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Nittany Lions Looking to Build Momentum During Early Schedule

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11612920.jpegBy Jack Milewski, Student Staff Writer
Revenge won't be on the mind of the Penn State Nittany Lions men's volleyball team as they head to Lewis for their match Saturday against the Flyers.

"They knocked us out of the tournament last year, but we knocked them out the year before," said Head Coach Mark Pavlik. "So in that respect, it's a draw."

Already in this early 2016 season, the Penn State team has faced ranked opponents USC (No. 13), UCLA (No. 2) and Loyola (No. 6), three of the top teams in the nation. The first three matches for Penn State have been hard fought contests and the match against Lewis should be no different.

"Every season is obviously different," said Pavlik. "But the guys who have been in this program for a few years now know that this will be a battle, it always is. History doesn't really enter in to my thinking, it wont score us any points."

This entire 2016 season will be a battle for the Penn State team as the Lions are not only once again one of the top programs in the nation, but they also have a little extra pressure on them as they will be the hosts for the 2016 Men's Volleyball Collegiate National Championship.

"I think this group of guys wants to walk out of their own locker room for the last match of the season," said Pavlik. "I think that serves as motivation enough. I believe we are the flagship for Pennsylvania volleyball on the men's side and the community always rally's around us come the end of the season and I expect that to be the case come May as well."

Though each season possesses its own type of adversity, Penn State has already faced some in having to replace star outside hitter Aaron Russell. However, Pavlik has taken a matter of fact approach to the situation saying graduation and losing players like that is all part of the collegiate game.

"I think you're always game planning for something like that in a sense," said Pavlik. "I didn't wake up yesterday and realize suddenly that Aaron was gone. It's tough to see a guy like that go, but you have to game plan and understand what you need to do in terms of recruiting and coaching so that you don't really take any steps back when someone leaves."

Although Russell may be gone, Penn State has some young talent that has already shown itself in these early matches in the form of Jalen Penrose and Chris Nugent. Penrose secured 17 kills in the first two matches of the season and possess the athleticism to be a dynamic player for a few years. Nugent is another solid figure who can play all six rotations effectively and thinks the game extremely well.

"I think Nugent has handled himself very well and has played like a seasoned veteran," said Pavlik. We really like his consistency as a player. I also really like the physicality that we have got from Jalen. He is going to score a lot of points for us and the opponents and that's something we have to address, but I really liked how he has played."

Penn State is set to face its fourth ranked opponent in their fourth game of the season when they take on Lewis. First serve is set for just after 7 p.m. on Saturday as the Nittany Lions look to notch a weekend split following Thursday's 3-0 decision at Loyola. 

VIDEO: 2014-15 Year in Review with Sandy Barbour

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - talks with Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour to review a superb 2014-15 season for Penn State Athletics.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

VIDEO: 2014-15 Season Highlights

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's 2014-15 season was one marked by excellence on the field, in the classroom and in the community. takes a look back at the campaign in a season highlight reel.

Season Draws to a Close for Nittany Lions

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11072564.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The end goal was so close, they could almost taste it.

Penn State's roller coaster season came to a difficult close Thursday night after the Nittany Lions (21-10) fell to the top-seeded Lewis Flyers (27-3) in four sets (20-25, 25-22, 16-25, 20-25) at Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University.

"I think we created opportunities, and I thought we got some good swings, but we could not score points easily against [Lewis]," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "I thought we had some good swings against them, but that I thought was the difference."

Since this was as a tight a group of players Pavlik has ever coached, emotions were running high for the Nittany Lions following the match.

For the four seniors, it was difficult to say goodbye to a program that has meant so much to them.

Mythical Mike
If you do not know Mike Hobson, he was an integral part of the program the past two years as a student manager. His efforts are difficult to quantify into words, so here is how his head coach and teammates will remember him.

"He's the most undervalued person on our team," redshirt senior libero Connor Curry said. "He gets absolutely no recognition for what he does, but the amount of hours that he's logged throughout the season and the ways that he's helped us - he's completely sold out for the team this year and last year, too - we owe a lot to him as a team."

