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Tough EIVA Schedule Awaits Penn State Down The Stretch

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By Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State men's volleyball team has seven games remaining on its regular season schedule.

Six of those games are against EIVA conference foes, while the seventh is against the No. 1 team in the nation, Ohio State. Despite the fact that Penn State has won 17 consecutive EIVA titles, the remainder of their schedule is anything but easy and head coach Mark Pavlik will be the first one to admit that.

According to Pavlik the EIVA has changed dramatically in the past few years. Once a Penn State dominated league, the quality of the other teams has significantly increased over the past four years or so. Now, what may have been six easy contests to end the season for Penn State has suddenly turned into six matches that will really push the team.

"New Jersey Tech is playing really well, they are second in the conference now and Princeton is always tough to play at their place," Pavlik said. "That is just this weekend and then we have Harvard and Sacred Heart soon after. We have a real chance to solidify our position in the EIVA and play volleyball like we were doing earlier in the season."

Pavlik says that while the EIVA is improving, it still may not be getting the attention it fully deserves. However, the group of players on the Penn State team at the moment have all grown up in the era of the EIVA being a very competitive conference and therefore Pavlik says he doesn't have to worry about his team taking any of their last six conference matches lightly.

"I don't think we need to say a whole lot because these guys didn't know the EIVA of 10-15 years ago," Pavlik said. "They have known the EIVA in the last four years and it has gotten much better. This group has battled and lost to a lot of teams so they understand what they are getting into with the EIVA right now."

Penn State is coming off of an up and down month of March in which they played some of the top competition from both the West Coast and the Midwest. The wins or losses don't matter much to Penn State overall since they are out of conference games, but Pavlik said it gave the team a good indication of what they need to do better and how they can improve down the final stretch of the season.

Every team wants to hit its stride coming down the home stretch and Penn State is no different. Pavlik says he thinks that playing the tough competition of the EIVA the remainder of the season will not only give Penn State a more battle tested mentality, but it will also make sure that the Nittany Lions are playing good volleyball come playoff time.

"I think this is where we want to be playing our best volleyball," Pavlik said. "We want to ramp up to EIVA championship and NCAA championship level but we also want to make a concerted effort to play our best this last month of the season."

The last month of the season will start with road matches this weekend against NJIT and Princeton. Princeton is one of the tougher environments to play on the road in the EIVA and NJIT is second behind Penn State in the standings. For the Nittany Lions it could be a weekend that propels them forward in the standings and gets them started on some late season magic, or it could make the rest of the games that much tougher.

"We know what the task at hand is and now it's about getting it done," Pavlik said. NJIT and Princeton are very tough opponents so we know we have to play well to beat them."

Friday's match is scheduled for a 7 p.m. start while Saturday is slated as a 4 p.m. first serve. 

Nittany Lions Starting To Regain Identity

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11822600.jpeg By Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State is slowly getting back to where it wants to be and where it was earlier on this season.

The Nittany Lions took a few steps forward in their weekend games against Lewis and Loyola Chicago. Penn State beat Lewis in five sets on Friday night and lost to Loyola Chicago, the defending national champions, in four sets on Saturday.

The last couple of weekends, the Nittany Lions have been searching for two things according to head coach Mark Pavlik, consistency and their overall competitiveness. The weekend, much like the last couple of weekends, was up and down. However, Penn State continued to make strides, albeit small at times, towards getting back to its top form.

Match one was a match that mirrored the efforts of Penn State in mid-February. The Nittany Lions didn't necessarily play their best volleyball, but their compete level was off the charts, resulting in a thrilling finish in the fifth set. The Nittany Lions battled to a 15-12 victory to secure the season sweep over Lewis.

"Game five, to me, was probably the best game five we've played all season," Pavlik said. "We were steady late. When they tied it at six I thought we just got stronger and stronger. That was a very good win for us against a very good team."

Much has been made of Penn State's up and down run these past couple weeks and right now, though some things have been figured out, on nights like this it's as simple as being up or down during the right time.

"Well us playing well in the fifth tells me that we're up now," Pavlik said. "If there was a game six, who knows but I was very happy with how we played overall in this match, not just game five."

In game two of the weekend, Penn State took a step back against the defending national champions. Despite a convincing victory in game one, Penn State couldn't maintain a high level of play and fell in four sets, dropping the last three in a row like they have in their down period.

