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FAIRFAX, Va. -- Championship season should bring out the best in every team and that theory held true as the Penn State men's volleyball team exchanged haymakers with Harvard on Thursday (April 19) inside the Recreation Athletic Facility on the campus of George Mason University in the first semifinal of the EIVA Championships. The Nittany Lions, however, weren't able to overcome a slow start, falling in five sets (18-25, 25-21, 19-25, 25-18, 11-15) to the Crimson.
It was the second-straight five-setter between the two programs, as Penn State (15-11) also fell in five sets at Harvard (12-13) on April 31. The second five-set loss to the Crimson ended the Nittany Lions' season and their bid for a 32nd EIVA postseason title.
As a team, Penn State gave away a host of points via errors, while Harvard as the more efficient squad. The Nittany Lions committed 25 attacking errors, 18 service errors and nine service return errors. The Crimson had just 16 attacking errors, eight service errors and six service return errors.
The Blue and White owned the edge in kills (66-51) and the saw the efforts of a host of Nittany Lions that will be back in the blue and white next season. The team-leaders in kills, assists, digs, service aces and blocks vs. Harvard will all return in 2019.
Redshirt-sophomore and first-team All-EIVA selection Calvin Mende (Redlands, Calif.) piled up 28 kills for his second 20-kill match of the season and fifth of his career. His effort was one kill shy of his career-best outing of 29 kills at Princeton in 2017, as he hit .415 for the match with just six errors on swings. He added three blocks to his ledger, as well, for his 24th career match with three-or-more blocks.
For his efforts, Mende was named to the EIVA All-Tournament team following the conclusion of the championships.
The first career double-double from redshirt-junior and first-team All-EIVA pick Matthew McLaren (Aurora, Colo.) featured 12 kills and a career-high 12 digs. He also led the team and tied his career high in service aces (three) and total blocks (four) and solo blocks (two).
Junior libero Royce Clemens (York, Pa.) came off the bench to lead the team with 13 digs for his 38th career match in double-digits. It was the eighth double-figure dig match of the season for Clemens, who also had one assist. Redshirt-sophomore Luke Braswell (Manchester, Pa.) handed out 56 assists in the match for his sixth career 50-plus assist match. He added a career-high five kills, along with five digs and three blocks.
In his final match for the Blue and White, second-team All-EIVA redshirt-senior Kevin Gear (Rochester, N.Y.) posted his eighth career double-digit kill effort -- seventh in 2018 -- with 10 kills on 19 swings. He also added a team-high-tying four blocks to close his final campaign with 20-straight matches with at least one block.
Fellow redshirt-seniors Aidan Albrecht (Old Bridge, N.J.) and Jalen Penrose (Cambridge, Mass.) also contributed in the loss. Albrecht added five kills, five digs and two blocks, while Penrose notched three kills, one dig and one block.
The Harvard trio of Trevor Dow (11 kills), Brad Gretsch (14 kills) and Riley Moore (11 kills) each reached double-digits in the kill column and all hit .400-or-better for the match. Dow owned a match-high .647 attacking percentage, while the trio also had four service aces and 14 blocking assists and one solo block.
- OPP Calvin Mende -- A Penn State season-high 28 kills and 53 attacks, hitting .415 for the match. Added three blocks and three digs.
- OH Matthew McLaren -- Registered his first career double-double with 12 kills and a career-high 12 digs. Added a team-best three service aces and four blocks (two solo).
- MB Kevin Gear -- Had 10 kills for his eight career double-digit kill match. Added four blocks.
- S Luke Braswell -- Handed out 56 assists for his sixth career 50-plus assist match. Added a career-high five kills.
- L Royce Clemens -- Boasted 13 digs for his 38th career double-figure dig match, playing in only four of the five sets.
- Errors Pile Up -- Penn State owned a 66-51 edge in kills, but 25 hitting errors, 18 service errors, nine service return errors and one blocking error hampered the Nittany Lions effort.
