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2014 Coaches Caravan Day IX - Erie

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VIDEO: Williamsport & Wilkes-Barre | VIDEO: East Stroudsburg & Lehigh Valley

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ERIE, Pa. - After more than 2,000 miles on the road, the 2014 Coaches Caravan drew to a close on Thursday night on Penn State's Behrend campus during a sold out evening event.

Nearly 6,300 fans attended the 17 stops, which spanned across 13 locations in Pennsylvania, in addition to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York City.  In all, 11 different Penn State head coaches joined head football coach James Franklin during at least one stop since the Caravan began on May 1 in Pegula Ice Arena.

Thursday's finale featured a new lineup of coaches, which included Franklin, baseball's Rob Cooper and softball's Amanda Lehotak.  Director of Athletics Dave Joyner joined the group, as well, addressing the crowd prior to hearing from the three head coaches. Take a look through some highlights from the final stop of the 2014 Caravan.

Stop No. 17 - Erie (Penn State Behrend)

20140522_155416[1].jpgA sold out crowd inside the McGravey Commons heard from three of the newest coaches on the Nittany Lion roster in Franklin, Cooper and Lehotak. Cooper and Lehotak each finished their first seasons at the helm of their respective programs, while Franklin will lead the Blue and White onto the field for his first game on Aug. 30 in Dublin, Ireland against UCF in the Croke Park Classic.

"The reason we are able to do the things we do and have the success in the classroom and on the competition front is because of the support and encouragement we get from our alumni and fans," said Joyner.

It may have been the last stop, but the three coaches were received with great energy and shared the visions they had for their programs. They spoke about competition, academics and representing an incredible university as a whole.

"It is an honor to represent Penn State and we all want to do what is best for this university," said Lehotak. "Coach Franklin has an incredible vision and we need to help him achieve that by packing Beaver Stadium this fall."


Thank you to the nearly 6,500 loyal Penn State fans and alums that made the Coaches Caravan a resounding success for the third-straight year.  And a big tip of the cap goes out to Fullington Trailways ace driver Gottfried Fodor, who did a superb job behind the wheel of the Caravan bus for the third-straight year.  We look forward to seeing the fans on the road again in 2015.

"This caravan has been outstanding," said Franklin. "These three weeks have really helped me build some great relationships with other coaches, our support staff, members of the media, and most importantly, our alumni and fans."

Miles Traveled:

Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles

Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles
Day VIII - 261 miles
Day IX - 426 miles

Total - 2,186 miles


2014 Coaches Caravan Day VIII - East Stroudsburg & Lehigh Valley

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VIDEO: Highlights from Williamsport & Wilkes-Barre

East Stroudsburg Photo Gallery | Lehigh Valley Photo Gallery | Coaches Caravan Registration

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The 2014 Coaches Caravan rolled through East Stroudsburg and the Lehigh Valley on the penultimate day of the 17-stop tour through the region.

Wednesday's lunch stop was a special one for head football coach James Franklin, who returned to his alma mater, East Stroudsburg University.  Head coaches Rob Cooper (baseball), Guy Gadowsky (men's hockey) and Mark Pavlik (men's volleyball) joined Franklin in East Stroudsburg.  Nittany Lion basketball coach Patrick Chambers paid a visit to the Lehigh Valley event on Wednesday evening.  Take a look through highlights of the eighth day on the road.

Stop No. 15 - East Stroudsburg (East Stroudsburg University)

Coach Franklin returned to his old stomping grounds for the first stop on Wednesday.  When the Fullington tour bus exited Interstate 80 it moved past the Budget Motel, which is owned by Barth Rubin.  Rubin is the man who provided the financial backing for Franklin's scholarship to play football at East Stroudsburg.

Franklin recognized Rubin as the man who provided the opportunity to kick-start his playing and coaching careers.  A 1995 graduate from ESU (psychology), Franklin was a four-year letterman at quarterback and a two-time All-PSAC selection at East Stroudsburg. He set seven school records as a senior to earn team MVP honors and was a Harlon Hill Trophy nominee as the NCAA Division II Player of the Year. Among the records he set were for total offense (3,128 yards), passing yards (2,586) and touchdown passes (19).

"It's awesome to be home.  Since we got the job, it's been great to be able to get back here on a couple of occasions," Franklin said.  "I just felt like this made a lot of sense for the Coaches Caravan to visit.  And I thought it would be great for one of our state institutions and a place I am really proud of.  I'm glad that we were able to be here."

caravan_esu_1.jpgFranklin played under legendary head coach Denny Douds, who spent some time with Franklin on Wednesday during the Caravan stop.  Douds has been at ESU for 37 years.

