Penn State men’s volleyball completes weekend sweep
With a successful weekend in the books, Penn State improved their season record to 15-9 taking down both the Harvard Crimson (11-10, 5-4) (25-20, 20-25, 24-26, 25-21, 15-10) and the Sacred Heart Pioneers (25-15, 20-25, 25-17, 25-18) in consecutive days to complete the weekend series sweep in their regular season home finale.
Coming into the weekend, Penn State was ranked No. 7 in the latest AVCA Top 15 coaches pull. The Nittany Lions were also riding a 9 game winning streak.
Penn State, 9-1 against Harvard all-time, came into Friday’s match looking to continue tradition. Last time the two teams met, Penn State won on the road in four sets after winning three in a row despite dropping the first set.
The first set was highlighted by the dominant play of redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose and senior Aaron Russell who each had 6 kills. Redshirt junior Taylor Hammond had 14 assists and libero Connor Curry tallied 7 digs in the first set as well.
Harvard flipped the script in the second set with a strong performance from Branden Clemens who had 6 kills and setter Marko Kostich finished with 16 assists. Penn State had 13 attacking errors in the set alone.
In the third set, Harvard took advantage of the Nittany Lions mistakes as Penn State had 10 attacking errors in the set. Penrose had 7 of those errors and would eventually be replaced by redshirt senior Nick Goodell, who had been on the shelf for a few matches with an ankle injury. Harvard finished off the set thanks to a strong showing by Riley Moore and Clemens.
Penn State turned the momentum around in the fourth set as Hammond started to set Russell who had 7 kills of his own.
“I told Hammond to start setting Aaron (Russell). We got him the ball and that was that,” said Curry when asked about what types of adjustments helped Penn State turn things around.
In the fifth and final set, Penn State won the match with strong play from Russell who had 6 kills and Hammond who had 6 assists.
Russell finished with 26 kills for Penn State. Hammond had 56 assists on the day while his teammate Curry added 19 digs to the mix.
“I thought Connor had one of the best matches he’s had all year. 19 digs in a five set match is pretty good,” said Penn State coach Mark Pavlik.
On the other side of the net, Kostich finished with 40 assists for the Crimson. Clemens and his teammate Dj White led the team with 13 and 10 kills respectively.
Penn State finished with 36 total attacking errors, the most they have allowed all season. It marked the second time all season that Penn State has committed more than 30 attacking errors in a set.
Saturday was senior day for Penn State and the seniors, including fifth year seniors Curry and Goodell and true senior Russell, showed heart in their final regular season match at Rec Hall.
Penn State came out strong in the first set with 4 kills a piece for Goodell and sophomore Chris Nugent. Matt Seifert and Matt Calloway were tremendous at the net highlighting several of the blocking tandems that put up 7 blocks in the first set alone, more than they had in all five sets on Friday night.
Attacking errors plagued Sacred Heart early in the first set as they put up 9 fairly quickly. 4 of the attacking errors came from sophomore setter Christopher Delucie.
The Nittany Lions got a bit complacent with their net play in the second set as Sacred Heart won a set against Penn State for the first time since 2004 thanks to the emergence of Enzo Mackenzie who had 6 kills. Austin Arcala added 4 kills of his own as the Pioneers evened the score with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State battled back in the third set as they found success by spreading the ball around in system and throwing predictability out the window. After a leg injury, Penrose replaced Nugent and provided an explosive presence that seemed to pump up the rest of the team.
Sacred Heart suffered from predictability as Penn State nailed down Mackenzie and Arcala. The Pioneers were not able to make significant changes to their game plan and it ultimately cost them the match.
In the fourth set, Penn State continued to dominate at the net as Matt Calloway came into his own. Nick Goodell finished off senior day with a block at the net to win the match.
“It felt good to get that block because I haven’t blocked a ball since ‘Nam. I’ve been working on it all year,” said Goodell. “Getting a block to win the match was great for us.”
Goodell finished with 14 kills in his return to the starting lineup. Hammond totaled 37 assists and Russell tallied 8 kills and 8 digs. Curry had 7 digs on his senior day.
The impressive stat of the match was Penn State’s 20.5 blocks that they put up against the Pioneers. Matt Calloway paced the Nittany Lions with 11.
“Their offense was a little bit slower and I think our guys executed well at the net,” said Pavlik when asked about the Lions strong net play.
With the win in Saturday’s match, Penn State secured the EIVA conference title for the 31st time. It is the 20th EIVA title-win for Coach Pavlik.
The Nittany Lions will now finish their season on the road with upcoming matches against Princeton and NJIT in a series that starts next Friday, April 17th at 7 p.m.
Mike D’Avella is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him email firstname.lastname@example.org.