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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 GoPSUsports.com 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.

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Saturday - 9:30 a.m. - Student-Athlete Interviews
With Bryce Jordan Center buzzing with energy during the 16th hour of THON 2016, GoPSUsports.com 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.



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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



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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



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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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GoPSUTony

Nittany Lions Take Both Weekend Matches

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11713283.jpegBy Zach Reagan, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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, GoPSUsports.com 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.


Nittany Lion Reserves Shine in Straight Set Victory

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State didn't need contributions from its entire lineup, but the Lions sure got just that in their straight-set victory over Mount Olive. Penn State won it's fifth-straight match and turned to their deep bench for much of the second and third set.

The Nittany Lions rode key performances from a few players who normally fly under the radar as the reserves came in and took over the game for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have a plethora of talent on the bench and that was finally showcased tonight in the victory.

"We have to get them time," said Pavlik. "Tonight seemed like a good night to get a bunch of different guys looks and we were happy with the performance overall from everyone who played."

A regular starter, Spencer Sauter, led Penn State but two of the top three contributors kills-wise were players who aren't normal main stays in Penn State's starting lineup. Aidan Albrecht, who got the start, poured in eight kills while Lee Smith followed right behind with seven of his own. Albrecht, who joined the previous match against St. Francis in the second set, got 21 attempts on the night, a career high.

"He played great against St. Francis so we rewarded him with the start tonight," said Pavlik. "It wasn't just the game last week either, he had a really good week of practice as well."

Smith, who hasn't started a match yet this season for Penn State, came in as a sub early in the second set and stamped his footprint on the match with three kills soon after he was subbed in.

"[It was] good to get Lee and Kevin Gear some playing time in this game," said Pavlik. "There were some errors that they made but we expect that. For the most part I was very pleased with the effort from both of them and Lee played a very strong match for us on the outside."

Gear was also a strong contributor, like Pavlik mentioned. Despite the mishaps from the line and a communication error, Gear was consistent in the role he played. He put away three kills on three attempts and offered an imposing presence in the middle when Matt Seifert was out of the lineup.

The reserves for Penn State were the key contributors as Chris Nugent and Matt Seifert took a seat for the majority of the match. Still, even without possibly their two top players, the Nittany Lions seemed to not miss a single beat.

"I think it is because of the attention to detail everyone has at practice," said Pavlik. "We had a lot of guys playing tonight that haven't that much yet, but they didn't seem to miss a beat and everyone played well."

For Penn State, EIVA play will begin next weekend as they take on Harvard and Sacred Heart on the road. For the Nittany Lions, it is the first two game road trip of the season and a long one at that. Pavlik said that the only difference; however, is that the team will just have to get ahead of their academics in preparation.

"I don't think the mentality is much different for a road trip," said Pavlik. "The biggest thing for the players is to get ahead of their studies and prepare well. They have plenty of time to work on the bus so that is the only big difference on road trips."

Penn State will take on Harvard at 7 p.m. on Friday and then Sacred Heart on Saturday at 7 p.m.


Seifert Leading Nittany Lions

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Leadership is a key component on all teams in all levels of sports. For the Penn State men's volleyball team, the leadership extends from head coach Mark Pavlik, all the way down through the ranks of the team. However, if you were to ask the Nittany Lions who the leader of the team was, they would all point to captain Matt Seifert.

Seifert is a fifth-year senior and is now in his third year of serving as a team captain. The captaincy is voted on by both the players and the coaches, as coach Pavlik explained.

"Most of the time the players decide on the captains," said Pavlik. "The coaches can step in if they feel otherwise, but this group has always gotten it right when it has come to choosing the captain and I think Seif is a perfect example of that."

Seifert is a calming force both on and off the court. Though his six-foot-nine frame can be intimidating, Pavlik says that he is one of the most approachable guys on the team and is always looking for ways to help people out. He believes that is one of the main reasons why Seifert has been chosen to fill the role of captain for three years now. Seifert says that he doesn't think much of the actual title of captain, but that he is much more humbled by the fact that his teammates have chosen him now for multiple years to lead the team.

"For me, what means the most is that the guys picked me to be in that role for them," said Seifert. "Just because I'm the captain doesn't mean anything, I still get treated the same I'm just more of a communicator from the coaches to the guys."

Despite Seifert's humility, Pavlik says that he is much more than just a communicator between himself and the rest of the team.

"He isn't afraid to say something and he understands that keeping a team functioning together through the whole season is very important," said Pavlik.