"Denny has been a father figure to me for a very long time," Franklin said.  "Denny has been a mentor as a father and a mentor professionally."

"The thing that makes James special is his passion for what he does," Douds said.  "He cares so much about everything he does."

In the shadows of Eiler-Martin Stadium, more than 100 Penn State and East Stroudsburg alums filled Mattioli Recreation Center to hear from Franklin and the other Penn State head coaches on Wednesday.

"To think 20 years ago that I would be sitting here in this position right now, I would have had no idea," Franklin said.  "I think what we did do is wake up every single morning and try to be the best we could possibly be, learn and ask a lot of questions.  I've always been a passionate, driven, motivated guy."

caravan_esu_2.jpgCooper, Gadowsky and Pavlik each took time during their speeches to honor Franklin during his visit to his alma mater.   

"It's really cool to see the imprint Coach Franklin is going to leave on Pennsylvania football," Cooper said.

At the conclusion of the event, East Stroudsburg president Marcia Welsh presented Coach Franklin with a resolution of recognition for his career accomplishments.  The recognition was voted on by the board of governors of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

The Coaches Caravan bus paid a visit to Rudy's Tavern in East Stroudsburg before the group left town.  Franklin treated the group to the infamous pork roll and cheese sandwiches at Rudy's, one of his college favorites.


Stop No. 16 - Bethlehem (Sands Bethlehem Event Center)

Nearly 600 fans were treated to a show inside the Sands Bethlehem Event Center on Wednesday night.  For the first time in the Caravan's three-year history, five head coaches were on stage for the festivities at stop No. 16.  After the introductions, Coach Chambers was the leadoff man to get the crowd fired up.

"I'm saying this right now.  This is going to be the best night of the Caravan," Chambers yelled.

As the crowd rose to its feet, the tunes of Pharrell Williams's "Happy" began playing.  From there, Chambers moved away from the podium and began dancing to the beat across the stage.  The other coaches on stage and the fans in the crowd erupted.

caravan_lv_1.jpgChambers is made for the Coaches Caravan setting.  He loves interacting with the crowd, and he has a knack for filling the room with energy every time he steps to the microphone.  The leader of Nittany Lion basketball spoke about the progress the program made during the 2013-'14 season, including a sweep of Ohio State for the first time since 1998.

Additionally, Chambers said that he lived in Allentown 20 years ago when he started in the workforce.  He was a medical salesman with his home region being in the Lehigh Valley.  Chambers also hinted at a possible Penn State hoops game in December at the PPL Center in Allentown, which is slated to open in the fall.

The first speech closed with Chambers urging the crowd to show unrivaled support for Coach Franklin and the Nittany Lions inside Beaver Stadium.

"Let's make sure Beaver Stadium is packed every single time his team takes the field in the fall," Chambers said.

With the sports season rapidly coming to a close, the 2014-'15 campaign is just around the corner.  Fan support in Beaver Stadium provides an atmosphere unlike anything else on campus.  The same is true for each venue in Happy Valley.  Success on the field of play is a byproduct of a number of factors, and the fan atmosphere is a big piece.

"You guys create more passion and more pride than any other University in the world," Gadowsky said.

caravan_lv_2.jpgIn true hockey player form, Gadowsky closed out the speech at his final stop in the Caravan by ripping out his front tooth and screaming into the microphone.

"Get to Beaver Stadium and rock that joint!" Gadowsky said.

Coach Franklin walked to the podium to a standing ovation.

"Now that is a hockey coach!" Franklin said.

It's rare to get the head coaches of football, men's basketball, men's hockey, baseball and men's volleyball in the same room.  The fans inside Sands enjoyed an evening of entertaining speeches.  The coaches feed off of a great crowd, and the Lehigh Valley fans were superb.

"The pride and passion within the Penn State fan base in unbelievable," Franklin said.  "All the success we are having is a credit to you."

The 17th and final stop of the 2014 Coaches Caravan will take place on Thursday evening at Penn State Behrend in Erie.  

Miles Traveled:
Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles

Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles
Day VIII - 261 miles

Total - 1,760 miles


Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

2014 Coaches Caravan Day VII - Williamsport & Wilkes-Barre

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Williamsport Photo Gallery | Wilkes-Barre Photo Gallery | Coaches Caravan Registration

WILKES-BARRE - The final leg of the 2014 Penn State Coaches Caravan kicked off with a sold out lunch stop in Williamsport and a dinner event in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday.

