MVB: After 10 Sets, Penn State Opens Up Home Series With Split
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – In the first games at Rec Hall in 2017, the Penn State men’s volleyball team fought to the brink in both games. Playing 10 sets in two days can be a burden on a team and this is exactly what happened.
Penn State split their weekend series, winning their first match 3-2 against Loyola Chicago and dropping their second match 2-3 against Lewis.
The No. 15 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions (2-2) opened home play this season in a weekend series against the No. 9 Loyola Chicago Ramblers (3-2) and the No. 8 Lewis Flyers (3-1). Last season, the Nittany Lions lost both matchups against the Ramblers and had lost the last six overall. They won both matchups last season against the Flyers and had won their last seven overall.
Penn State came in having split their first two away series to start the year. In Columbus, Ohio, they lost 3-0 to the No. 2 UCLA Bruins and defeated the USC Trojans 3-2. The next week they traveled through Indiana, losing to No. 13 Ball State and then going on and sweeping IPFW 3-0.
Loyola Chicago came into the weekend having won at home against NJIT, No. 3 BYU, and Harvard, but lost to UCLA and No. 7 Pepperdine. Lewis had previously defeated NJIT, Harvard and Pepperdine at home, but lost to BYU.
The first game against Loyola was in front of a crowd of 717. The iconic “Wrecking Crew” was in force in the student section.
The first set saw Penn State get off to a hot start, quickly working up a 6-0 lead. The Nittany Lions benefited off the Ramblers’ six errors and four service errors. Opposite redshirt freshman Calvin Mende knocked home five kills and propelled the Nittany Lions to a 25-17 first set win.
The second set brought a much different tale. Loyola Chicago came out fully aggressive and fired up, shaking off their poor first set. While the Ramblers had cleaned up their errors, Penn State caught their cold and committed 10 errors and two service errors to fuel Loyola’s fire and they never got a rhythm. Loyola took the set 25-15. Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik and senior outside hitter Chris Nugent both acknowledged the team’s critical mistakes.
“When you look at it, it was the errors that couldn’t allow us to close,” Pavlik said.
“We didn’t come together and mentally focus for the second set,” Nugent said. Nugent also said at halftime, redshirt senior middle and opposite hitter Matt Callaway gave a locker room speech that fired up the team.
The third set was marred by errors from both teams, service and attack. Most of the night was sloppy play by both sides, but the third set was the worst. Penn State committed eight service errors and Loyola had six attack and service errors each.
Penn State got off to a quick start up 5-1. The Nittany Lions handled every Loyola comeback attempt, took advantage of the Ramblers’ errors, and held the lead almost all set. Nugent, who was Penn State’s leader in kills coming in with 62, caught fire and raised his numbers with nine on the night. The Nittany Lions were making spectacular hustle plays, including a play by libero Royce Clemens when he kicked up the ball at the last second to keep a play alive. Penn State took the set 25-21 and went up two sets to one.
Penn State could not close it though. Loyola shot right back and had all the momentum with their backs to the wall. The Ramblers were showing more hustle and cruised their way to a 25-16 fourth set win.
The fifth and final set was electric. Penn State was showing all the hustle and going on quick runs to push the score.
“We were at our best when we needed to be,” Coach Pavlik said after the game.
One of the biggest catalysts for their great fifth set was redshirt junior Jalen Penrose, who came in and made multiple huge, effective serves that resulted in crucial Penn State points.
“Jalen gave us a boost we needed in that fifth set,” redshirt junior opposite Aiden Albrecht said.
Penn State played the most settled down volleyball they had played all game then. Albrecht himself was making great hustle plays and showing his passion. The team eventually went up 12-8, never looked back and hung on for the 15-11 fifth set win and 3-2 victory.
Coach Pavlik was happy for his guys after the game, while also praising the crowd.
“All in all, it was not a bad way to excite the crowd,” Pavlik said. “This team is just going to get better as we go on.”
Nugent led Penn State in kills with 15, while Albrecht racked up 10 and Mende knocked home 13.
The next night brought the Flyers into town in front of a crowd of 764. The first set was very close throughout, with both teams trading points. Penn State was constantly getting beat up at the net, not putting themselves in position to alter Lewis kill attempts, and never getting their kill attempts past the outstretched wall of arms Lewis constructed.
Amazingly, the Nittany Lions were only in the set because the undisciplined Flyers committed 10 service errors and kept Penn State alive. Penn State was finally able to pull it out and win the extended set 28-26.
In the second set, Lewis cleaned up their poor mistakes, limiting their service errors to only three. Penn State came out and performed the same way, constantly getting beat at the net on offense and having no answer for the bigger, stronger Lewis hitters. At this point in the match, Lewis was hitting the ball extremely well with a .510 hitting percentage compared to Penn State’s .157. Penn State yet again dropped the set 25-14. If you asked anyone other than the players, they would have told you the match was over there.
As Lee Corso says: not so fast! Penn State proceeded to come out inspired in sets three and four, with a newfound passion. They made significant adjustments, especially on defense, as they found ways to disrupt Flyer shot attempts and block more shots. From the second to the third set, their blocked shots went from two to six and from the third to the fourth set, it went from six to 10.
All the energy the crowd was generating fed right into the players’ confidence and rattled Lewis. Miraculously, Penn State won the third set 25-16 and the fourth set 25-19 to fight all the way back to a final fifth set.
“If you look at the way we played in games three and four, it gives you glimpses of what we can be in the future,” Coach Pavlik said.
“The long rallies really gave us energy,” libero Royce Clemens said. “We just have to find a way to maintain that energy.”
One of the biggest reasons they came back was a lineup change, when Pavlik inserted redshirt sophomore outside hitter Lee Smith in for Albrecht. Smith proceeded to thrive in the role, knocking home 11 kills on 20 attempts for a .350 hitting percentage. His spark ignited the team and the crowd and instilled fear in the Flyers.
“Sometimes you need to change people, change personalities,” Pavlik said about why he made the switch.
“I was not expecting to play this match,” Smith said with a chuckle. “I’m usually the backup.”
The team had done what no one thought would be done and had come back from 0-2 in sets. The fifth set would not fare as well as the night before for Penn State though. Lewis came out and took away ALL the momentum of the crowd and quickly went up by three. The lead eventually grew to 8-2 and became too insurmountable.
The Nittany Lions had lost their swagger and dropped the set 15-9 to lose the match.
Lewis head coach Dan Friend was quick to praise the Nittany Lions after the game.
“Penn State is a great team and it was a great opportunity to play a great opponent and get better on our side of the net,” Friend said.
Coach Pavlik gave some key insight on how they lost and what he thinks of his team going forward.
“This was the first time in five matches we let it slip away,” Pavlik said.
“Winning is hard and you find out the quick threshold you have,” Pavlik continued. “I have no doubt we will settle down and we have guys who want to win.”
Penn State was led by their usual leader Chris Nugent with 15 kills and a .379 hitting percentage.
Penn State gained no ground in their win percentage and moved to 3-3 on the season. They will next take on Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday.
Matthew Harvey is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.