"He's always willing to do whatever our team needs," senior outside hitter Aaron Russell said. "That's what you want in anyone on a team.... I had a lot of fun having him as part of this team."

"I will go on record to tell anybody if they want a young up-and-coming coach, he's going to be getting his graduate degree from Northwest Missouri State, and he's going to be helping their women's team out," Pavlik said. "Keep an eye on him, he's worth it.

Groovy Goodell
"He's a fun guy to play with," Curry said. "He's hot and cold a lot of the time, up and down personality wise, but that's what makes it fun. He's been my roommate for the last three years, so I've gotten to know him pretty well. It's been fun."

A 2015 Second Team All-EIVA honoree, Goodell persevered through injury to finish his last rodeo on a high note. The redshirt senior tallied 30 kills and 11 digs in this year's NCAA Tournament, while placing ninth in the EIVA during the regular season with 3.54 points/set.

Clap for Curry
"It's been an unbelievable experience," Curry said. "Coming from California, I didn't come to Penn State for the weather. I came here for the experience. I came for the people mostly, the people on the team and the coaching staff. That's what I've been around for the past five years, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."

With seven digs against Lewis, Curry completes his Penn State career with 1,043 digs. That is good enough for second place in program history behind only Dennis Del Valle, who notched 1,260 digs from 2008-11.

Applause for Aaron
"I've had so much fun playing for this program," Russell said. "When I was being recruited by a bunch of different colleges across the country, I was told that if I went out east that I wouldn't become a good player, or I wouldn't be as good of a player if I went out west. What [the coaching staff] did, I've learned so much through the program. I think that without them I wouldn't be where I am today. I just thank them so much. I owe everything that I am right now to Penn State."

A two-time First-Team All-American AVCA honoree, Russell ends his stellar Nittany Lion career second in program history with 198 service aces. Only Max Holt, who donned the Blue and White from 2006-09, recorded more punch-outs with 207.

What to Watch: No. 1 Lewis vs. No. 5 Penn State

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11061468.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
PALO ALTO, Calif. - The fifth-seed Nittany Lions (21-9) face the top-seeded Lewis Flyers (26-3) in the NCAA semifinals on Thursday. First serve is set for 11 p.m. ET inside historic Maples Pavilion.

Having already lost in four sets twice during the regular season against Lewis, Penn State comes into its 17
th consecutive NCAA national semifinal match on Thursday with a chip on its shoulder. 

"We're looking forward to the battle with the Flyers," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We've seen them twice this year.... It's a lot of fun to play those guys. They play big boy volleyball. It's a very physical game, not only at the net but from behind the service line. It's men's volleyball at its best."

The Blue and White have battled adversity all season long. From starting 4-9 to having to deal with a number of student-athlete setbacks due to injury, resiliency is the word to describe this year's team.

"The first two times we played them, I don't think that we were as physical as we could or should have been," senior outside hitter Aaron Russell said. "I think we also just didn't really compete as hard.... We've come a long way since then." 

In order to top Lewis for the first time this season, the physicality that Russell talked about above will have to be in full force from start to finish.

"If we can serve well...if we can knock them off the net and if we can really force them to not be as physical as they can be, I think that's where we can really expect us to get some separation from them in the game," Pavlik said.

Scouting No. 1 Lewis
After finishing 15-1 in conference play, Lewis ended the regular season as MIVA champions. However, the Flyers completed the season by falling to No. 3 Loyola (25-2) in the MIVA Championship game. Nonetheless, the committee rewarded Lewis with the top ranking for this year's NCAA tournament.

Having lost just three matches all season long, the Flyers have a host of quality wins. Strong wins include: UC Irvine, Stanford, Penn State (twice), Ohio State, IPFW (twice), and Ball State (twice). Lewis's three losses have all come at the hands of ranked foes in BYU, Ohio State and Loyola.

Offensively, a three-headed monster leads the Flyers. Redshirt senior outside hitter Geoff Powell, senior outside hitter Greg Petty, and senior opposite Eric Fitterer are incredibly physical pin hitters that have challenged opponents all season long. Each of the three are averaging more than 2.75 kills per set and hitting higher than .296.