Week three will feature a new lineup of Penn State head coaches joining James Franklin on the road.  Baseball's Rob Cooper, men's hockey's Guy Gadowsky and men's volleyball's Mark Pavlik boarded the modified Fullington bus on Tuesday morning when it rolled out of the Bryce Jordan Center parking lot shortly after 9:30 a.m.  Take a look through highlights of day seven on the Penn State Coaches Caravan.

Stop No. 13 - Williamsport (Pennsylvania College of Technology)

A sold out crowd of 270 Penn State fans filled the Field House on the Pennsylvania College of Technology campus for the first of five stops during week three.  What makes the Caravan so unique is the variety of head coaches who entertain the crowds.  With the addition of Cooper, Gadowsky and Pavlik to kick off this week, nine head coaches have now been a part of the 13 total stops.

Fresh off leading the Nittany Lion men's volleyball team to a 25-7 overall mark and a spot in the NCAA semifinals, Pavlik is on the Caravan for the third-straight year.  The men's volleyball squad battled eventual national champion Loyola to a 3-2 setback on Loyola's home floor during the semifinals.  That being said, Pavlik has firsthand experience of what a home crowd advantage can do for a team.  He can relate to Franklin's vision of a sold out stadium during every home game.

"I know what a great home crowd can do for a team.  We experienced it," Pavlik said.  "A sold out venue makes it so much more of a challenge for an away team."

williamsport_1.jpg Cooper, who finished up his first full season as head coach of the Nittany Lion baseball team on Saturday, addressed the sold out crowd following Pavlik.  The Lions made significant progress from 2013 to 2014, and Cooper is excited for what is ahead.

"Being a part of the Penn State family is unbelievable," Cooper said.  "This coaching fraternity is an amazing thing to be a part of."

It was fitting for Cooper's first stop to be in the home of the Little League World Series.  Cooper joked with the crowd that his two young sons both asked him immediately after being hired at Penn State if they could attend a game at the Little League World Series in August.

"Here we are in the epicenter of youth baseball," Cooper said.  "You know what it is like to be a part of a championship event...There are good things ahead (at Penn State)."

Gadowsky stepped to the microphone following Cooper.  Still fired up after his first season of leading the Nittany Lions inside Pegula Ice Arena, Gadowsky could not be more appreciative of what the fan base does for the men's hockey program.

"The atmosphere you created in Pegula made me a cool dad again (with my kids)," Gadowsky joked.

"The best part about Pegula is that it takes a little piece of Beaver Stadium and puts a roof over it," Gadowsky said.  "It's awesome.  I love being in there...The reason it is so addictive is because of Nittany Nation."

williamsport_2.jpgCoach Franklin headlined the 13th stop with the final speech of the afternoon.  The fan response to his message has been superb during all three weeks, and Tuesday's lunch was no exception.

"This has been great getting out here on the road and connecting with as many people as possible," Franklin said.

The bus moved east across the state to Wilkes-Barre for the first evening stop of the final leg.

Stop No. 14 - Wilkes-Barre (Genetti Hotel & Conference Center)

The second stop of the day took place inside Genetti Hotel & Conference Center downtown Wilkes-Barre.  Nearly 400 enthusiastic fans filled the Grand Ballroom on Tuesday night.  Luzerne County is home to more than 8,500 passionate Penn State alums.

Wilkes-Barre will forever have a place in Penn State hockey history.  Coach Gadowsky led the Nittany Lions to their first victory as a Division I program on Oct. 13, 2012 against American International.  David Glen's goal 38 seconds into overtime sealed the first win.  That game took place inside Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre.

"Forever, this place will have a soft place in my heart," Gadowsky said.

wilkesbarre_2.jpgIn 2013-'14, Gadowsky led the Nittany Lions to three victories over Michigan and one over Ohio State during the inaugural season of Big Ten hockey.  The fans inside the room on Tuesday are excited about Penn State hockey's future, and Gadowsky's peers are tremendously impressed with the progress the program has made in such a short period of time.

"These coaches are ordinary people who do extraordinary things with their programs," Pavlik said.

"To compete in this conference, we need all of your support," Gadowsky said.

The fan base plays a paramount role in supporting all of Penn State's teams.  Pavlik, Cooper and Gadowsky each reminded the fans in attendance of what a full Beaver Stadium every Saturday in the fall does for their programs.  The atmosphere inside Beaver Stadium during a game before a sold out crowd speaks for itself.  The same is true for Pegula Ice Arena, Rec Hall and Medlar Field, in the case of the other coaches on the Caravan Tuesday night.