In many people's minds, there are two types of leaders - leaders by example and vocal leaders. Pavlik says that the reason Seifert is such a good leader is because he is great at exemplifying both types of leadership.

"I would say that he is a perfect combination of both," said Pavlik. "I think he models the effort level that we want everyone to have and that is a great quality. I think what you really want in a leader is someone who can stand up in the middle of the locker room and not be afraid to say something."

Seifert also believes that he has both qualities of leadership and says that he understands that being the captain that is expected of him.

"I know that if I talk, the guys will listen," said Seifert. "I think I communicate really well with a lot of the guys and relay messages to all of them pretty well. On the court it's kind of the other way around, I just try and stay as calm as I can. I think if the other guys on the court see that I'm calm they know that we are in a good spot and everything is going well. I don't believe that there should be any added tension by saying too much when you're on the court."

Pavlik says that what really separates Seifert from lots of other players he knows is his work ethic on and off the court. Seifert has battled through injuries for a lot of his career and Pavlik says that he has continued to work hard to get where he is now and to continue to compete at a high level.

"Seif is just a beast in the weight room," said Pavlik. "I don't think he has ever been afraid of the weights, they may have been afraid of him at times, but never the other way around. He has battled a lot of injuries but Seif at 100 percent is really really good. Even when he is 80% he is a very good volleyball player and you know he will always battle for us."

Being a fifth-year senior, this is Seifert's last chance to win a national championship. Add the fact that Penn State will be hosting the national semifinals and finals at Rec and you have the recipe for storybook ending. The finals are also the most intense time of the season and Pavlik says that Seifert has done a great job of preparing the team for the possibility of a tournament run.

"I think Seif has a real good view of what it takes to get there," said Pavlik. "We have to take care of business in the regular season and EIVA first so we can't get ahead of ourselves. I think he has been doing a very appropriate job of letting the guys know 'here is what we have to do first'. The ultimate goal is to get there, but he knows there is a process to go through."

For Seifert and the whole Nittany Lion team, the goal is to walk out of their own locker room for the last game of the season. As Pavlik mentioned, Seifert is fully aware of not only what it takes to get there, but also the uniqueness of the opportunity ahead.

"We have the possibility for an opportunity that not many Penn State teams have had," said Seifert. "Instead of making us nervous I told the guys that it's a unique opportunity so let's take it pretty seriously. It's my last year and I'm from Pennsylvania so it's pretty cool to finish my senior season where I started it."

With Seifert at the helm, the Nittany Lions seem poised for a tournament run, knowing full well what they have to do to achieve the ultimate end goal of a national championship. The team returns to action this Saturday against Mount Olive with first serve set for 7 p.m.


Competitiveness and Depth a Recipe for Success for Nittany Lions

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By Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The mark of a great team isn't necessarily how much star power it has. Sure, having a superstar boosts your chances of winning games just because of talent alone, but the mark of a true team is felt through their eagerness and willingness to battle every time they step out on to the court.

For the Penn State men's volleyball team, this type of competitive nature has already been prescribed by head coach Mark Pavlik as the team's DNA.

"We find a way to win," said Pavlik. "That seems to be this team's trademark right now. They are as competitive as any body and they are going to scratch and claw and do whatever it takes to win matches."

That competitiveness was one of the primary factors in Penn State's straight set victory against IPFW last Saturday. The Nittany Lions seemed to be off their game from the moment the first ball was served, up until the midway point in the second set. However, it was their competitiveness that kept them a float and gave them a chance to figure things out.

"Against Fort Wayne, in that first set, we just didn't have it," said Pavlik. "But the guys kept fighting and we found a way to get out of it and then we started playing better from there."

Redshirt sophomore Jalen Penrose echoes his coach's thoughts on the team's competitiveness being a key for them in every match.

"We just want to work hard at all times," said Penrose. We know if we stay in that mindset, no matter how bad we play we will be a tough team to handle."

Not only was the competiveness of the Nittany Lions on hand during the match on Saturday, but also the team depth was thrust in to the spotlight. Andrew Roberts, normally known as a service specialist, was placed in the outside hitter role and rose to the occasion. Roberts finished with nine kills was one of the sparks that propelled the Nittany Lions to victory.

"Andrew has been asked to go in and serve in multiple national championships," said Pavlik. "He has seen a lot of things and he has the experience just about anywhere on the court to get things done."

The performance from Roberts is typical of the norm on this Penn State team. Team depth is something that Pavlik knows can be used as a strength and also something members of the team realize can be very beneficial on any given night.

