Penn State Narrowly Avoids Upset from USC
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On Sunday afternoon, No. 10 Penn State squared off against USC in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. As it was a thrilling match right from the get-go, and the Nittany Lions certainly gave the Rec Hall crowd their money’s worth, emerging victorious by defeating the Trojans in five sets.
Coming off of an impressive sweep of No. 6 UCLA on Friday, Penn State rode some momentum into this contest with the now 1-6 Trojans. USC had only won one set in its previous five matches, yet it gave Penn State quite a challenge.
Penn State and USC have a history of close, hard-fought matchups, and Sunday was more of the same. The two teams played every single set trading points and exchanging blows.
USC won the first set 25-23, then Penn State answered by winning the second set 29-27. Fittingly, USC responded in a big way by winning the third set by the same score.
The fourth set would once again come down to the wire, and with their backs against the wall, the Nittany Lions bent but didn’t break, as they stole the fourth set from the Trojans 25-23, resulting in a fifth and final set.
The fifth set began as a back-and-forth battle just like the others, but it was redshirt senior Jason Donorovich who took charge in the waning moments to elevate the Nittany Lions to their victory, narrowly avoiding the upset.
With Penn State leading 10-9, Donorovich came up huge in the following possessions with two kills and two blocks that proved to be too much for the Trojans to overcome. He finished with nine kills and a team-leading nine block assists.
“I’m a fifth year, I’ve been playing volleyball for a really long time,” Donorovich said in response to his late-game showing. “I don’t really think I tried to do anything different. I think I just fell back into fundamentals.”
Playing from behind for the majority of the match, Penn State showed grit and perseverance when it mattered most. Redshirt senior Calvin Mende says it’s due to the close-knit relationship that the team has.
“A lot of it speaks to the chemistry we have in our locker room,” Mende said. “We’re able to substitute in two people in the final sets of this game, and nothing really changes our dynamic on the court. We’re deep this year, we’ve got depth at a bunch of positions. Everybody’s fighting for a position, but we’ve got each other’s backs in the locker room. It’s a really great dynamic we have.”
Mende finished the game with 19 kills, seven digs and a team-leading 23½ points. Sophomore Brett Wildman led the team with 19 kills and 35 attacks.
Wildman thought that the experience of the team and its familiarity with certain situations also helped the Nittany Lions late in the match.
“I think the confidence comes from the fact that we have been in so many of those close games,” Wildman said. “So, it’s not like when we look at the scoreboard and it’s 25-25, and we’re like, ‘Ah, we’ve been here 10 other times before this season.’ So, that’s where it comes from, too.”
Head coach Mark Pavlik was extremely satisfied with the team’s resilient effort.
In a situation where we’re coming off some pretty good wins, we were challenged tonight,” Pavlik said. “I can’t say enough about how proud I am of their effort, to just find a way to win.”
The Nittany Lions face off against Ball State on Jan. 31 and will be looking to build on their success that they had this weekend.
Zach Donaldson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.