That being said, the Coaches Caravan is an opportunity for the coaches to not only talk about their programs, it is a way to say thank you to the fans for their support.  Like Coach Franklin has said throughout the Caravan, the people make Penn State special.

"Penn State is like a community...It gives us an opportunity to interact with you," Franklin said.

wilkesbarre_1.jpgFranklin took time to recognize offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan and passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne, who were in the Wilkes-Barre area recruiting on Tuesday and stopped by the event to say hello to the fans.

The Caravan rolls into Coach Franklin's alma mater, East Stroudsburg, on Wednesday for lunch before an evening reception at the Sands in Bethlehem.

Miles Traveled:
Day I - 165 miles

Day II - 130 miles
Day III - 387 miles
Day IV - 175 miles
Day V - 245 miles

Day VI - 267 miles
Day VII - 130 miles

Total - 1,499 miles

caravan bus_williamsport.jpg

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

Penn State Falls to Loyola Chicago in NCAA Semifinal

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CHICAGO, Ill. - No. 12 Penn State concluded its season at its 16th consecutive NCAA appearance in a hard fought 3-2 loss to No. 1 Loyola Chicago in the semifinal match.

It was a night of point-for-point action that had the crowd out of its seats from the start. Penn State and Loyola were fighting for the last spot in the NCAA final match against Stanford on Saturday, May 3.

The lead varied from Ramblers to Nittany Lions, Nittany Lions to Ramblers throughout the first set, keeping fans on the edge of their seat from the start. Loyola found momentum and took the first set 25-20.

The teams switched sides and were set for battle number two.

The Nittany Lions fired back in the second, fighting for the win. The teams continued the back and forth pace until a 21-21 tie. Ramblers grabbed a point but Penn State pulled through to snatch four points and lock up a 25-22 win.

Splitting 1-1, both teams were fired up heading into set three. Penn State and Loyola chants battled throughout as the lead continually traded throughout the set. The Ramblers found their rhythm and pushed through earning a 25-21 win.

PSU found its niche and pulled ahead of Loyola after a tied-up match. Both teams rallied through the set but Penn State secured the win, finishing

The match was 2-2 and it was down to the final set. 

Gentile Arena was booming with screaming and yelling as adrenaline rushed through the building, waiting for the first serve. The electric atmosphere calmed as the first serve floated over the net.

With advancing on the line, it was neck and neck. Both teams were putting everything they had on the line. Closing in at 12-11, both teams had their eye on a win. Three Penn State errors secured Loyola's spot in Saturday's final match, winning 15-11.

The season came to a close, but the passion Penn State displayed cannot be erased. The Nittany Lion season concluded as the team gathered arm and arm for one last time as Penn State fans roared with pride from their seats.

Lions Take EIVA Title and Advance to NCAA Tournament

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Nittany Lions took the court for the EIVA championship match in Rec Hall for the last time this season, the team was playing for far more than any other match this year.


With the EIVA Championship title on the line along with securing the automatic qualification into the NCAA Tournament, the coaches and players fought hard to walk away with two wins against one of the most competitive fields the EIVA conference has seen. 


On Thursday night, Penn State knocked off George Mason, 3-1 (25-27, 25-21, 25-18, 25-22). As the match continued, the players built on their momentum and gained confidence knowing they would advance to the EIVA final on Saturday night. With a strong back and forth battle, head coach Mark Pavlik noticed a shift in the amount of competition the EIVA conference is facing. 


"George Mason came in and they were ready to compete," Pavlik said. "There was enough of a competitive level on both sides of the net. Before, there have been some semi-finals that felt more like a sacrificial lamb being led to slaughter as opposed to a competition. Mason came and wanted to compete."


Penn State had a day off before they faced Princeton in the EIVA final. As the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams of the EIVA conference took their sides of the net, both teams knew it was going to be a competitive match where every point counted. The Nittany Lions walked away with a 3-0 victory (25-23, 25-19, 25-18).


"As the year went on, they became more and more visible," Pavlik said.  "This was not a match that we took lightly. We gutted out the win in game one. That's just a testament to the way these guys compete. In game two we were starting to hit our stride and in game three our serving picked up."


The lead between the Tigers and Nittany Lions went back and forth before Penn State closed out the set securing their first win of the match. The energy in Rec Hall was electric and the players knew they could build off of a strong start.


