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FAIRFIELD, Conn. -- The start of a long road trip is never easy, but the Penn State men's volleyball team fought off Sacred Heart for a 3-1 (25-20, 25-23, 21-25, 25-21) decision on Friday (March 20) afternoon inside the Pitt Center.
The match was the first of four-straight road contests for Penn State (12-8, 7-2 EIVA) and served as a solid start for the Blue and White. Overall in the match, Penn State hit .385, piling up 51 kills on 96 swings, with just 14 errors. The Nittany Lions didn't commit more than four attacking errors in any one set on the afternoon, while Sacred Heart (5-12 (1-9 EIVA) hit just .217 for the match with 51 kills on 115 attacks, but committed 26 errors.
Redshirt-sophomore Calvin Mende (Redlands, Calif.) posted at least four kills in each set and complied 20 kills on 31 swings. He hit .484 for the match, adding two digs and five blocks. The 20 kills are a season-high for Mende and mark his sixth-straight double-digit kill match and fourth career 20-kill match.
The Nittany Lions piled up 14.0 blocks as a team, including a match-high eight block assists for redshirt-senior Kevin Gear (Rochester, N.Y.). The eight blocks for Gear are a season-high for a Penn Stater, as the middle blocker also went errorless on the attack with seven kills on 10 swings, while chipping in five digs.
The 14 total blocks marked a season-high for Penn State, as Mende, redshirt-sophomore Jason Donorovich (Lockport, N.Y.) and redshirt-junior Lee Smith (Sewickley, Pa.) added five block assists each, while redshirt-sophomore Luke Braswell (Manchester, Pa.) added four block assists.
Redshirt-junior Matthew McLaren (Aurora, Colo.) and Donorovich each put down seven successful attacks, while Smith added six kills. Braswell posted two kills and handed out 39 assists on the afternoon, as well.
- OPP Calvin Mende - Posted his sixth-straight double-digit kill match and fourth career 20-kill outing with 20 successful swings. Added five block assists and two digs. Hit .484 on the afternoon.
- MB Kevin Gear -- Converted seven of 10 swings with zero errors to hit .700 on the afternoon. Posted a team season-best eight blocks on the afternoon and added five digs.
- MB Jason Donorovich -- Had three of Penn State's four aces on the afternoon and added seven kills. Posted five block assists and two digs. Hit .500 with one error on 12 swings.
- Efficient Attack -- Penn State didn't commit more than four errors in any one set and hit .385 for the match, converting on 51 of 96 swings with just 14 total attacking errors.
- Big Block -- The Nittany Lions posted a season-high 14.0 blocks on the afternoon. Six Penn Staters were a part of the block party, as the Lions ended the match with back-to-back stuffs from Kevin Gear and Lee Smith.
- RS Emerson Waumans -- Paced the Pioneers with 18 kills. Added three digs and two block assists.
- MB Taylor Bloomquist -- Didn't commit an error on 10 swings with six kills. Added two service aces and one solo block.
The opening set featured eight ties and three lead changes over the first 20 points, as a Michael McLaughlin kill for Sacred Heart knotted the score at 10 apiece. The Nittany Lions, however, scored six of the next eight points to take control of the set, pushing their lead to 16-12 when the trio of Smith, Gear and Mende roofed a SHU attack. The Pioneers answered with a 5-2 spurt to pull within one point, 18-17, but Penn State scored seven of the final 10 points to claim the opening frame.
Penn State 25, at Sacred Heart 20
The second set was more of the same, as 13 ties and six lead changes led the match to 16-all. Back-to-back kills from Mende gave Penn State the 16-15 lead, but Sacred Heart got a kill from Talyor Bloomquist to knot things at 16. The Blue and White would build a three-point lead, 20-17, following a 4-1 spurt, including kills from Gear and McLaren, a service ace by redshirt-senior Jalen Penrose (Cambridge, Mass.) and a block by Donorovich and Mende. The Pioneers would close the gap to one point, 22-21, but Penn State scored three of the final five points, including a Donorovich kill to grab the 2-0 lead.
Penn State 25, at Sacred Heart 20
Sacred Heart grabbed early momentum in the third set thanks to a bevy of Penn State errors to jump out to an early 5-3 edge. Penn State would battle back to knot the score at 10-10 on kills from Mende and McLaren. With the match tied at 11, the Pioneers scored four-straight points on a pair of PSU miscues, a kill from Emerson Waumans and a service ace to build a 15-11 edge. Eventually, Sacred Heart built a seven-point lead, 23-16, but a host of errors by the Pioneers enabled Penn State to pull the score to 24-21. However, Waumans ended the comeback attempt with a kill to send the match to a fourth set.
at Sacred Heart 25, Penn State 21
The fourth set was in control from the midway point, as the two teams were tied four times early on, the last at 12-12. With the score knotted, Gear and Smith collected kills and Mende joined Gear on a nice block to push Penn State to a 15-12 lead. That lead would hover at three points until Sacred Heart cut the deficit to one, 22-21, on back-to-back kills. After a Penn State timeout, SHU committed an attacking error and the combination block of Smith and Gear collected the final two points to push Penn State to the road win.
Penn State 25, at Sacred Heart 21
Penn State will continue its road trip, as it heads to Harvard for a 7 p.m. first serve on Saturday, March 31.