There were some bright spots in the match as Jalen Penrose saw substantial action for the first time in almost a month and made the most out of it. The redshirt sophomore had 12 kills on 18 attempts and limited his errors to only two. Penrose could be a major contributor to a playoff run if he is able to maintain his consistency.

Despite the negative impact of the second game on Penn State's record, the first game held many positives that can outweigh the negatives of a weekend split. According to captain and senior Matt Seifert, he feels like the team may be starting to find their identity. If that's the case, they are finding it at just the right time.

"I think we're starting to find our identity," Pavlik said. "We're going to fight, scratch and claw and do whatever we have to do to win for as long as we need to. I think it's just a testament to the team that we can do whatever we need to do for as long as we have to."

Penn State has a few big tests coming up as they take on NJIT and Princeton this upcoming weekend before heading to Ohio State for a Tuesday road contests the following weekend. 

Nittany Lions Regaining Competitive Edge; Poised For Stretch Run

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11812635.jpegBy Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The stretch run in any sport is synonymous with tightly contested games and the push for the playoffs.

The Nittany Lion men's volleyball team finds itself nearing that part of the season as the second half of EIVA play is set to begin. Penn State is currently 7-1 in the EIVA and have proven once again to be the team to beat.

However, recent stumbles for Penn State have seen them fall in the rankings. The mistakes that the Nittany Lion's have made in the past couple matches hadn't happened for most of the season and are something that head coach Mark Pavlik knows they cannot have during the second half of the season.

"We know we can be better, it's just a matter of stepping up and doing so," Pavlik said. "We have a lot of guys who know how to deal with adversity so I don't think it's ever been a question of if we will figure it out, just when."

Penn State gained a much needed win over UC Irvine this past Monday, snapping a four game losing streak and more importantly, beginning the stretch run of their last 10 games, with a significant victory.

Much of the struggle for the Nittany Lions in their past couple of games has been to regain their mentality of competing every single point. There were multiple signs in Monday's contest to suggest that Penn State is close to regaining that mentality.

"We had a point where we were done with how we were playing. We were in a drought and we were done with that. We needed to change what we were doing," said setter Taylor Hammond.

The Nittany Lions still know that they can do better, but the win certainly goes a long way for the team, especially against a West Coast foe who is historically a powerhouse.

"When you compete hard and you win, it kind of pushes everything else to the side," Pavlik said. "It enables you to start with maybe a cleaner mental slate and be more confident in yourself."

Pavlik also said he agrees with the sentiment that the team certainly started to regain their competitive edge against UC Irvine. Pavlik mentioned after the defeat against St. Francis that he felt his team had lost that edge, but that it started to permeate through the team psyche during Monday's match.

"I think it was definitely better," Pavlik said. "We had given up six aces through about one set and a half and I posed the challenge to our passers to just compete. I think from that point on they had one ace and it was a clean serve that clipped the line, that is the type of mentality that we need to carry with us for the rest of the season."

The rest of the season, save for the two games this weekend against Lewis and Loyola Chicago and a mid week game against Ohio State, will be against EIVA foes. Also, for a team who has been accustomed to playing at home, Penn State will have five of their remaining nine games on the road. However, despite the differences, junior Chris Nugent says there is a simple fix.

"We need to make adjustments and be comfortable making them," Nugent said. "The coaching staff tells us the right things to do, we just have to execute it."

The EIVA is a conference that Penn State has dominated for the better part of the last two decades. That being said, even though the stretch run is dominated by EIVA matches, that doesn't mean that it will be easy to finish the season for Penn State.

"The EIVA is very tough now," Pavlik said. "There are some good teams out there and they are just getting better as you can see by the St. Francis match we just played. It's no longer a league where we can go out and not play our best and win, we have to show up and compete with all these teams. I'm expecting big crowds and tough games when we head on the road to NJIT and Princeton."

With the end of the season coming up, Penn State must bear down in their quest to defend their EIVA title and ultimately play for a national championship. If Monday's match is any indication, the Nittany Lions are starting to make great strides in getting back to their competitive and never say die attitude that gave them so much success early on in the season.

Penn State takes the court next against Lewis with first serve scheduled for 7 p.m. inside Rec Hall on Friday night. 

Nittany Lions Finish Strong To Power Past UC-Irvine

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By Zach Reagan, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 10th-ranked Penn State men's volleyball won the last three sets 25-20, 25-16, and 25-17 to overcome an early one set deficit to defeat No. 14 UC-Irvine, 3-1, at Rec Hall Monday night.

