Nittany Lions Best Bruins 3-0 in Top 10 Clash
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For the third time in as many games, the No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2) wound up victorious, this time knocking off No. 6 UCLA in three sets (25-22, 29-27, 26-24) in the first match of the Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge, hosted by the Nittany Lions in Rec Hall.
The win marks three straight ranked victories for the Nittany Lions following last weekend’s 3-0 and 3-2 victories over then-No. 12 Loyola Chicago and then-No. 5 Lewis, respectively, both of which came on the road.
The result snaps UCLA’s eight-game win streak over the Nittany Lions: a streak that lasted nearly a decade. For one of men’s volleyball’s all-time historic programs, the win serves as a team confidence booster and a reminder that Penn State has often been among the nation’s best.
Friday also marked the Nittany Lions’ first action at Rec Hall since April 6, 2019. Head coach Mark Pavlik noted that the home atmosphere made a noticeable difference after four straight road matches to begin the season.
“Everything just speeds up when you’re here,” Pavlik said. “For the opening day, you’re trying to get the jitters out and make sure your team is what it should be. But once the whistle blows, everything should go you the way you think it should.”
Redshirt senior opposite Calvin Mende was especially impressive, racking up a team-leading 15 kills and two service aces with a .591 hitting percentage, his best single-game mark for matches in which he had at least five kills. His contributions allowed the Nittany Lions to hit .500 as a team, which hasn’t happened since early 2018.
“I think we just fell into a rhythm,” Mende said. “The first set goes by, you put a few kills on the board, Cole [Bogner] starts feeling out where the sets are going, and it just falls into a rhythm. The passes were on, and our middles were up, which gave us a lot of opportunities on the pins. It was a team effort that led to that.”
The defining moment of the Nittany Lions’ night may very well have been the 29-27 victory in the second set. After falling behind 3-0 early, the Nittany Lions never held a lead in the second set—that is until earning a 27-26 match point advantage in the waning moments. The extra volleys that led to a Penn State set victory never would have happened if not for a momentum-shifting overturned call. The original call resulted in a 25-23 second set victory for the Bruins, but Penn State challenged a UCLA touch on the out-of-bounds ball, and the challenge succeeded, ultimately resulting in a second set come-from-behind victory for the Nittany Lions.
According to Pavlik, the momentum had already been building at that point, and the set victory was just the cherry on top.
“When we brought it back to 18-21, I perceived from the court that these guys were thinking, ‘O.K., we’re real comfortable with what we’re doing right now,’” Pavlik said. “Then we chipped away, and we were fortunate to get that touch call. We had the best angle of anybody in the gym on that swing. Even before I got up, our bench was screaming, ‘Challenge, challenge, challenge!’ That gave us the opportunity to keep rolling.”
The Nittany Lions will look to keep their momentum rolling even further as they complete the second half of their part of the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge against USC on Sunday at 4 p.m. With a 3-2 start under their belt and three straight wins over ranked teams, the Nittany Lions have reason to believe that the 2020 season could be a special one.
DJ Bauer is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.