EIVA Semifinals: Timely Play Lifts Nittany Lions over Rutgers-Newark
April 29, 2011
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
For the Nittany Lions, these fundamental skills came out at all of the right moments in their Thursday evening victory over the Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders.
At the top spot in the conference, Penn State met fourth-seeded Rutgers-Newark in Rec Hall for the second contest of the evening in the semifinal round of the 2011 EIVA Championships. The Lions had already taken two matches from the Scarlet Raiders this season in conference play, but both teams knew to bring their A-game as anything can happen in postseason competition.
Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik described the match as one that was unique in a couple of ways.
"That was the toughest, easiest match I've ever been in," said Pavlik.
His team put the Scarlet Raiders away in fine fashion on paper and took the match, 3-1. But Rutgers-Newark put up a good fight and even had an 11-point lead to begin the second set, keeping Pavlik and the Nittany Lions on the edge of their seats.
"I'm sure somebody who wasn't at the match probably looked at the scoreboard and probably said, `14, 16, 16, 19 - no problem except for that second game,' but it never felt like we really had control until maybe about a third of the way, until we had 10 [points] in game four," said Pavlik.
The Lions out-blocked, out-hit and out-served the Scarlet Raiders in four sets and were able to control their passing to get the edge over their conference opponent. On the offense, redshirt junior outside hitter Joe Sunder led the team with a match-high 11 kills and sophomore opposite hitter Tom Comfort followed with 10 as well. Defensively, play at the net proved to be just as important. Sophomore middle hitter Nick Turko was a part of five blocks throughout the evening as the team put up 7.0 total team blocks.
"I thought we made timely plays," said Pavlik. "I think that was the real difference."
Penn State was able to pass well, block, serve and hit their way to a semifinal round win. Sunder said the offense ran very smoothly as well, which helped to keep the momentum going.
"I think we transitioned a little bit better like [Pavlik] said," said Sunder. "At the end, Dennis [Del Valle] was popping some balls up and we were just taking some good swings. [Ryan Wolf] was taking some great swings at the end and really helped us pull away there - scored some points on our serve."
It was a solid team effort all the way around from the Nittany Lions as 10 of 16 rostered athletes saw time in Thursday evenings match. Pavlik said that the depth of his bench and the quality of players that he has was also a game-changer.
"This group, I don't think it really matters to them when a game is rolling whether they start - they're ready to go," said Pavlik. "Scott Keggereis comes off the bench, takes his first swing and just kind of calms everything down for us, aces a ball and that's what we've been getting from these guys all year and I think it's starting to really pay off."
After the way his team played on Thursday night, Pavlik said that he is more than confident in his team's ability to succeed.
"We've gotten great contributions from these guys all year long," said Pavlik. "We have that luxury of a starting nine instead of a starting seven."
With the win over Rutgers-Newark, Penn State advances into the championship match of this EIVA tournament and will face third-seeded Springfield on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Rec Hall. Springfield defeated No. 2 seed George Mason 3-1 earlier Friday evening to secure a spot in the championship final.
The winner of the Saturday's match will automatically advance to the NCAA Men's Volleyball Collegiate Championships, which coincidentally are going to be held on May 6 and 8 at Rec Hall.
Sunder said knowing that he and his teammates have a chance to compete for a national title on their home court is a huge motivator.
"It's the ultimate incentive I guess you can say," said Sunder. "There's nothing better than that."
Pavlik said that he is looking forward to Saturday night's contest against Springfield and will be preparing the Nittany Lions for another battle of conference competition.
"We've got to make sure that we don't give them any easy points, we've got to stay physical with them and I think that like any other team that comes into Rec Hall we've got to make sure that they understand that if they're going to win they've got to play at a pretty physical level for a pretty long time," said Pavlik.
Pavlik and his team wanted to be on the court in Rec Hall next weekend, and they are hungry for another EIVA Championship.