MVB: Nittany Lions Open Home Tournament with Shaky Victory Over Santa Barbara
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The No. 15 ranked Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the No. 13 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos three sets to one on Friday Night. The match was very sloppy overall by both teams, but the Nittany Lions found a way to pull it out and set up a home matchup Saturday against Stanford.
Penn State (12-6) came off last weekend’s road victories over George Mason and Charleston (WV). UC Santa Barbara (7-10) split their last weekend series on the road against UC San Diego and No. 7 UC Irvine. The Nittany Lions played host for the Penn State Spring Break Tournament that brought in the Gauchos, Lees-McRae, and No. 8 Stanford.
This was a match marred by poor offensive play and silly mistakes. Penn State had a .282 hitting percentage and UC Santa Barbara fared even worse with a .135 percentage. Both teams had a whopping 40+ attacking errors, but Penn State led the way with a 21 to seven service error disadvantage.
The first set opened with a tight start for the teams. When the set was tied 12-12, that was when Penn State began to pull away. With top attacker Chris Nugent out for another match, redshirt freshman opposite Calvin Mende stepped up and delivered five solid kills. Penn State then pulled away and won the set 25-19.
In an amazing turn of events, the second set was a complete 180 from the first. Out of nowhere, the Gauchos rushed the Nittany Lions for a quick 7-1 lead and put Penn State on their heels. Leading kill man Mende, who leads the team in kills on the season, only managed two kills and was denied multiple times at the net.
At one point, the Gauchos jumped to a double-digit lead and never looked back. Penn State was never able to mount a comeback or run to make it close and it seemed that every close play with the out of bounds lines were all bouncing the Gauchos way. The set ended with a 25-16 win for UC Santa Barbara, but overall the set was not nearly as close.
For as good as the Nittany Lions start of the match was and how poor their second set was, the third set was somewhere in the middle. Penn State needed to find ways to get the momentum back and not let the Gauchos begin to take controls of the match. They constantly got bodies at the net and were building tall walls to block shots. They ended the set with 14 total blocks. Calvin Mende was able get his kill total up to 11 and redshirt junior opposite hitter Aidan Albrecht got hot and nabbed nine kills. The Nittany Lions were fortunate enough to halt the momentum of UC Santa Barbara and steal the set 25-21.
The fourth and final set showed fireworks. Both teams significantly picked up their play, but also traded mistakes back and forth. Penn State made a monumental seven service errors, while the Gauchos also traded service and attack errors. The set was close just about the whole time, with both teams frequently changing leads. When Penn State went down one or two points, they bounced back and went on a run. Unfortunately, too often those runs were ended with a terrible service error, including seven alone from Albrecht.
The set was also marred by the injury of opposite hitter Lee Smith for Penn State. Going up for a kill, he landed awkwardly on his left leg and exited the game. He was later seen with his leg wrapped up in ice and did not return. Middle blocker Kevin Gear was the unsung hero of the match and stepped significantly in his place.
Eventually, Penn State took a three point lead to the end of the set and closed out the Gauchos 25-21 to win the match. The Gauchos gave everything they had against the Nittany Lions, but came up just short and continued their winless streak against ranked opponents this year. Penn State certainly won and guys stepped up, but the loss of Smith and the return of their service error syndrome could loom big for them going forward this season.
Penn State will play the Stanford Cardinals Saturday night to finish the Penn State Spring Break Tournament. UC Santa Barbara will play Lees-McRae Saturday at Rec Hall to close the tournament out.
Matthew Harvey is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and history. To contact him, email him at email@example.com.