar for the Nittany Lions every year. The THON families gathered inside the home of Penn State football to take photos, get autographs, participate in athletic stations, tour the facility with the Nittany Lions, eat ice cream from the Penn State Creamery and take a group photo.

The Nittany Lions formed a high-five tunnel for the families upon entry into the building before the student-athletes took the families around the football facility. Take a look at the THON Explorers event at the Lasch Football Complex on Saturday.

Football THON Explorers Event

Saturday - 6 p.m. - Student-Athletes Participate in Athlete Hour
Athletes from several teams on campus spent times with the THON Four Diamonds children inside the IM during athlete hour on Saturday.  Here are a few snapshots and video highlights from the event.

Athlete Hour Photo Gallery

Saturday - 11 p.m. - Football Wins Pep Rally Dance Competition
One of the THON highlights every year comes on Saturday night when the teams of Penn State Athletics hop on stage and compete in a dancing competition during the annual pep rally. In all, 12 different teams competed in the 2016 version of the dance-off.

The pep rally included a speech from former Nittany Lion football great Devon Still and his daughter Leah.

As for the dance competition, the football team claimed top honors in the men's side of the action, while the reigning national champion women's soccer team took top honors on the women's side. The two teams then battled in a dance off, with the football team earning the bragging rights as the 2016 THON Pep Rally dancing champion.

We have highlights of every team dancing on Saturday night at THON. 

THON 2016 Pep Rally Photo Gallery

9185732.jpegTHON 2016 Pep Rally Full Dances
Football (Men's & Overall Champion) 
Women's Soccer (Women's Champion)
Men's Fencing
Men's Golf
Men's Gymnastics
Men's Hockey
Men's Rugby
Men's Soccer
Men's Tennis
Men's Volleyball
Field Hockey
Women's Golf
Women's Gymnastics
Women's Hockey
Women's Rugby
Women's Volleyball

Sunday - 11:30 a.m. - VIDEO: Coach Franklin Addresses THON 2016
Head coach James Franklin took the stage of THON 2016 on Sunday morning to urge the dancers on in the final hours of the 46-hour dance marathon.  Franklin's message epitomized what THON's mission has been since it started in 1977.

"This is special. What you guys do is what Penn State is ultimately all about," said Coach Franklin.

Take a look at his full remarks.

James Franklin at THON 2016 Photo Gallery

4:14 p.m. - THON 2016 Raises $9.7 Million
For the second-straight year, THON's fundraising efforts raised more than $9.7 million. The grand total for THON in 2016 was  $9,770,332.32 for fight against pediatric cancer.  Congratulations to everyone involved in THON 2016.  Here is a look at the reveal from Rec Hall prior to Penn State wrestling's bout against Oklahoma State. The Nittany Lion faithful in Rec Hall let out a big cheer as the total was unveiled.


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Nittany Lions Take Both Weekend Matches

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11713283.jpegBy Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The weekend didn't start as planned for the No. 7 Nittany Lions men's volleyball (10-2, 5-0 EIVA), but the team overcame early adversity to close out the weekend with victories over NJIT and Princeton.

Penn State showed perseverance by battling from behind on Friday after dropping its first set to NJIT 25-21 in Rec Hall. Head coach Mark Pavlik's unit clawed back from a one-set deficit by taking the following three sets 25-21, 25-20, and 25-22.

On Saturday, Penn State fed off of the high energy within Rec Hall's South Gym to sweep Princeton (2-7, 2-2) in straight sets (25-20, 25-20, 25-20).

"In South (Gym), they (the fans) fill the stands and one big play happens and everyone is just ignited
," said redshirt-junior Matt Callaway.

Energy from the crowd and team sparked Callaway, who was game-changing on Penn State's lengthy front line. Six of Penn State's 15.5 blocks came from the 6-foot-7-inch middle hitter. The presence of the front line also caused the Tigers to commit 23 hitting errors.

Junior Chris Nugent and redshirt sophomore Aidan Albrecht led Penn State with double-digit kills, 12 and 10 respectively. Five hard earned digs from redshirt-freshman Royce Clemens and 33 assists from redshirt-senior Taylor Hammond set the Nittany Lion offense up for kills.

The Nittany Lions made defensive adjustments against tipping in the Princeton match. Instead of points being scored off of the tips on Penn State, the Nittany Lions took advantage of tips to score them on the other side of the net.

"I thought our offense took very good swings, we just kept coming at them. I think our defense was very physical and they tried to off-speed us early just like NJIT tried to do on Friday. I don't think there was a tip that fell," said Pavlik.

During Friday's match, NJIT (0-9, 0-1) played at a higher level than their record showed and Penn State knew that they would be in for a challenge when they were scouting them.

"Tonight was a fight that I expected coming in," said Pavlik.

