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COLUMBUS, OH – In a re-match of the 2017 Rose Bowl (even featuring a high scoring opening set) No. 13 Penn State men's volleyball (1-1) outlasted Southern California (0-2) in a five-set thriller (30-32, 25-14, 21-25, 25-23, 15-11) Saturday afternoon at St. John Arena on the campus of Ohio State University.
"It was a grittiness that I think we’ve been looking for over the past 16-months or so,” said head coach Mark Pavlik.
“We had an easy win in set two and everything was going our way, game three, you know the Trojans are going to come back and they socked us in the nose. Game four was where I really wanted to see how we would react, and I thought ‘freshman setter, freshman opposite lets see what happens’. I think Luke (Braswell) is finding the shape of the set that Cal (Mende) wants,” Pavlik continued.
“(Mende’s) future is so bright, and I think if we can keep him in good situations where his confidence keeps soaring then when we need him in bad ball situations then he’s going to feel good about himself.”
“Honestly we just took it point by point,” said Calvin Mende. “We definitely passed well, we had a lot of options on our swings, by this point in the game (fifth-set) we’d keyed in on their hitters pretty well, they still put us in some tough situations but over all I think we handled it pretty well.”
“We did really well,” said Luke Braswell. “one of our seniors Matt Callaway said ‘we have to find our identity’ and I think we did that. We played well and battled back during game four and finished them off in game five.”
Penn State used a balanced offensive attack to take down the Trojans as three different Nittany Lions had at least ten kills, with two topping 20 as Redshirt-Freshman Calvin Mende led the Lions with a career high 25 kills in only his second game in the Blue & White. Mende also chipped in five blocks and four digs while hitting .525 on the night.
2016 AVCA Honorable Mention All-American Chris Nugent finished second on the team with 22t kills on .395 hitting, while also tallying three assist, two digs and two blocks.
Redshirt-Freshman Luke Braswell dished out a career high 62 assists while finishing with nine digs, three blocks and three kills against USC.
Aidan Albrecht added 13 kills, five blocks and three digs.
Defensively, libero Royce Clemens finished first on the team with 14 digs while the Nittany Lions posted a season-high 14 blocks.
Tied 2-2 entering the fifth-set, Penn State took no time speeding out to a 6-2 lead over the Trojans to force the first timeout of the set by USC. Following the Trojan timeout, USC embarked on their own run of 4-3 to force a Penn State timeout with the Lions holding a 9-6 lead. USC carried that momentum out of the break closing the gap to one as Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik called timeout with the Nittany Lions needing only five points to win holding a 10-9 lead. A Nugent kill, Mende kill and a USC attack error made it 13-10 forcing a final timout by USC before Penn State closed out the game on a 2-1 run capped by a kill from the 2016 EIVA Co-Player of the year Chris Nugent.
Next up, Penn State travels to take on Ball State and IPFW. First serve between the Nittany Lions and the Cardinals is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13, while the match up against the Mastodons is slated for a 7 p.m. ET first serve.