"It felt like we were in control a lot of the match. A lot of the points that they scored early were from our errors," Nick Goodell said. "I felt like if we start good, we were going to end good every time. We just went from there until we got to the end of the third set."


This EIVA tournament marked the third time Penn State and Princeton matched up this season and the second time they played each other in Rec Hall. The loss earlier in the season that the Nittany Lions faced fueled their motivation to win 3-0 at home twice.


"As a team, it was big. It brought us together especially after that heartbreaking loss at their place. I thought we handled them really well back at our place and then we see them in the finals and we knew they were going to play hard. We knew they were going to be shaken by the last match we played against them. It also gave us the opportunity to improve," Aaron Russell said.


This win marked Penn State's 16th-consecutive EIVA Championship title. Reaching this level of excellence takes a true commitment and focus to keep getting better from the coaches and players.


"It means we have had a lot of great players and a lot of great coaching staffs. They make it their mission to make sure they are pursing the excellence that this program has set the bar for. This team has certainly upheld that bar and may have even raised it," Pavlik said. 


Winning the EIVA final also means the Nittany Lions will automatically qualify for the NCAA Championship, which gives a sense of relief to the team. The team has been given the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament.


"It's big for us. It's one more step. We got this far so there's no reason why we should turn back. We're going to Chicago and it doesn't matter if we play Tuesday or Thursday, we're going to go out and compete against any team that we play and look to bring home the national championship," Russell said.


As the Nittany Lions look ahead to playing at Loyola Chicago, the players competed on this court in the beginning of March and already have an idea of what to expect.


"It's pretty important we got a chance to feel what it's like to play in there. It's a small arena, but other than that it's pretty standard. It's important we got to play them because we had the chance to see what worked and what didn't work," Taylor Hammond said. 

Lions Knock Off George Mason and Advance to EIVA Final

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - For the players, coaches, and all followers of Penn State men's volleyball, the most exciting time of the year is finally here as the EIVA championship begins. The coaches and players have spent countless hours training for and thinking about the end of the season.

Starting with the semifinals of the EIVA Tournament on Thursday, the Nittany Lions played in four matches to win against George Mason 3-1 (25-27, 25-21, 25-18, 25-22). Although the team got off to a slow start losing the first set, it did not let that determine the outcome of the rest of the night as they relied on their competitive edge.

"We were getting in our own way," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "The toughest match to win is the one you are supposed to. The good news is the league is getting more and more competitive. That was a fun match to play, it was a great competitive match. The emotions were high because there were some things on the line that Mason wanted to take away from us. I had great faith that these guys would settle into their game and that's exactly what happened."

Late in the second set, the Nittany Lions broke away from the Patriots and jumped out to a 9-3 lead. The experience of the Nittany Lion starters allowed the team to come together as one unit and walk away with a win in the semi-final round of the EIVA Championships. 

"It's just been there, done that kind of thing," senior Peter Russell said. "It's hard to step on a college court with all eyes on you when it actually counts for something.  Sometimes guys can get a little flustered with that. Having that experience and getting to go out these past few years definitely helps. Six of our seven starters were here last year. The experience was saying let's just play our game and we're going to be okay," Peter Russell said.

The match came down to the fourth set where it was a back and forth battle. The set was tied up 23-23 before Penn State closed out the night. It wasn't until Aaron Russell made the final kill that the Nittany Lions knew they were going to advance to the EIVA final.

The Nittany Lions will play against No. 2 Princeton on Saturday. The battle between the two Ivy league schools left Princeton defeating Harvard winning 3-1. Going into Saturday night, the Penn State vs. Princeton record is 1-1 for regular season matches this year. 

"Princeton came in and took advantage of Harvard being off two and a half weeks. It looked like they were a little rusty in games two and three. We're going to see the two best liberos in the league battling it out. It's going to be a fun match. I know Princeton is going to be ready to play and if I know these guys, they're going to be ready," Pavlik said.

The Nittany Lions lost on the road 3-2 at the end of February against Princeton, but won a month later at home 3-0. The two teams will compete in Rec Hall at 7 p.m. this Saturday in the EIVA title match. 

Nittany Lions Host EIVA Tournament

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - As the Nittany Lions practiced these past few weeks - every serve, every hit, and every match had a little more focus to it as the team gets ready to host the 2014 EIVA Tournament in Rec Hall on Thursday and Saturday.

