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Cambridge, Mass. -- Despite playing without one starter and losing another due to injury during the match, the Penn State men's volleyball team rallied from a two-set deficit to force a decisive fifth set before falling, 3-2, at Harvard (13-25, 30-32, 27-25, 25-16, 12-15) inside the Malkin Athletic Center on Saturday (March 31).
With starting setter Luke Braswell (Manchester, Pa.) missing the match due to illness, Penn State couldn't find a rhythm early on, dropping the first set, 25-13, before rebounding and pushing the second set to 30 points, eventually falling, 32-30.
Down two sets, Penn State trailed by one, 12-11, when outside hitter Calvin Mende (Redlands, Calif.) went to the ground and eventually left the game due to injury.
However, with its back against the wall, Penn State rallied to win the third set, 27-25, and then rode the serving of Jalen Penrose (Cambridge, Mass.) and offense of Frank Melvin (Mohrsville, Pa.) and Kyle Mackiewicz (Edison, N.J.) to cruise to a 25-16 fourth set victory.
However, errors were the undoing in the fifth set, with Penn State dropping a 15-12 decision. The Nittany Lions had two hitting errors, five service errors and one blocking error in the decisive set.
Individually, there were many bright spots on the court, including a record-setting homecoming for Penrose. The redshirt-senior tied the school record for service aces in a match with nine, equaling the mark of John Wasielewski from 1990, and his nine aces are tied for the most in a single match this season in the NCAA, equaling the mark of Griffin Spence of Erskine vs. Brewton-Parker on March 9, 2018 (3 sets). The Cambridge, Mass. native added six kills, two digs and two block assists on the night, as well.
Gear took 17 swings in the match, converting 10 of those and committing zero hitting errors. The middle blocker posted his 15th-straight match with at least one block, tallying two block assists and posted a career-high six digs. His six digs surpassed his five digs, which he had done three times, most recently on Friday (March 30) at Sacred Heart.
Melvin saw action in four sets, but really found a groove after Mende's exit, posting all 10 of his kills over the final three sets. His 10-kill effort was the first double-digit kill match of his career, as he entered the night with four career kills.
McLaren added 10 kills for his 11th double-digit effort of the season. McLaren added eight digs, two service aces and one block assists. Redshirt-freshman Kyle Mackiewicz (Edison, N.J.) had a solid night with eight kills, two digs and two block assists.
Before leaving the match due to injury, Mende was carrying the Penn State offense, ending his night with a team-best 15 kills on 23 swings and just three errors (.522 hitting percentage). It is the seventh-straight double-digit kill match for Mende.
Redshirt-junior libero Royce Clemens (York, Pa.) registered his seventh double-digit dig match of the season with a match-high 15, while sophomore setter Nathan Smith (Los Altos, Calif.) handed out a career-best 55 assists with five digs, one kill and one block assist.
Harvard had just two student-athletes in double-digits for kills, with Brad Gretsch registering 13 and Riley Moore posting 14, but the Crimson used 11.5 team blocks and committed just 12 attacking errors in the match to hit .370, compared to .279 for Penn State.
- OPP Calvin Mende -- Posted his seventh-straight double-digit kill match with a match-high 15 successful swings on 23 attempts. Hit .522 on the match before leaving due to injury. Added one block.
- OH Frank Melvin -- Totaled a career-high 10 kills on 18 swings with one errors to hit .500 for the match. Added a career-best three digs.
- OH Matthew McLaren -- Posted 10 kills, two service aces and eight digs. Added one block assist.
- MB Kevin Gear -- Hit .588 with 10 kills on 17 errorless swings. Added one ace, six digs and two block assists.
- MB Jalen Penrose -- Returned to his hometown to post six kills and a school-record nine service aces. Also had two digs and two block assists.
- S Nathan Smith -- Handed out a career-best 55 assists in the match. Added one kill, one block assist and five digs.