- MB Brad Gretsch -- Had 14 kills, five digs, two blocks and two service aces.
- MB Riley Moore -- Registered 11 kills and six total blocks.
- MB Trevor Dow -- Provided 11 kills on 17 errorless swings and seven total blocks.
- S Marko Kostich -- Posted a near triple-double with seven kills, 22 assists and 10 digs.
- Efficient Attack -- Committed only 16 errors and registered 51 kills on 121 swings for a .289 hitting percentage.
- Crimson Wall -- Harvard had 13.0 blocks in the match, including two down the stretch in the fifth set.
The opening set was marred with errors on the Penn State side, as Harvard collected only nine kills and but befitted from 16 total errors from the Nittany Lions. The set began with the two teams exchanging mini-scoring runs, eventually landing at 6-4 in favor of Harvard on back-to-back PSU attacking errors. Ten of the next 14 points went the way of the Crimson, pushing the lead to 16-8. Penn State would get no closer than five points the rest of the way dropping the frame, 25-18. In the first set, Penn State had three service return errors, six service errors and seven attacking errors (including two Harvard blocks). McLaren and Mende each led Penn State with four kills apiece.
Harvard 25, Penn State 18
Harvard leads 1-0
Penn State took control early in set two and fought off a couple of Harvard comeback attempts on its way to evening the match at one set apiece. Harvard again to the lead out of the gates, 4-2, but PSU scored eight of the next 10 points to move ahead, 10-6, as a sequence that included a Braswell kill, McLaren ace and Gear kill force a Crimson timeout. The Nittany Lions wouldn't let the Crimson get any closer than three points the rest of the way, as Mende piled up 10 kills in the set, while McLaren added two kills, two solo blocks and a service ace.
Penn State 25, Harvard 21
The two teams exchanged scoring runs throughout the first 24 points, as the match was tied on six occasions and the lead changed hands twice. After the Crimson opened a 5-2 lead on a service ace, Penn State scored four-straight points on three kills and a block to roar back to grab the 6-5 edge. The two squads scored side-out points on the next four rotations before Harvard strung three points together to take a 10-8 lead. After a 4-3 spurt by PSU left the match knotted at 12-all, Harvard ran off five-straight points to push ahead 17-12 and eventually owned a 20-13 advantage. Penn State stung three-straight points together in the latter stages of the third set, but the Crimson grabbed the 2-1 lead in the match with a 25-19 set win. Harvard was clicking on all cylinders in the set, collecting 12 kills, four service aces and four blocks to account for 20 of its 25 points.
Harvard 25, Penn State 19
Harvard leads 2-1
A script reversal in the fourth set drew the match even at two sets apiece, as Penn State's offense took over in a lopsided set victory. After Harvard pushed out to a 7-6 lead on a PSU attacking error, the Nittany Lions outscored the Crimson 16-5 to build a 10-point lead at 22-12. During the spurt, Mende piled up six kills and the Nittany Lions posted a pair of triple-blocks to swing momentum. After Harvard scored five of the next six points to make it 23-17, Penn State sandwiched a service error in between kills from Penrose and McLaren to close out the set win and send the first semifinal of the night into a decisive fifth set. Mende ended the set with those six kills, while Gear added four kills and was a part of both triple-blocks.
Penn State 25, Harvard 18
Harvard was again the better team out of the game racing out to a 3-0 lead on a pair of kills and a service ace. The Lions stormed back with two kills from Mende, a pair of Crimson missteps and a service ace from McLaren as part of a 5-1 spurt to grab a one-point edge, 5-4. Harvard would score seven of the next 10 points to retake the lead and force a Penn State timeout with the score sitting at 11-8 in favor of the opposition. Penn State got a triple block coming out of the timeout from McLaren, Penrose and Mende, but Harvard scored four of the final six points to close out the set and match.
Harvard 15, Penn State 11
Harvard wins 3-2