No. 10 Nittany Lions Finish EIVA Season at the Top
April 4, 2011
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
Two days and one match later, Penn State has finished play against conference opponents with an unbeaten record of 10-0. The perfect record gave the Nittany Lions the top spot in the EIVA Tait Division and the team's 27th conference title since 1976.
Penn State swept the Patriots on Saturday night in Rec Hall in a back-and-forth match of offensive match-ups. The Nittany Lions took the match three sets to none (28-26, 25-20, 25-21) and managed to outlast George Mason thanks to timely serving and blocking and veteran leadership.
Redshirt junior Joe Sunder had a match high 15 kills and came up big for the Nittany Lions at all of the right moments. Sunder stepped up big time in the first set for Penn State and put the game away after two set point opportunities with an ace to finish at 28-26.
George Mason head coach Fred Chao was one of the first to admit that the 6-foot-7 Nittany Lion is not an easy opponent to be up against.
"Against a guy like Joe Sunder, you can't afford to make mistakes," said Chao. "He touches about twelve feet. I don't know too many teams that can really stop him and that was not necessarily our priority at the time because we know what a capable player he is and even if we put our biggest guys up there, the chances are in Joe's favor that he's going to score."
But the win wasn't a relatively easy one for Sunder or the Nittany Lion squad. The Patriots played tough and had solid performances from a handful of their starters. Sophomore outside hitter Mark Jones had a match-high 11 kills for George Mason and sophomore outside hitter Patrick Maloney showed up at the net as a part of six crucial blocks. The Patriots put up 11.0 total team blocks to the Nittany Lions 8.0.
What set Penn State apart aside from the quintessential help from Sunder was service game and defensive play. The Nittany Lions hit just .237 against the Patriots, but they also recorded eight timely service aces on the night. Redshirt junior Edgardo Goas played a key role in the conference win as well as he remained consistent on the court and guided the Penn State offense with 33 total assists.
Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik said that he was content with the play of his team but no overly ecstatic. With a roster plagued by seasonal illnesses and minor injuries, Pavlik said that the Patriots were able to battle his team more effectively this time around.
"We've had a couple of guys that have been sick over the last two weeks, yours truly included, and I think we still have some effects going on with that," said Pavlik. "I think having said that, from there, I think this time Mason served us a little bit more tough than they did last time. Plus they threw an entire different lineup at us."
Pavlik said that the EIVA title win was encouraging, but that his team still has weak spots that need to be strengthened.
"Passing, serving - I thought when that settled down those were the positives," said Pavlik. "Offensively, we've got to get better production out of our offense and I think that's something that we'll continue to work on."
Goas echoed his coach's concerns and said that even though the conference championship is something to be proud of, it is does not mean that the season is over.
"It's always good to win the EIVA," said Goas. "That's definitely our goal and we still have three more games in the season and we just have to keep getting better so that's the whole goal of the whole team, not to just win the EIVA this season."
The 10th-ranked Nittany Lions are finished with conference matchups for the 2011 schedule and have just three matches left before the postseason begins. Penn State carries an overall record of 20-5 and will welcome the Ohio State Buckeyes to Rec Hall on Sunday, April 10 at 5 p.m.