- Lion Errors -- Penn State committed 24 attacking errors, 20 service errors and had five blocking errors in the five-set loss.
- MB Riley Moore -- Collected 14 kills on 16 swings with zero errors. Added three blocks and one dig.
- MB/OH Brad Gretsch -- Posted 13 kills on 26 swings. Added two service aces, nine digs and two blocks.
- MB Trevor Dow -- Tallied nine kills, seven blocks and three service aces.
- Crimson Connection -- Harvard committed just 12 attacking errors on the night, hitting .370 for the match with 59 kills.
- Blocking the Lions -- The Crimson posted 11.5 blocks on the evening, compared to just 4.5 for the Nittany Lions.
With the first set at 5-4 in favor of Harvard, the Crimson went on an 11-3 spurt, including three service aces by Trevor Dow, to open up a 16-7 advantage. After an exchange of points pushed the set to 19-12 in favor of the home team, Harvard closed out the set with a 6-1 spurt to claim the opening set. Lee Smith (Sewickley, Pa.) had three kills in the opening set and Mende added two kills, as the Nittany Lions hit minus-.040 with five kills on 25 swings and six errors. The Crimson hit .375 in the set with 14 kills on 32 swings and just two kills.
at Harvard 25, Penn State 13
Penn State took the largest lead for either team in the second set with an early three-point lead, 7-4, after back-to-back kills from Mende. The second set saw 16 ties and six lead changes, including eight ties starting at 23-23. Crimson held the first set point at 25-24, but the Nittany Lions fought off five set points -- and had two chances of their own to close out the set -- before back-to-back kills for Harvard closed out the set. Mende hat 10 of Penn State's 17 kills in the second set, with the Crimson holding a slim .368-.353 edge in hitting percentage in the set.
at Harvard 32, Penn State 30
Another epic set commenced in the third, as the two teams traded the lead five times and sat even 19 times before Penn State finally closed out the 27-25 set victory. An early exchange of points saw the match tied at each increment up to 6-6, before Penn State would surge ahead 8-6 with three-straight points. However, Harvard would answer with a 4-1 spurt to grab the 11-9 edge. The Nittany Lions knotted the match at 11 apiece, but Harvard reached 12 points first on an odd play that saw Mende go to the ground and leave the match with an injury after a near 30-minute delay.
Following the delay, Harvard scored the next point on a block, but Penn State used a McLaren kill and two-straight service aces from Penrose to grab the lead back. The back-and-forth continued until Harvard eventually took an 18-17 lead on an attacking error by Penn State, but five of the next six tallies went to the Blue and White, helping PSU build a 22-19 edge. Harvard answered, but could never grab the lead back, with Penn State eventually getting kills from Gear and Mackiewicz to close out the set.
Penn State 27, at Harvard 25
Again in the fourth set, the frame was tied at each increment up to 6-6 before a Penrose service rotation would blow the match wide open in favor of Penn State. A Melvin kill made it 7-6 and handed the ball to Penrose at the service line. After a Mackiewicz kill, Penrose reeled off four-straight service aces and the score sat at 12-6. Harvard would get no closer than four points the rest of the set. Penrose had five service aces and one kill, while Gear and Mackiewicz each added four kills in the set.
Penn State 25, at Harvard 16
In the fifth set, Penn State got out to an early 3-2 edge, but three-straight kills from Harvard opened up a 5-3 lead and forced a Penn State timeout. The Nittany Lions would respond with three of the next four points, including kills from Gear and McLaren, to knot the score at six. The Crimson came right back, however, scoring five of the next six points to gain control of the match and eventually side-out the remainder of the contest to grab the five-set win.
at Harvard 15, Penn State 12
Penn State will begin the second half of its road trip on Friday, April 6 with a 7 p.m. first serve at Charleston (W.Va.). The Nittany Lions will wrap up the four-game road swing on Saturday, April 7 against EIVA-leading George Mason at 7 p.m.