Men’s Volleyball: Penn State Sweeps Weekend Series against Garden State Foes

Story posted February 21, 2016 in Sports, CommRadio by Jonathan Gross

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2, 5-0) defeated the NJIT Highlanders (0-9; 0-1) and the Princeton Tigers (2-7, 2-2) this weekend by the score of 3-1 and 3-0, respectively.

Friday night’s match against the Highlanders was played in front of a sparse Rec Hall crowd.

The Nittany Lions dropped the first set 25-21, unable to defend the visitors’ .667 hitting percentage in the frame. Outside hitter Jabarry Goodridge, who finished with 16 kills, set the tone early for the visitors. NJIT had 14 kills with no errors in their lone set win.

Penn State again struggled for much of the second set. With the score 20-20, coach Mark Pavlik called a timeout, resulting in 5-1 run by his Nittany Lions to close out the set.

Despite the team’s success coming out of the huddle, it wasn’t a result of a change in strategy. “If at 20-20 we haven’t adjusted or attempted to adjust yet, it’s me basically telling them something that they’ve heard throughout the first 20 points,” Pavlik said.

The home side jumped out to a 6-3 lead in the third set before NJIT coach Danny Goncalves took a timeout. Nonetheless, Penn State continued to lead and a Matt Callaway kill gave them a 25-20 set victory.

The Lions overcame an 11-9 deficit in set four and won 25-22. Reigning EIVA Offensive Player of the Week Chris Nugent put away the match-winning ball, one of his team-high 18 kills on the night.

Despite the outcome, Goncalves was encouraged by his team’s play. Playing top-notch opponents is all part of his plan. “In year two (of his tenure), we try to challenge ourselves,” said the coach.

The mismatch on paper meant nothing to Penn State. “Tonight was a fight I expected,” said Pavlik. His team was out-hit .392 to .387.

In addition to Nugent, Taylor Hammond, who had 55 assists, paced the Nittany Lions. TJ Jurko and the aforementioned Goodridge led the Highlanders, with 16 kills apiece, and Cameron Tait, provided 38 assists.

Saturday afternoon’s affair against Princeton took place in a packed South Gym.

The Nittany Lions won the first point of the match via a Nugent and Matt Seifert double-block and never looked back, winning 25-20. The home side led for the entire first set behind four more blocks and 15 kills.

The second set was more of the same. Invigorated by the play of opposite Aiden Albrecht, who had six kills, a block and a service ace in that frame, the Lions jumped out to a 2-0 lead overall with another 25-20 set win.

Albrecht, who saw limited action versus NJIT, finished the Saturday’s match with a .364 hitting percentage, 10 kills, two service aces and two blocks. He attributed his teammates with that success. “They all had confidence in me, so if I made one error, I just kept going,” he said.

Princeton found some opportunities in the third set, holding on to a 20-18 lead. The Nittany Lions rallied back to tie the score at 20 before Tigers Head Coach Sam Shweisky called timeout. His team proceeded to drop the next five points, as the set once more ended 25-20 in favor of the home side.

Shweisky believes his team’s performance in the third frame could be attributed to a lineup change. “Sometimes a change can bring about some re-energy, refocus,” said the coach.

Aside from Albrecht, the Lions got another great performance from Chris Nugent, who was responsible for a team-high 14 points. As a team, Penn State hit .283 and had 15.5 blocks, 8.5 more than Friday’s total.

Princeton outside hitter Kendall Ratner paced his team with 11 kills on a .368 hitting percentage. The Tigers hit .198 as a team with 23 hitting errors, ten more than Penn State.

Penn State returns to action next Friday in Rec Hall against EIVA opponent Charleston (WV) (4-10; 0-5). The Golden Eagles are coming off a 3-0 loss to Sacred Heart and have not won a set in conference play.

Jonathan Gross is double majoring in broadcast journalism and international politics. You can contact him at jwg5468@psu.edu.