The outside hitter Nugent recorded a team-leading 18 kills against the Highlanders. Hammond, the setter recorded a match-high 55 assists and the libero Clemens dug out a match-high 11 balls.

The Highlanders used tipping instead of a bunch of full swings deceive the Nittany Lions. NJIT was led by Jabarry Goodridge, who is a member of the Barbados National team and TJ Jurko, one of the better players in the EIVA. Goodridge and Jurko each had 16 kills. NJIT's Luke Robbe also hit at a remarkable .909 clip.

"I thought both teams played well in bits and spurts but it seemed like he who streaked last won. When you get into matches like that it's even more important to take care of the ball on your side of the net. I think late in games we did a good job of not giving them the easy points," said Pavlik.

Penn State is back in action next weekend, continuing an 11-game home stand. The Nittany Lions host Charleston (W.V.) Friday and George Mason Saturday with each game starting at 7 p.m.

VIDEO: THON 2016 Pep Rally - Men's Volleyball

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Penrose Learning To Harness Dynamic Skill Set

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11698091.jpegBy Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Raw talent can't be taught. It can be refined, harnessed and improved upon, but never taught.

A raw talent is how you would probably describe Penn State's redshirt sophomore Jalen Penrose. Now in his second season playing for the team, Penrose has seen extended time on the court and is second on the team in kills. Penrose, at any time, can be the most dynamic player on the court for either team. The one big knock on the supremely talented outside hitter is that he has yet to master the art of consistency and he will be the first one to tell you that.

"I feel like I have made lots of great strides already, but I can still get much better," Penrose said. "The biggest thing for me is to become more and more consistent. I'm still only in my redshirt sophomore season so I feel like I have time. I'm taking it day by day and trying to improve every day."

Head coach Mark Pavlik echoed Penrose's sentiment, in terms of consistency being his biggest flaw. However, at the same time he also acknowledges that Penrose has a talent level that is rare for many players.

"Jalen is still at the point where he is scoring a lot of points for the other team," Pavlik said. "Once he limits that and is able to start scoring a substantial amount of points for us, he has the ability to take over the whole match for its entire duration. Now he can do it in spurts, but if he gets more consistent he can do even more."

Penrose has formidable height, great length and an exceptional right arm. His serve is clocked between 65-72 miles per hour and he can touch 11-foot-8 at the height of his vertical leap. In other words, he has a talent level that could translate one day to the international level.

"He's very close to the numbers that most of the international players are putting up," Pavlik said. "If he works in the offseason and during the season like [Aaron Russell] did, I have no doubt that Jalen will be able to play at the next level.

For Penrose, the Cambridge, Mass., native, playing volleyball overseas is the ultimate goal, but he also acknowledges that it is still a long way away.

"I want to keep my ties with United States volleyball and ultimately play overseas," said Penrose. "However, I still want to take it one day at a time and not get ahead of myself. I still have more than two college seasons to play."

Outside his freakish athletic abilities, the one thing that stands out about Penrose is his fiery demeanor on the court. He can be an explosive force that really kick-starts a team rally. Penrose says that he has had that attitude since a young age.

"I have always been extremely competitive," Penrose said. "I played basketball when I was younger and I always played hard. Growing up in the city I feel like you have to be a little rough around the edges so I would say that's where that all comes from."

For Pavlik, the fire that Penrose brings is a beneficial tool in his mind, he just feels that the redshirt sophomore can better harness that energy at times and use it to the benefit of his team even more.

"When Jalen comes in he can really pump us up," Pavlik said. "He just has to use that energy in the right way and make sure that it benefits us positively as a team instead of the other way around. That competitive edge can be a great advantage for us."

For Penrose, he is already on of Penn State's main offensive catalysts when he is on the court. The problem lies in keeping him on the court and that will all stem from consistent play. Pavlik believes that the consistent play will come and when it does, Penrose will be even more of a force to be reckoned with.

"I think this is the time for Jalen to figure things out," Pavlik said. "He still has some things to work on, but I have all the confidence in the world that he will be able to figure it out. Once he does, the sky is the limit for him and I'm excited for the next two-plus seasons to see what Jalen does."

Excitement is what Penrose brings day in and day out to the Penn State men's volleyball team and that will only persist as the redshirt sophomore continues to hone his raw talents. Will the support system that he has and the caliber of coaching that is present at Penn State, Penrose is in the right environment and has the right rare skill set, to be a franchise player for Penn State. 

Clemens Growing and Thriving in Freshman Campaign

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By Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - One of the more overlooked positions in volleyball is the libero. They rarely put points on the board, their contacts are usually with their forearms as lofting passes to their teammates and they almost never get kills.

However, they almost always touch the ball on every point and the libero position is possibly the most crucial on the court.