All three players detailed above are AVCA All-Americans. Together, the Flyers combined for five this year, however. The other two? Senior libero Lucas Yanez who is averaging 2.02 digs this season and junior middle blocker Bobby Walsh who is averaging 1.53 blocks per set this year.

"Bobby [Walsh] is an up-and-coming middle who is really doing the right things and playing the right way," Pavlik said. "They use him so well...Walsh is in the middle saying 'hey, don't forget about me.'"

What's at Stake?
The winner will advance to the 2015 NCAA title match on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ET and will play the victor of No. 2 UC Irvine and No. 3 Loyola.

Pin Hitters Help Nittany Lions Advance to NCAA Semifinals

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11059407.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
PALO ALTO, Calif. - Thanks to the superb play of its pin hitters, fifth-seeded Penn State (21-9) upended fourth-seeded Hawaii (24-7) in four sets (25-22, 25-20, 17-25, 27-25) in the second of two play-in games Tuesday night at historic Maples Pavilion.

With the win, the Nittany Lions advanced to the NCAA national semifinals and will face top-seeded Lewis at 11 p.m. ET on Thursday, May 7. This is the 17th consecutive season Penn State has reached the final four. 

The Blue and White's pin hitters - made up of Aaron Russell, Nick Goodell and Chris Nugent - accumulated 92 percent of the team's kills (54 out of 59). The trio's dynamic offensive balance created defensive problems for the Rainbow Warriors.

"I thought that our outside hitters did a good job," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "Nick [Goodell] balanced out the rights side with the night that he had. Overall, when the match was on the line, our competition level was as high as it's been all year long."

First-team AVCA All-American Aaron Russell led all hitters with 20 kills in the match. He swung at a match-high 46 sets and finished with a .239 hitting percentage. Russell also added seven digs and a perfect receive percentage.

"I think we've come a long way since the beginning of the year when we faced Hawaii and it feels good to get a little revenge and next we have Lewis who we also lost to twice," Russell said. "And I think the adversity we experienced at the beginning of the season really has helped us improve, and I definitely think that's one of the reasons why were on this run that we're on right now."

The senior outside hitter has been a leader all season long but is using the postseason platform as a pedestal to help make sure his teammates and coaching staff achieve their end goal, a national championship.

"I think I'm getting more comfortable," Russell said. "Being out this past summer in Anaheim really helped me learn a lot, it was a good experience. My experience being a senior now, I've been through a lot and played with a lot of these guys and so were getting comfortable with each other and gelling, and it's a lot of fun."  

Redshirt senior opposite Nick Goodell and sophomore outside hitter Chris Nugent were the two x-factors, however. Goodell was magical, killing 19 attacks on a .378 mark and adding one service ace and four digs. Nugent was spectacular, as well, tallying 15 kills at a .400 attacking percentage.

The performances described above would not be possible without setter Taylor Hammond. The redshirt junior kept the Nittany Lions in system and served up a match-high 54 assists. His play certainly did not go unnoticed by his teammates.

"Again it starts with the passers," Goodell said. "Once they're able to get in a rhythm, then Taylor [Hammond] can get in a rhythm. Then with our middles getting up like they did, everyone is going to be successful. We're a very hard team to stop like that."

Prior to upsetting Hawaii yesterday, the last time Penn State had beaten a team ranked higher than them in the NCAA tournament occurred back in 2010. That year, the Nittany Lions reached the championship only to lose to host and top-ranked Stanford.

The winner of Lewis vs. Penn State will play the victor of Loyola-Chicago vs. UC Irvine in the 2015 NCAA National Championship on May 9.

Lions Looking Ahead to Matchup with Hawaii

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11056894.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - After winning its 17th straight EIVA Championship title last Friday over George Mason, No. 7 Penn State (20-9) earned the No. 5 seed in the 2015 NCAA Tournament being played this week at Maples Pavilion on the campus of Stanford University.

