MVB: Penn State Drops Two In Weekend Series vs. St. Francis & OSU
More than any other month of the year, the month of March tends to carry some magic to it. It’s a month where anything is possible; some Cinderella stories come to life with major upsets while others find the clock striking midnight and see their enchantment come to an end.
The matchups for No. 6 Penn State (12-6, 7-1 EIVA) this weekend with Saint Francis (12-6, 4-3 EIVA) and No. 4 Ohio State (18-3, 9-1 MIVA) proved to have several of the elements that make up the beauty of March Madness.
The Lions left the two duals with a pair of losses, falling 3-1 to The Red Flash (25-21, 22-25, 23-25, 23-25) and 3-2 to the Buckeyes (28-30, 25-22, 19-25, 25-21, 6-15), coming up short in a series of games that had all the makings of March classics: the big-time win by the small school, constant lead changes, nail-biting finishes, and heartbreaking losses.
The Nittany Lions headed into their first game of the weekend series with a familiar foe in the Saint Francis Red Flash, a team Penn State had beaten a perfect 37 times prior in just as many games. The visitors knew the all-time series record heading into Friday’s battle and used it as their motivation against their in-state rivals.
“I think I can speak for everyone on the team when I say when we signed for Saint Francis, one of our goals was to beat Penn State eventually,” said the Red Flash’s Jeff Hogan, whose father played at Penn State.
Early in the matchup, it seemed the Lions would be able to extend their perfect record in the series and in EIVA play, which stood at the time 7-0. The stat sheet showed things were neck-and-neck with matching attack percentages (.292), but the difference lied in Saint Francis’ inability to limit mistakes, as seven service errors left the Red Flash without a single lead in the first set loss.
A first set win is something Penn State lately has not been able to find much comfort in, however. In the team’s prior two losses, it took the first set in each only to drop the following three in consecutive fashion.
Saint Francis, determined to continue the trend, regrouped and outplayed the Lions in the second set. The squad recorded five team blocks and limited the blue-and-white to a .161 hitting percentage. The Lions would end the set with a 54 percent on sideouts, which would be their lowest total of the night.
Coach Pavlik continued to make team adjustments in an attempt to counter the shift in momentum. After bringing in outside hitter Jalen Penrose in the second to supplement the team’s size advantage, the coach turned to Zack Parik mid-way through the third and asked the senior to run the offense, replacing Taylor Hammond at setter.
“We weren’t getting first swing kills,” said Coach Pavlik about the decision to change setters. “At times like that you’re just looking to change something.” Parik would record 22 assists on the night and lead the team to a better hitting percentage in each succeeding set.
Matt Seifert would also find his way onto the floor in the fourth set, but it was not enough to stop the rolling Red Flash, who would claim the final two sets, capping off a 3-1 victory over the Lions.
With a strong will to end their three-game slide, the Lions opened up Saturday’s showdown with the Buckeyes with a fired up mentality, carrying a lot of energy that was missing in previous games.
Behind several stretches of powerful kills, Penn State took a late 21-20 lead over Ohio State in the first set, forcing Coach Hanson to burn a timeout. His unit would answer back to earn set point at 24-23, yet it took them six attempts to finally close it out at 30-28 to take a 1-0 in the match.
Just like the teams would trade points, they also traded sets with Penn State taking the second and Ohio State claiming the third. In the fourth it was do or die for the Lions down 1-2 in sets as the defense stepped up to make several pivotal blocks from Matt Seifert and Spencer Sauter during a six-serve trip at the line by Andrew Roberts. Ohio State continued to nibble at its own deficit, but an uncontested overpass kill by Seifert wrapped up the set and sent it to a fifth and final.
After exchanging punches throughout the night, the visitors were looking to wrap up the battle that would carry 41 total lead changes with a quick start that saw them up 5-10 in the shortened set. Serving excellence propelled the Buckeyes in the deciding set, recording five aces in the set, one of which bounced off the leg of Roberts who attempted to dive out of the way. The Buckeyes would end up claiming the set 6-15 and would result in their 10th straight win and Penn State’s fourth-straight loss.
Throughout all of the weekend’s madness, the Lions walked away empty handed, and the team will need to find their feet soon if they want to remain one of the nation’s ranked teams. But instead of dwelling about recent struggles, Seifert and the team has plans to move on and have their eyes on the road ahead.
“I think tomorrow when we wake up we can’t really be thinking about this one because we’ve got a match on Monday, so my focus and everyone’s focus is on UCI,” said Seifert.
Ryan Berti is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @RBirdman7