For the Penn State Nittany Lions, last year Connor Curry, a fifth-year senior, manned the position and was one of the most notable libero's in the nation. This year they have a new face in the off-colored jersey, Royce Clemens.

Clemens is a redshirt freshman who is just eight games into his collegiate career and already making a name for himself in Happy Valley. Not only does the lanky freshman have superb athletic talents that translate well to the game of volleyball, but according to head coach Mark Pavlik, he also has the necessary mentality to succeed at this level.

"Royce never gets down on himself," said Pavlik. "There was this one sequence when we were playing Lewis where it was three overpasses in a row in the fifth set. But Royce never got discouraged. He had a look on his face that was like 'I can't believe that happened again,' he never has his head down."

Being thick-skinned is especially important at the libero position as they are tasked with receiving the serves on most rallies. For those who know the game of volleyball, some serves are incredibly hard to receive. Clemens laughed when asked about the Lewis match and says that his upbeat attitude on the court is a full credit to his parents.

"I think it's from growing up from my parents," said Clemens. "My parents have always preached thinking about the next point. I played multiple sports so it was always about what is about to happen and what I can do to influence the next play."

Clemens has had a few growing pains this season, as is customary to any player at this level, but he has also excelled in many facets of the game. For every mistake he has made, he seems to do something good right after Pavlik explained. Clemens says it is a credit to his teammates for helping him grow and learn from his mistakes on the court.

"My team, all the guys around me have been through what I'm going through now," said Clemens. "They have all been younger players and they have been in my shoes and they are very understanding about that."

Clemens is a fairly local boy, hailing from York, Pa. Being a three-sport varsity athlete in high school, Clemens was coveted by the Nittany Lion's for his athletic ability. According to Clemens, he knew he wanted to be a Nittany Lion since 2008.

"Well I came and watched when [Penn State] hosted the national championship in 2008," said Clemens. "I think after that is when I really started knowing that I wanted to play for this program."

Because of his superior athleticism as a local player, the Nittany Lions had Clemens on their radar well before he graduated. But Pavlik says that it wasn't really until this season that he really got what he was expecting when it came to Clemens as a player.

"When he came into the gym after the offseason, he was a new player," said Pavlik. "He has continued that growth and it has been fun to watch this year."

Last season Clemens redshirted under Curry and had a full season to learn from one of the premier libero's in the country. According to Clemens, the experience was invaluable and critical to his success this season.

"Connor was one of the best liberos I have ever seen play," said Clemens. "He was sort of the unsung hero last year I think. He was really consistent with his passing and defense and we would work out together just the two of us so I could get extra reps and I think that really paid off in the long run."

Consistency, like that which Curry displayed last year and throughout his time at Penn State, is incredibly important at the libero position. If the passes are consistent, it puts the team in a great position to succeed every point. For Clemens, Pavlik says that the consistency he has shown this season has been what he is most pleased about.

"I really just liked his consistency so far," said Pavlik. "Anytime you look at that position, they are tasked with making as many first contacts as possible and you're coming off a fifth year senior who has done everything and you're looking at [Clemens] to see where his learning curve is at. For Royce his learning curve has been off the charts and he is not only building off of what he knows, but he has the confidence to go out and do what he needs to do now."

Clemens has already made a big splash with his teammates as well. He explained that they all mentor him, but Pavlik says that he now has the confidence to be vocal on the court and take a leadership role himself.

"You can just notice him getting more comfortable every match," said Pavlik. "And now he is at a point where he is confident in taking charge and wanting to go get that first ball instead of maybe waiting for it to come to him."

Clemens' growth was on full display in the Nittany Lions' most recent match against Mount Olive. Multiple times during the match Clemens sold out for balls and saved the vast majority of them, keeping rallies alive for his team. A few of the balls seemed unreachable, but Clemens motored to get them. This is probably why his teammates have started to call him 'Wheels'.

"Royce is a fantastic athlete," said Pavlik. "He's quick, the guys nickname for him is wheels. He can go from point A to point B pretty quickly and I think he is just figuring out now how to use that strength and make it a strength for the team."

Clemens has used his athleticism to lead the team with a team high 62 digs and he is receiving almost 95 percent of the serves he sees cleanly. However, despite his early season success and the praise he has received from both his coach and teammates, Clemens still believes he has a long way to go.

"I think I have a lot more to grow," said Clemens. "I know I'm not nearly where I can be at this point. I know I have a lot of room to improve still so hopefully in the next couple months I learn to make the right reads and use my athletic ability to get the balls up that could help change the game."

Even with all that being said, Clemens has certainly been a spark plug for the Nittany Lions this season. The redshirt freshman has used his athleticism and his quick learning curve to take charge in the middle of the back row and based on his growth thus far and his attitude towards improvement, Clemens could become a household name with the Penn State men's volleyball team in no time.


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