By Tyler Feldman, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
After opening the season losing their first six matches, the scale has tipped in
the Nittany Lions' favor.
No. 8 Penn State (10-9, 4-0 EIVA) enters this weekend's conference home slate against Princeton and NJIT riding a six-match winning streak. Simply put, the team is clicking at the right time.
"The season is nothing more than an evolution of improvement," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "If you can get everyone improving at a good rate...you're always going to be getting a little bit better."
Exceptional leadership and elevated play from the veteran players is an integral part of the Nittany Lions being able to turn the corner this season. Aaron Russell's torrid pace, along with Taylor Hammond's setting and Connor Curry's passing has jumpstarted play. Plus, Matt Seifert is not only back to full strength, he's also back to making an impact on the floor.
Taking a look at the stat sheets tells all for Pavlik's experienced student-athletes. Russell, who was named EIVA Offensive Player of the Week, is second in the nation with 4.72 kills per set. Hammond is tallying an average of 10.84 assists per set. Curry is leading with 2.49 digs per set.
"We're at a very good point now," Pavlik said. "Right now I think Connor is passing the best he's passed all of his career. The same could be said about Taylor's setting and decision-making. It feeds the team confidence and guys can't wait to get back out on the floor."
It's not just the seasoned players that are helping take the 2015 Nittany Lions to new heights. The underclassmen are making a name for themselves, as well.
One of those underclassmen is redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose. After tallying a career-high 19 kills versus Ohio State last Saturday, the outside hitter was tabbed Co-National Freshman of the Week.
"It's a really good feeling to know that I've been put in with the starters," Penrose said. "I've been practicing with the starters here and there. The coaches have felt comfortable with me there, and I think the guys around me have felt comfortable with me there. They've just been embracing me and vice versa. It's a really nice feeling to know that whatever unit we put out there, we give it our best and just go hard."
Despite the fact that Penrose is still adjusting to the speed of the collegiate game, Pavlik notes that the athletic redshirt freshman is starting to discover himself on the court.
"I think Jalen...has to learn how he can take his gifts and maximize them on the court," Pavlik said. "He's figuring it out...the learning curve very rarely is constantly positive...but he's also going to shine. 19 kills is nothing to sneeze at in a five-game match."
As the Blue and White stay hot, the focus is slightly beginning to turn to the postseason, a word that brings one thing to mind for the annually favored Nittany Lions.
"We'd prefer to be undefeated as much as possible. I'm sure any team wants that," Penrose said. "It's really important to win these conference matches too because it sets us up to have home advantage, one, and two, it puts us in a better position in the long run for when it comes time for playoffs."
Pavlik echoed the words of his young, dynamic player.
"I would love to have the conference championship here to where our guys can stay in their routine and play in their gym in front of their fans," Pavlik said.
In order to obtain homecourt advantage in the playoffs, Penn State must take care of EIVA foes this weekend at the South Gym at Rec Hall. Princeton on Friday at 7 p.m. NJIT on Saturday at 4 p.m.