The teams competing are the top four ranked teams in the EIVA conference. No. 4 George Mason will compete against No. 1 Penn State on Thursday while No. 2 Harvard competes against No. 3 Princeton. The winner of the two matches will face off in the finals on Saturday. 

"My favorite part is watching the team really get its focus on now," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "To me it's very interesting to watch teams hone their competitive focus and all of a sudden practice takes on a different timber. Guys are very involved, very invested in practice from the top to bottom of our roster. It's fun to see they're knocking on the door of the goals that they had set for themselves about nine months ago."

As the team continues to compete, the players will use this tournament as another step towards their ultimate destination in their journey.

"We know that we can play at a high level and we're expecting to win a national championship this year," Peter Russell said. "Knowing that every match has a little more worth than what it did in the regular season is exciting. It's a lot more fun because we're competitors and knowing that we are competing for something a lot more than a regular season game is something special."

Knowing that the stakes are the same for everyone as they approach the EIVA tournament adds to the championship season and the competitive nature that comes with the top teams in the EIVA.

"Everyone's in the same position. If you lose you're done. The playoffs really matter and we were anxious to see who we were going to get. You don't overlook anyone because everyone's competing for the same thing," Matt Seifert said.

During the regular season, Penn State competed against each of these teams twice. In their first match against George Mason they won on the road 3-1. When they played the Patriots at home, they won 3-0. Against Princeton, the Nittany Lions lost 3-2 in Princeton, N.J. but won 3-0 when they returned to Rec Hall. When they played Harvard, they won both matches 3-0.

Although facing these teams twice may seem like an advantage, both teams know the same amount about each other and still have to prepare for the aspects of the game they may not expect.

"I don't think any team gets an advantage by playing the same team," Pavlik said. "Both teams have the opportunity to see each other and gather information to get comfortable with what's going on. It's another step in the process that we take in the goal of winning a national championship. We have to make sure we go back and take a look at what worked well against Mason and what worked well for them and come up with a game plan."

Here's a closer look at each of the team's competing and what head coach Mark Pavlik expects to see out of these three teams this weekend.

George Mason
Entering the weekend with an 8-6 conference record and a 14-13 overall record, George Mason won against Harvard 3-0 at home and lost to them earlier in the season 3-0 when they played on the road. Against Princeton, George Mason won 3-1 at home and lost 3-1 at Princeton.

"George Mason is a team that is coming back from Fred Chao having to replace all seven of his starters. They had a very tragic death in the George Mason family this summer with one of the guys they were counting on being on the court for them. I think they've spent a better half of this year trying to find their personality and find what works. The past three to four weeks they've been playing very, very good volleyball so we are going to have our hands full in the semi-final," Pavlik said.

With a conference record of 10-4 and an overall record of 15-9, Princeton lost at home and at Harvard 3-2 both times. Against George Mason, they won 3-1 at home and lost 3-1 when they traveled.

"Princeton has shown they are very capable of playing big boy volleyball. They have shown they have really strong arms. Tony (Ensbury) is as good as a libero as there is in the league and they've been in some recent EIVA finals and most of those guys are still on the team so they're coming in here saying been there done that," Pavlik said.

Harvard enters the tournament with an 11-3 conference record and 15-7 overall record as they bring experience to the court. Against Princeton they won 3-2 both at home and on the road. George Mason fell to them both times 3-0.

"Harvard replaced a setter this year, (Nick) Bendell has kept their offense running in between DJ White and his brother Casey and Chris Gibbons. They've had some pretty good ball control and arguably they have two of the best middles. It's a team that's been together also the past couple of years," Pavlik said. 

A Closer Look at the Nittany Lions' Journey

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - With only two matches left in the regular season for the Nittany Lions, the squad of 16 has been through a journey of streaks this year going from two losses to 12 wins followed by seven consecutive matches on the road.

"It seems to be a year of streaks - mostly travel streaks," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "We go to Hawaii with the idea of let's see where we are and how we stack up against Hawaii. It was very good for us. Then we came back and had the ability through who we played to get those who don't play much some action, refine our skills, and then we were on the road for a tough stretch."

Despite long stretches on the road with less than ideal traveling arrangements, the Nittany Lions have stayed mentally tough and taken the necessary steps to ensure their bodies could perform at their best.

"We've picked up our physicality, which I'm very glad to see the travel weariness has been handled well. We've done a good job keeping fresh in the gym and all in all it's been a pretty good season for us," Pavlik said.

Although it can be easy to focus on their record of wins and losses throughout the season, the coaches stress that the level of improvement is more important.