The Nittany Lions open on Tuesday against fourth-seeded Hawaii (21-6) at 11 p.m. ET in the second of two play-in matches.

Before we take a look at the strengths of the Rainbow Warriors and what the Nittany Lions need to do to stymie Hawaii, let's check out how Penn State's journey to the tourney.

Penn State's Journey
Three weeks into the season, the Lions knew they had work to do. They opened play on a six-match losing streak. After falling to Lewis on Feb. 20 and Loyola-Chicago on Feb. 21, Penn State's record stood at 4-9.

Since those two losses, however, the Nittany Lions have caught fire and rolled off 16-straight victories en route to their 31
st EIVA/ECVL regular season title and 17th straight EIVA Championship title.

The Blue and White arrived in California for the 2015 NCAA Tournament on Sunday. Take a look through some highlights.

University Park to Palo Alto
The Blue and White departed from Rec Hall at approximately 6:30 a.m. on Sunday and bused to Dulles Airport. After making sure the players locked up aisle seats for the flight, the team flew across the country to San Francisco. Around dinnertime, the plane touched down in the Bay Area and the group then chartered to the team hotel in Palo Alto.

Following dinner, Penn State traveled to Santa Clara University for a nighttime edition of serve and pass.

The post-practice events were anything but ordinary as the Nittany Lions had an opportunity to meet two iconic sports stars - NBA MVP Steve Nash and 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup star Brandi Chastain. The two famous athletes were extremely down to earth and super cool, causing the team's motivation and will to want to win elevate to new heights.

Scouting Hawaii

Back on Jan. 9, the Nittany Lions lost in straight sets (26-24, 25-19, 25-18) to Hawaii in the 21st annual Outrigger Resorts Invitational. The Rainbow Warriors hold a 14-8 advantage all-time in the head-to-head series.

Here is a breakdown of some things to watch from Hawaii on Tuesday night:

Curbing Taylor Averill
Redshirt senior Taylor Averill is arguably the best overall player in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF). The 6-foot-7 All-American middle blocker holds the second-highest hitting percentage in the country with a .483 mark. He was named to the All-MPSF first team last Thursday.

Containing Kupono Fey
Sophomore Kupono Fey grew up in Honolulu, Oahu. He's a homegrown player competing for his hometown school. The six-foot-five outside hitter has been key in the last few weeks. Against Long Beach State in the MPSF quarterfinal two weeks ago, Fey notched 17 kills and 12 digs for his first double-double of the season.

Preventing Passing
In addition to Averill and Fey, the Rainbow Warriors have more hard swingers with outside hitter Sinisa Zarkovic and opposite Brook Sedore. The junior Zarkovic is second on the team with 3.20 kills per set, while the senior Sedore leads the squad with 3.36 kills per set. If able to remain in system, Hawaii is dangerous. Strong passing leads to strong sets from sophomore Jennings Franciskovic (10.8 assists per set), which in turn leads to potent swings from Hawaii's pin hitters.

Defense Leads to Offense as Lions Capture EIVA Championship

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11050936.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - They did it. Again.

For the 17th-straight season, No. 7 Penn State (20-9) captured the EIVA Championship. This time, the title came in the form of a straight sets (25-16, 25-17, 25-17) win over George Mason (15-13) in Rec Hall on Friday.

"Defense is leading to our offensive," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "And the offensive guys are working hard to finish those opportunities. It's something that if we can continue, we are going to force teams to play pretty physically against us."

With the victory, the Nittany Lions are headed once again to the NCAA tournament being held in Palo Alto, California. The Blue and White will find out its seeding Saturday, when the selection show begins at 1 p.m.

Thanks to the senior class and assistant head coach Colin McMillan's integrated defensive scheme, Penn State breezed by the Patriots. Aaron Russell finished with a match-high 15 kills on a .619 attacking percentage. He also added six digs and two service aces en route to being named the 2015 EIVA Championship Most Outstanding Player.

Just like in Wednesday's semifinal match against Princeton, tonight's bout ended with a Nick Goodell service ace. By taking advantage of George Mason sending two and three blockers to Russell, the redshirt senior finished with 11 kills and eight digs.

