FEATURE: Nittany Lions' National Title Hopes Cut Short in Semifinal Match
May 6, 2011
By Kelsey Detweiler, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
In the semifinal round of play in the national tournament, the second-seeded Nittany Lions fell to third-seeded Ohio State in four, hard-fought sets and their hopes of a national title were cut short. The Buckeyes outlasted Penn State 3-1 on Thursday night in Rec Hall, and have earned a spot in the NCAA Championship final on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Penn State did all that it could do against its Big Ten rival, but Ohio State's solid block and timely hitting overpowered the Nittany Lions' both offensively and defensively in the national semifinals.
The Buckeyes were lights out in the first set of the semifinal match, ousting Penn State 25-18 and posting 6.0 team blocks in their opening game. The Nittany Lions answered in the second set with a nail-biting battle and earned a 26-24 victory, but would fall in the third and fourth sets (25-22 and 25-23) to Ohio State's consistently dominant offensive power and lose the match 3-1.
Ohio State shut down the Penn State offense with 14.5 total team blocks and out-hit the Nittany Lions with a .292 team hitting percentage, compared to Penn State's .140. According to Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik, the two Big Ten teams were pretty evenly matched but it was the Buckeyes who were able to put on a show in Rec Hall.
"That's a pretty good Buckeye team and I wish we would have found a way to put that small ball in the big square," said Pavlik. ". I think, when you look at it, our unforced errors killed us tonight - put us in a hole. The thing that I'm going to take away from this is how many times we were down and we kept clawing back and clawing back and we tied it back up and then either Ohio State would make a very nice play or we'd hit the ball out of bounds and all of the sudden we'd be down by one or two points again."
Pavlik said that all in all, he is proud of the way his team of Lions played against Ohio State and hopes that his team's conference rival can find a way to bring home the championship title.
"The trademark of this team all year long has been their willingness to go as hard as they can for as long as they could and that was no exception tonight," said Pavlik. "Don't mistake sloppy play with lack of effort. This team tonight worked their butts off and it just didn't happen for us tonight. Congrats to our Big Ten brethren and we wish them well in the finals."
More than 3,700 fans packed the stands in Rec Hall to watch the semifinal matches on Thursday, and the Nittany Lions said that they were especially grateful for the fan base that was present on Thursday night.
"It was amazing," Penn State setter Edgardo Goas said of the crowd that gathered in Rec Hall. "They're a big help for us. It was a shame that we didn't play clean. We had a bunch of errors and we couldn't get the crowd more involved but it was great having a packed house."
Pavlik said that he wishes he and his team were able to put on a better show for the spectators that flocked to their home court.
"I think our crowd was a factor - I'd like to thank them because I don't think they ever really let us get down," said Pavlik. "They were behind us the entire match. It was one of the best Penn State home crowds that we've had in a long, long time and probably, as disappointed as I am for these guys, I am disappointed for our crowd because they deserved better than that tonight."
The Nittany Lions finished out the season with a record of 24-7 overall and advanced to the National Semifinals for the 15th time in 16 years. Penn State will lose two seniors at the end of this season as Dennis Del Valle and Alan Mars will be graduating from the university.
Del Valle, who has been a consistently solid force to be reckoned with on defense, said that he will miss being a part of the Penn State program but is proud of the way that he and his team finished out the season.
"This is weird because I'm still shocked that I'm done," said Del Valle. "I'm never going to be on that court wearing this uniform and it's just, it's frustrating but at the same time I know we played hard. I know we tried our best. You saw the difference between having a lot of upperclassmen on the other side of the net versus ours... I couldn't ask for anything better to finish my career here. I wish it was the national championship game but it is what it is."
The Nittany Lions put up a solid fight in the semifinals, but the team is done for the season and will turn its focus on the offseason, where it will hope to flourish in more ways than one. Pavlik compared his team to a popular sports car, and said that his Lions are not the ordinary vehicle on the lot.
"I had said early in the year we certainly can't be confused with you know a sexy Corvette that people walk out of the gym saying, `Oh look at this, look at this.' We were the `57 Chevy that at times, like today in the first game, I'm sitting there saying, `Come on, turn over, get started - get started.' Once we started to roll, that dependable level of volleyball that we seem to be able to play at kept us in the match but we just weren't good enough tonight to beat the Buckeyes."
The Nittany Lions battled their way to another NCAA Championship appearance and made the most of their regular season schedule. Next season, we can look forward to nothing more than an impressive outing from a rather young team of fresh talent and tenured veterans looking to leave their mark in Penn State history.