In any sport, playing three times in four days will take its toll, whether it be physically, mentally, or emotionally. Penn State (13-6) had to battle the grind of the schedule Monday night along with the pressure to snap a losing streak.

The Nittany Lions stumbled in the first set, but bounced right back against the Anteaters (7-15). After dropping the first set 25-23, the Nittany Lions knew they had to make changes after allowing too many aces. Redshirt-senior Taylor Hammond felt like enough was enough.

"We had a point where we were done with how we were playing. We were in a drought and we were done with that. We needed to change what we were doing," said Hammond.

Penn State picked up the intensity and energy to ignite momentum throughout the course of the match.

"We strung together a lot more good to great volleyball. I like how hard we played outside of the little blip in game two and the end of game one," said head coach Mark Pavlik.

It was a total team effort with contributions from a host of Nittany Lions for Pavlik's squad.

"I really like how our passers competed against some pretty good servers. Offensively I thought we did a really nice job at getting the ball to our guys in some really hittable situations especially in transition," said Pavlik.

Hammond setup up Penn State's offense with 35 assists. Penn State's physical block was a key to success. Redshirt-senior Matt Seifert recorded seven kills on only 10 total swings. The 6-foot-9 middle hitter notched six of Penn State's 12.5 blocks.

Seifert's front line teammates of redshirt-junior Spencer Sauter, redshirt-sophomore Aidan Albrecht, and redshirt freshman Kevin Gear all had solid nights. Sauter and Albrecht both had double-digit kills. Gear helped solidify the Penn State middle block.

UC-Irvine couldn't match the intensity of the Nittany Lions. The Anteaters hit .154 and struggled with 24 hitting errors in the four sets.

As for Penn State, the Nittany Lions look to build on their victory over UC-Irvine when they're back in action to wrap up their 11-game homestand against No. 13 Lewis on Friday and No. 12 Loyola on Saturday. Each match starts at 7 p.m. with the Loyola match being televised on BTN.

Lions Looking Up Despite Tough Weekend

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11804076.jpegBy Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The weekend didn't go quite as planned for the Penn State Nittany Lions as they suffered tough losses to St. Francis and Ohio State.

It is the first time this season where the Nittany Lions have been hit with a considerable amount of adversity. Despite the fact that the four teams that Penn State has faced are all among some of the best in the nation, this is a team that has become accustomed to winning as is evident by their record. The Nittany Lions dropped the first match to St. Francis 3-1 after winning the first set.

After the match head coach Mark Pavlik said that he felt the team started to lose that competitive edge that allowed them to win some tight matches earlier in the season.

"Congratulations to St. Francis, they played one of the best games I think they have ever player against us," Pavlik said. "But there was a lot out there that we could have done better and we just couldn't seem too string anything together."

Game two of the weekend may have been the toughest test of the season for Penn State so far, facing an Ohio State team who just knocked off the first ranked team in the nation, Long Beach State. Penn State did everything but win the match, as they played a completely different game than the night previous.

Chris Nugent and Spencer Sauter led the way for the offense, which also got a spark from Andrew Roberts who poured in double-digit kills coming off the bench. The match was back and forth until the fifth set as Ohio State eventually pulled away for the victory. Pavlik said that it was a match of ups and downs, which kind of personified the way the Nittany Lions have been playing the past couple of weeks.

"There were stretches where we played some very good volleyball," Pavlik said. "There were also stretches where it just got away from us and we couldn't get much going."

For the Nittany Lions, the search for wins will begin with the search for consistency. When they were at their best this season, the team was stringing together full matches of consistent volleyball. Now, according to Pavlik, the big Achilles heel for Penn State is the inability to maintain that high level of play over multiple sets. The one thing that was a resounding positive for the Penn State team was that their energy level and compete level was much higher than in the last couple matches.

"It was much much better and it was noticeable from the very beginning," Pavlik said. "Overall the energy was great, the communication was meaningful and timely and for us we just have to keep plugging away."

The game against Ohio State may be just what the Nittany Lions need to get back on track. Despite the loss, the team played with an energy and vigor that hasn't shown in a few weeks. Penn State was fired up from the get go and it showed as they hung with the hottest team in the nation.

"I don't think you really have to do much to get pumped up for Ohio State," Matt Seifert said. "I think we made the collective decision to make it a point to be energized tonight and it definitely made a difference, just tough that would couldn't close it out."

For Penn State the mentality was to treat every point like a national championship point. Though the match did not fall in favor of Penn State, the mentality that they adopted could serve them well as the season wears on.

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.


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