"Everyone looks to Ron for them to block, and then whenever one of us steps up, it makes it that much harder, but when everyone steps up, teams don't have a chance," Goodell said.

The third senior on the team, Connor Curry, kept the Nittany Lions in system all match long. Curry dug five swings, initiated brilliant first contacts and added three assists to pace the Blue and White.

"I've been lucky to have won this thing five times," Curry said. "I'm just happy to be going back to NCAAs, and that's our goal at the beginning of the season. We've set ourselves up in the right place, so we'll see what we can do in the next three matches."

However, it was two non-seniors who changed the complexity of the match in favor of the Nittany Lions. Sophomore Chris Nugent accumulated 14 kills on just 19 swings and redshirt junior setter Taylor Hammond compiled 41 assists.

"I thought our passing and serving was pretty good," Pavlik said. "Can't give enough credit to our offense. We took what they gave us, and we understood what they were giving us, and made it real tough on them to try to adapt to anything we did."

Russell echoed the words of his four-year head coach, but went even further by praising the play of his talented setter.

"A lot of credit to Taylor [Hammond]," Russell said. "He spread the offense really well tonight, and he gave us a lot of good opportunities.... We had a very offensively efficient game, and that is a good thing when you're going into a national championship tournament."

Now Penn State has a quick turnaround before leaving for Stanford on Sunday. Though according to Russell, the team's challenging non-conference schedule this season has prepared the team well for the NCAA Tournament.

"Through the non-conference play that we've had, we've experienced a lot of adversity," Russell said. "I think that just being able to learn and improve from that has brought us to where we are today.... We want to take it to these teams that are standing in our way of a national championship."

Nittany Lions Serve Up Pavlik's 500th Win to Close Regular Season

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11038440.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - A strong contingency of Blue and White fans witnessed history Saturday afternoon at DeGol Arena as the Nittany Lions defeated St. Francis in straight sets (25-21, 25-19, 25-22) in their final match of the regular season to give Mark Pavlik his 500th career victory.

Pavlik, who is in his 21st season as head coach of the men's volleyball program, embodies everything that Penn State stands for academically and athletically. His love of teaching and respect for others reflects the true heart of a Nittany Lion.

"In those 500 wins I have not served a ball in the court," Pavlik said. "I have not put a ball away. I have not set a ball. I just happened to be here that long to see it. More than anything else, I think it speaks to the true foundation that Tom Tait laid for this program back in the late 70s. We've been able to represent the university and the athletic department, not only with our current teams, but also with our alums."

It was a fitting end for No. 7 Penn State (18-9, 12-0 EIVA) over St. Francis (6-20, 4-8 EIVA). Immediately after senior outside hitter Aaron Russell earned the final point of match, the entire team rushed to Pavlik and paraded him with silly string and a celebratory cake.

"His 500th win is a lot of proof to what he's done for the program and the experience that he has," Russell said. "What a great coach he is. He's coached a lot of good players, and he's given a lot to me and my family. It's nice to be able to play for him, and his 500th win to be able to give something back to him."

Under the tutelage of Pavlik, the Nittany Lions have gone from losing their first six matches of the 2015 campaign to finishing the regular season on a 14-match winning streak.

Even further, the program is now a perfect 36-0 all-time versus the Red Flash, having dropped just seven sets ever against the university just down the road from University Park in Loretto. 

"It's not something that [Pavlik] shows a lot, but you know it really means something to him," middle blocker Matt Seifert said. "To be able to get it on the last regular season match of the year, and to be able to celebrate with him the way we did, it's just special. I'll remember this with him for as long as I play."

The Blue and White utilized experience to slip past the Red Flash. Sixteen kills from Russell, nine kills from redshirt senior Nick Goodell, 34 assists from setter Taylor Hammond, and 11 digs from libero Connor Curry paced Penn State. Sophomore outside hitter Chris Nugent added five more kills and Seifert and Matt Callaway each had four kills to balance out the Nittany Lions.