"It's nice to have depth because if anyone isn't having a great day, no one else is worried," said Penrose. "No matter who comes out on the floor we know the play level and competitiveness doesn't drop off because some parts change."

Roberts is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Penn State's depth. The Nittany Lions boast a plethora of players on the bench who provided an experienced presence on the court. Aidan Albrecht is another Penn Stater who has, in just a few short years on the team, already gained more experience than many players do at his age.

"Aidan is another guy for us who has really stepped up at times," said Pavlik. "He was asked to step in and play middle last year and he did so pretty well. He wont be thrust into situation and say 'hey I haven't been here before' and I think that really pays off for us."

While Penn State has a lot of young experience on the bench, they also have an even younger, possibly less experienced presence on the court night in and night out. Royce Clemens, who has been starting at libero all season for the Nittany Lions, has been thrown right into the fire since he arrived at Penn State. Five of the freshman's first six games in collegiate volleyball have been against team ranked inside the top 15. Pavlik believes that this experience has been invaluable for Clemens and that it will pay off down the road.

"I think that has been immensely beneficial for him," said Pavlik. "Not only in gaining the experience playing against some of the physical team's that we have played against, but also gaining his personal confidence. Royce just keeps going out there and getting better and better every day."

The length of each season presents each individual athlete with a chance to step up and help his time. For Roberts, it very well may have been Saturday, but for other players that time has yet to come, but Pavlik says that it certainly will for each and every one of his players.

"I don't think I have ever coached a year where it has been the same seven guys out on the court night in and night out," said Pavlik. "At some point in the year, everyone is going to get called upon and that's something that we try and get across to them. That's why we say you have to be ready every day in practice and never think that you won't be coming in the game at some point."

Setter Taylor Hammond also echoed the team's ability to plug in pieces when needed and produce a complete effort. After last Saturday's match, when IPFW targeted Hammond with the majority of their serves, he commented on how well his teammates on the floor filled in for his role when he couldn't.

"We knew that their opposite was going to serve at me," said Hammond. "A lot of the guys like Matt [Callaway] and Chris [Nugent] did a good job providing those second contacts when I could, it speaks to how well balanced we are."

With the Nittany Lions not only able to produce a high quality caliber of volleyball off the bench, but also to be able to count on the players on the court to fill different roles, the team has a multitude of weapons at their disposal. The depth and competitiveness of the team seems to be their calling cards this season and according to Pavlik and his players, that's going to serve them well down the road.

Penn State will take on Saint Francis this Friday on the road. First serve is slated for just after 7 p.m.

Nugent Steers Lions to First Weekend Sweep of Season

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11636506.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Replacing Aaron Russell was never a thought coming in to this season for the Penn State men's volleyball team. But after sweeping through their weekend series against Ball State and IPFW, the Nittany Lions (4-2) may be starting to find a rhythm.

Chris Nugent, the leading attacker on this Penn State team, displayed why he is the best all around player on the Nittany Lion squad and why he may be the best bet in filling some Aaron Russell-like roles on the floor. Nugent complied 28 kills in the two matches, hitting well over .500 for the weekend.

Nugent showed his versatility with cut shots, roll shots, back row quicks and all around power at times. The junior is a six-rotation player, who leads not only with his attacking prowess but also with his power behind the service line. The well-rounded play of Nugent was in full effect on Friday and Saturday. However, no matter his stats on the court over the weekend, Nugent stayed modest and was quick to deflect the praise to his teammates.

"I never really expect to get a kill, I always hope I can get one," said Nugent. "When Taylor [Hammond] puts it up there for me to take hard swings it makes it pretty easy because I know where that ball is going to be all the time."

Even his approach to hitting seems simple when Nugent explains it. On the court it may seem complex, moving around, taking swings from back row and front row, but Nugent sees it a different way.

"I just see the ball go up in the air from Taylor (Hammond) and try and hit it past the block," said Nugent. "I don't think too much about it."

The best attribute for Nugent this season is filling a role that Russell filled so effectively all of last year, stepping up when the game starts to get tough. He is a dynamic player at all times, but brings a sense of calm to his team when they need him the most.

"I try not to do anything differently, I just try and stay confident no matter what the situation is," said Nugent. "The big thing is I try not to let the game effect how I'm playing and just try and keep hitting high hard swings."

Nugent would be the first to tell you that he was not solely responsible for the stellar effort put forth this weekend by the Nittany Lions. In game one, it was his teammate Jalen Penrose who proved to be electric with 15 kills on 25 swings. Penrose is one of, if not the most dynamic force on the Penn State team and it showed with a great performance in game one.