"The team has steadily improved and we don't pay a lot of attention to wins and losses," Pavlik said. "We pay attention to are we getting better and what do we have to do to get better. This team has really made a commitment to getting better and you look at every one of the guys on this team and you can point out aspects in their game that have improved. That's all we can really ask for."

Through their journey, the team has learned from each and every chance they have had to compete. Their level of improvement is a testament to the resiliency of this group.

"They roll with the punches really well. This is a group that is confident; they understand how hard it is to be good. They learn that within this group they can push each other and hold each other accountable. I like the growth they've had this year and I'm excited about the future for this core group of student-athletes," Pavlik said.

Even though this particular group of 16 players started playing together in the fall, their development goes back a year where they grew under the six seniors that graduated in 2013.

"The development of this team can be traced back to the six seniors we had last year. They were there if we needed them in a certain situation and they were always ready to go. Our current group saw that. They saw the selflessness and they saw how much the program meant to that group of seniors. This team has picked up on the strength of those seniors last year and have carried it on and they've made it stronger this year," Pavlik said.

It may seem like their season is winding down from the fan perspective with the EIVA championships right around the corner, however, the most exciting part of the season is still to come.

"This is the fun part - everything is winding up," Pavlik said. "This is what you come to Penn State for. We're going to gear up and we're going to make sure we aren't overtaxing these guys. If they keep it sharp, we're going to stay in the gym only as long as they need to be."

At this point in the season, the team starts "tapering" which means they reduce the amount of practice time and focus more on quality and their execution.

"This is not the time to keep them in the gym for practice sake. They're responding well to this. We've had some great short practices over these past few weeks. We want them to be at their best when the whistle blows," Pavlik said.

The Nittany Lions secured the No. 1 overall seed and home court advantage as they host the upcoming EIVA tournament after their win against Saint Francis. This win also gave the Nittany Lions their 30th EIVA/ECVL regular season title.

"Hosting keeps them in their routines," Pavlik said. "They're comfortable there and everything that they normally do, they can do. That's huge for college athletes and even more so with men's volleyball across the country. Teams have really been good at home and it's been tough to win on the road. I like the fact that we don't have to go anywhere for the two biggest EIVA matches of the year."

Curry Leads Defense Through the Libero Position

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
As the players run out on the court and take their positions, they are all wearing matching uniforms with the exception of one player. For the Nittany Lions it's Connor Curry - the libero.

Coming all the way from Long Beach, Calif., Curry is the player in charge of leading the defense and controlling the back row. His position is unlike any other on the court and the rules alone set him apart from his teammates.

"They can't play the whole game. They are a permanent substitute," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "They can't hit a ball - they can't take a swing at a ball that is higher than the height of the net. They can't serve in the men's game and if they are in front of the three-meter line, they can't use their hands to set the ball - they can only use their forearms. There are a lot of things they have to think about - it's different than any position out there."

Since the libero is responsible for being the first contact when receiving the ball, it is Curry's responsibility to be able to run and get to the ball no matter where it is. Athleticism becomes a major factor in the performance of the libero.

"The more athletic your libero, the greater range they have," Pavlik said. "Typically, when you talk about athletic ability people take into account speed and jumping ability, but one of the things that people miss is hand-eye-coordination. The great athletes have great hand-eye-coordination and can use either hand equally well."

Since Curry has played sports as far back as he can remember, he has had more time to develop this level of athleticism and coordination.

"I played tennis when I was five and was really competitive with that until I was 12-13 years old and then I got into volleyball after that. Playing sports most of my life has really helped me understand and develop my hand-eye- coordination," Curry said.

From his first day as a Nittany Lion to where he is now as he finishes up his redshirt junior year, his ability to use both hands has helped him on the court.

"Because he is a right-handed player, his left hand didn't control the ball very well his freshman year, but over the last three to four years you can see him working on being able to control the ball on either side of his body. He plays a lot during the summer and I think there is where he really gave himself the opportunity to excel by playing so much and seeing the ball hit so many different ways and so many different angles," Pavlik said.

In addition to athleticism and strong hand-eye-coordination, another strength of Curry's is his passing. He is able to control the ball and put setter Taylor Hammond in a good position to run the offense.

"His passing and his first contact ball control is pretty good, but his passing has been very, very steady for us this year," Pavlik said. "Anytime you can put the ball exactly where you want it to go and run your offense from wherever you want to start it, you have every option available to you."