Penn State had already clinched its 17th straight EIVA regular season title two weeks ago after wins over Harvard and Sacred Heart. That means the Nittany Lions will once again have the top seed and home court advantage for the EIVA Championship coming up on April 29 and May 1 at Rec Hall.

"Just keep things rolling," Russell said. "I think we're doing a good job now. We're going to turn it up more in practice knowing what's at stake. You can always see a difference between playoff play and regular season play, in our mindset even. I'm just looking forward to the focus and the fun we're going to have competing on the court. I'm looking forward to the postseason."

With George Mason topping Princeton and NJIT this past weekend, the Nittany Lions will face Princeton to open the EIVA Semifinals on April 29. First serve set for 7:30 p.m. at Rec Hall.

"There's three different seasons, and now that two of them are in the books, the most exciting one starts," Seifert said. "It's business for us. Getting the first seed and winning the regular season conference title is something that we've done many times while I've been here and many times before I've been here. It's the same type of approach. It's all business, and we have a couple more goals that we want to accomplish before we're done this year."

Pavlik Nearing 500th Career Win

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11025510.jpegBy Tyler Feldman, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In his 21st season as head coach of the men's volleyball program, Mark Pavlik is on the brink of his 500th career victory.

After wins over NJIT and Princeton last weekend, Pavlik now sits in his Rec Hall office with 499 wins under his belt at the helm of Penn State Men's Volleyball heading in to Saturday's match at Saint Francis.

"It's a nice round number that people tend to remember," Pavlik said. "You get a chance to look back on it. If it happens this weekend, I'm glad it happens with this group of guys. I really enjoy this team. They've been so resilient, so much fun to be around, and they've worked so hard. It's just a time where you get a chance to think about what's come before you."

Currently, Pavlik owns a lifetime record at Penn State of 499-151. He has won more than 77 percent of the matches he has coached, a statistic that speaks volumes to the standard he has set in Happy Valley.

He captured the 2008 NCAA National Championship and has made University Park one of the premier spots across the country to play Division I men's volleyball. He has helped Penn State earn 17 straight EIVA Regular Season Championships, EIVA Tournament Championships and NCAA Tournament appearances.

The maestro has coached 21 different players to 41 All-America awards. Even further, each season at least three of his student athletes have earned first team All-East/All-EIVA accolades.

"Any coach will tell you 500 [wins] is a great accomplishment, but it really means that you've been doing it for quite awhile with some really great people around him," assistant coach Jay Hosack said. "He's been lucky enough to be in a place like Penn State where they've been very supportive of the program and supportive of him. The quality of the kids that he gets here, you look at the whole package, and that's really what that means."

For Pavlik, winning has always been important, but what he takes pride in is the way in which he develops his players into well-rounded student athletes who positively impact both the program athletically and the university academically and socially.

"I think Pav will tell you that the 500 wins belong to the players, and he's just happy to be a part of all the great players that have come through that have provided him with the opportunity," assistant coach Colin McMillan. "He's been a great shepherd and steward for the program throughout his 21 years as head coach."

Having already sealed the top spot atop the EIVA standings, the Nittany Lions will host the EIVA Tournament for 17th straight season under Pavlik. Garnering home court advantage is an area that Pavlik understands is integral to the success of his team in the postseason.

"It's huge," Pavlik said. "You look at our history, and I think our guys, over the course of all the EIVA Championships that have been hosted by us, we've been able to stay in our routine and embrace the pressure that's on us to win these matches. They've done that really well. This year, with the other three teams involved, we're going to have two tough matches to play, and we're going to have to be ready for them. That's the beauty of hosting."

The Nittany Lions will look to not only help get Pavlik his milestone victory, but also close out their regular season a perfect 12-0 in EIVA Conference play when they travel to Loretto to meet Saint Francis at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

"The way we've been playing, we've shown that we can play a pretty high level game, and we're playing for a longer and longer period of time during a match, and I just want that to continue," Pavlik said. "Let's keep building. Let's keep getting stronger because after this weekend, their season can end in one match, and I'd like to stay with this group for as long as I can."


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