"I just treat every game like a new game," said Penrose. "I wanted to finish all of Taylor's good passes with good swings and was able to for the most part."

In game two, the supporting role fell on a more unassuming character in Andrew Roberts. Roberts, known more for his role as a serving specialist on the team, stepped in during the second set for a struggling Penrose and had an immediate impact on the court.

"He really helped out a lot," said Nugent. "I was able to get single blocks to hit past and they had to pay a lot more attention to Andrew because he was hitting so well so he really helped the whole team."

Roberts has been on the team for four years now and is one of the veterans who head coach Mark Pavlik leans on for leadership. He also knows the system extremely well due to the amount of time he has been a Nittany Lion.

"He's an old man," said Pavlik. "He did a great job coming in and filling a role for us. He knows the system very well and he is a reliable player so we feel confident putting him in a lot of different scenarios."

Roberts compiled nine kills on the night and hit over .400. He was consistent and really provided a rhythm for the Nittany Lions who were lacking just that in the first set.

"I wasn't really sure how it was going to go," said Roberts. "After I got that first kill I started to get into a rhythm and then I just played my game and took swings like I know how to."

Coming off their first weekend sweep of the year, Penn State has now won seven sets in a row and nine of its last 10. The Nittany Lions will have a lighter schedule next weekend as they only play one game. They will be away at St. Francis on Saturday. 

Nittany Lions' Grinding Mentality Could Make Them a Crowd Pleaser

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11624779.jpegBy Jack Milewski, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Every sports season is a grind. It is no easy feat to play 30-plus games, while practicing and training when you're not playing, not to mention there is the added pressure of classes for collegiate athletes.

Everything about each season encompasses this grind. When you play at a high level, nothing comes easy. Hard work is necessary and vital for a team's success.

For the Penn State men's volleyball team, this blue-collar style of preparation and competition is nothing new. In fact, the entire 2016 team quite literally embodies what the grind is and what it means to be grinders.

The loss of key pieces from last year's team has been well documented. Aaron Russell was one of the most dominant players in the nation and Connor Curry and Nick Goodell were key components of a very strong starting six. However, despite the pieces that they lost, Penn State is off to a solid 2-2 start with wins over USC and Lewis. Coach Mark Pavlik is very pleased with the start and believes that once again, he has a special team here in Happy Valley.

"I think this team is going to be a crowd pleaser," said Pavlik. "They have a work ethic and an energy that I think is fun to watch for everyone who does."

Last year's team had the same energy, led by the emotional and physical leader Russell. Though this team might not have same star power, it embodies the same intensity that the teams before have forged.

"I think that it is something inherent that has developed over a long period of time," said Pavlik. "Each year there are new personalities added to it and they either add to that dynamic, or dampen it and to me it seems that this year's team really enhances that work ethic."

That work ethic was on display against Lewis as Penn State outlasted the Flyers in a five-set thriller. The match was back and forth, but the Nittany Lions never conceded.

"We never stopped playing," said Pavlik. "We were down 17-11 in game two and I was thinking that it may be a short night and then all of a sudden we hit stride. I don't want to say we flipped a switch because that wasn't it, we just grinded it out through all five sets."

There are obviously adjustments to be made in refining the game of the Nittany Lion players, but the work ethic and grinding mentality that Penn State has displayed so far this season can't necessarily be taught, more so, they can just be absorbed. This was evident during Saturday's match when Royce Clemens committed three straight over passes to close the fifth set.

"When Royce walked back into the huddle after that, the look on his face wasn't one of fear," said Pavlik. "It was a real competitive response and he just wanted to get back out there and get another opportunity."

Though grinding is at the forefront of Penn State's success, Pavlik thinks that that doesn't necessarily characterize this team's personality. Instead he feels like the process will take time and eventually reveal itself later down the road.

"I think you'll see this team's personality in about a month or so," said Pavlik. "They are still gelling right now; they have been through four tough matches and I love the way they have stuck together."

With Penn State hosting the national semifinals and finals this year, there will be a buzz around Pennsylvania all season in regards to men's volleyball. Pavlik thinks that this team's "crowd pleasing" mentality will aid the buzz even more.

"I think that the general sensibility of everyone in Central Pennsylvania is to work hard, enjoy what you're doing, enjoy who you're doing it with and let's see what happens," said Pavlik. "I think people get behind that. You don't need to strut around, again the general sense of central Pennsylvania is do your job and get it done and be happy with that."

Penn State will look to get the job done once again this coming Friday as they host 14th-ranked Ball State. First serve is set for just after 7 p.m. at Rec Hall. 

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