MVB: Penn State Pulls Off Their Biggest Upset of the Year, Defeating the Top-Ranked Buckeyes in Five
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Service errors had been Penn State’s enemy so far this season. On Tuesday night, they were their best friend and helped Penn State defeat the defending national champion Ohio State Buckeyes 3-2 in five sets in front of a raucous Rec Hall crowd.
Ohio State uncharacteristically committed 23 service errors and significantly helped the Nittany Lions pull off the monumental upset in easily their most exciting game of the season.
Penn State came off an 0-2 away weekend, dropping Friday’s match to No. 7 Lewis and Saturday’s match against No. 10 Loyola-Chicago. Ohio State swept their weekend matches in straight sets against IPFW and Ball State.
The Nittany Lions came into the match ranked No. 13 in the nation and were led by Calvin Mende with 207 kills. The Buckeyes were the No. 1 team in the country coming in, having won 46 of their last 47 matches dating back to last season. Ohio State defeated Penn State earlier this season in straight sets on January 24. They are led by Nicolas Szerszen, who came into the match with 318 kills.
Penn State was also without the services of their leading assist man Luke Braswell and opposite hitter Lee Smith.
The first set saw Penn State jump on the Buckeyes. Overall, the Nittany Lions came out faster, with more hustle, higher energy and played at a quicker pace than Ohio State. Errors from the Buckeyes played a factor in helping Penn State build a 17-12 lead at one point. Eventually, thanks to five early kills from opposite hitter Chris Nugent, Penn State took the first set 25-21.
The second set brought Penn State back down to earth and Ohio State found their rhythm. The Buckeyes shook off early jitters and dominated Penn State, looking every bit like the top team in the land as they won the set 25-14.
Just when everyone thought the end was imminent for the Nittany Lions, they came out in the third set with fire and energy. They jumped to a quick 7-2 lead, were blocking shots effectively and found a new passion to play with. Ohio State could not get any offense set up consistently. Jalen Penrose, Aiden Albrecht and Nugent all had at least 10 kills and the Buckeyes’ Szerszen was struggling, even getting benched at one point. Penn State miraculously bounced back and won 25-15.
The fourth set was a push and pull set, with each team unable to take control. Ohio State’s offense began rolling, but they continued to commit costly service errors and keep Penn State alive. Penn State fought on and hung tough thanks to 15 kills from Nugent but in the end Ohio State pulled away and won the hotly contested set 25-22.
Pushing the Buckeyes to the brink in a match few thought they could win, Penn State hunkered down in the fifth set and took care of business. Their lack of errors and solid hitting built them an 8-4 lead. Ohio State on the other hand just kept giving points away on service errors. The Nittany Lions energy became too much, the Rec Hall crowd was rocking and the Nittany Lions pulled off the upset to win the set 15-12 and the match 3-2.
One large reason Penn State won was keeping Szerszen in check, as he only had eight kills on 27 attempts.
After the game, Ohio State head coach Pete Hanson noted the poor serve game of the Buckeyes as a factor to their loss.
“It came down to serve and receive and we couldn’t pass the ball,” a frustrated Hanson said. “We didn’t come ready to play in terms of playing hard.”
Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik was happy for the way his team fought this match.
“Really proud of these guys,” Pavlik said. “It’s the first time in a long time in a long time I told them it looked like we were out there in the backyard playing.”
He also kept his excitement in check, noting that this upcoming weekend against EIVA competition is even more important than tonight’s game.
“Good all-around match and we have to carry this focus and intensity into this weekend,” Pavlik said.
Nugent may have summed it up best on how Penn State was able to win tonight’s match against all odds.
“We can comeback against any team and lose energy against any team, but tonight we brought it,” Nugent said.
The Buckeyes moved to 24-2 with the loss and now must rebound for their next game at home against McKendree. Penn State improved to 14-10 on the year and have momentum heading into big EIVA matches. Penn State will host Princeton and NJIT this upcoming weekend.
Matthew Harvey is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.