Passing the ball well and making sure he can get it to Hammond is something Curry practices each and every opportunity he gets.

"It's a skill that I'm always working on day in and day out. It's just tough because the curve for improvement is very gradual at this point. There are baby steps that I take everyday, but I'm pretty happy with where I am with that and how far I've come," Curry said.

Watching the libero and the setter interact during a match shows a specific relationship between the two positions. They both have to be at their best in order for the offense and defense to run smoothly.

"The setter and libero relationship is one where you can have a very good setter and a poor libero or the libero isn't as good or you can have a great libero and a poor setter and you're going to have some wasted opportunities. Taylor and Connor feed off of each other really well. When Connor is doing his job really well, it makes Taylor's job look really easy. Like they say in baseball, that's being strong up the middle. With a strong libero and strong setter, we have the strength so the first and second contacts are as controlled as we can possibly make them," Pavlik said.

Although there could be added pressures with the libero position, Curry only sees it as a position where the player has to be efficient at specific skills.

"The position of libero is really specific as to what you need to be good at," Curry said. "As an outside hitter you can make a bad pass, but you can still get a good set and make a good kill off of it whereas if a libero makes a bad pass - you just have to keep going and hope for a better one next time. You really just dig balls and pass balls and control the server and receive so it's really specialized in what I need to be good at but it's a fun position to be in."

Lions See Offensive Success under Hammond's Leadership

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By Chelsea Howard, Student Staff Writer
As the season continues for the men's volleyball team, its level of production and how the offense works together on the court has developed and strengthened over the past three months.

Of the different positions on the court, the setter is designated to control and run the offense. This person is in charge of making the decisions of which hitter will receive the ball. For the Nittany Lions, this player is Taylor Hammond.

"I run the offense and make sure everyone's on the same page," Hammond said. "I make decisions on where I want the ball to go. It's just what I've always done and it's a part of my position. I enjoy doing this and I like having the ball in my hands."

Coming off of strong matches against George Mason and Princeton, the team has come together to make the offense efficient and more effective. The coaching staff has noticed development in both their offensive game and Hammond's performance on the court.

"The passers are handling themselves really well. Taylor is making very sound decisions. He's always been somebody that wants to understand why he does something or why we ask him to do something. Now, he is really understanding that this is his job. His job is not to keep everyone happy - it's to get the ball to the floor as quickly as possible," head coach Mark Pavlik said.

Although Hammond is only a redshirt sophomore, he is really starting to fully understand his job as a setter.

"As a setter, you need to make those decisions and say right now with who they have blocking, where they are defensively, and how the hitters are hitting - what is my best opportunity to get the ball to the floor quick? He's really starting to grasp that right now. Like most young setters it takes a while. It's not something you can just walk in and do," Pavlik said.

In order to make the offensive game successful, the coaches help guide Hammond. They study the blockers on the other side of the net to predict where the ball will go.

"You'll see Jay (Hosack) come up and he'll talk to me about what their blockers are trying to do. They'll scheme against me and they'll try to send some towards Aaron (Russell) so we'll go the opposite way and we'll go towards Nick (Goodell) or they'll try to send someone towards Nick and we'll try to go the opposite way. It's really just a cat and mouse game. It's like a game of chess between me and the blockers," Hammond said.

Although the setter controls the offense and makes game-changing decisions, it takes all of the players on the court to make the offense successful.

"Anytime it's the offensive ball - it's not just one position," head coach Mark Pavlik said. "The offense is predicated first and foremost on our first contact and with our ball control. The level that our ball control has been at the past couple of weeks enables Taylor to have an easier job and have all four or five options available to him just about every time."

In order for Hammond to be able to set up the ball properly, it's up to the passers to put the ball where they are supposed to making Hammond's job easier.

"If our passers can put the ball where they are supposed to - it makes Taylor's job a lot easier when he doesn't have to run for it. Connor (Curry's) job is to control the servicing patterns and where he needs them to be all with the idea of making sure our offense starts where we want them to start - right in the middle of the net about two and a half feet off of the net," Pavlik said.

As a whole team, the passers have been working with Hammond to get the ball where it needs to be during each play. In their last few matches, the offense has come together to put up some of the best offensive numbers the team has seen up until this point.

"Our execution is really high right now," Hammond said. "This past weekend is an attribution to what we've been working on right now. We've had trouble in the big matches executing. We've made mistakes where the wheels kind of fall off, but against Princeton and George Mason - that was really an attribute to what we've been working on and just staying steady." 


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