Penn State Men’s Volleyball Falls In Battle of Unbeatens With Long Beach State
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A snow day across the campus of Penn State could not stop the No. 4-ranked men’s volleyball team nor its legion of fans from flooding into Rec Hall on a wintery Wednesday night. But No. 3 Long Beach State remained unfazed and claimed a 3-1 match score victory in a battle of top-five nationally ranked unbeatens.
Penn State grabbed the first set in decisive fashion with a 25-18 win. Despite leading through much of the second and third sets, the Nittany Lions struggled late and gave the opportunity for Long Beach State to claim both frames before the Beach fended off the blue and white in a frenzied fourth set.
“It’s a pretty typical Long Beach State-Penn State match,” Long Beach State coach Alan Knipe said. “Both teams I thought did a really good job of taking some things that are very comfortable away from each other, which is usually the sign of a high-level match.”
As expected of a matchup between two of the top-ranked teams in men’s college volleyball, there were adjustments and counter-adjustments on both sides of the court.
Penn State came out firing on all cylinders and instantly put Long Beach State back on the ropes. Juniors Michal Kowal and Toby Ezeonu were crucial cogs and each had four kills in an opening set that the Nittany Lions never trailed in.
But both Long Beach State’s defense and its serving began to improve in the second set, as they recorded crucial blocks and came out on top of some important long rallies.
That didn’t keep Penn State from having its chances though, as the Nittany Lions held a three-point lead late in the second set and a four-point lead late in the third set, both of which evaporated as a result of costly errors by Penn State and opportunistic offense from the Beach.
“We were right there after four weeks of trying to figure out how to play the game with the group we have,” Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said. “We had opportunities – you gotta tip your hat to Long Beach – but they, defensively, started to play better late in game two and through three and four.”
The fourth set looked to be all Long Beach State from the get-go, as junior hitter Clarke Godbold seemed to take over the match, recording six of his game-high 17 kills in the match’s final frame.
But despite facing a five-point deficit in the waning stages, Penn State refused to waver, and got back into the match courtesy of some crucial kills from senior John Kerr, who matched Godbold’s total of 17 kills on the night.
Penn State tied the fourth set at 20 and then traded points with the Beach, forcing extra volleyball. But back-to-back kills from redshirt senior hitter Spencer Olivier put the game on ice and ensured that Penn State’s undefeated season would come to an end.
Despite the close loss, the team still was able to find some positive takeaways from a hard-fought match, ones that could help them if the two teams meet again later on down the line.
“Down 15-10 in game four when seemingly everything was going against us, we found a great way to turn things around,” Pavlik said. “And that’s gonna pay off for us.”
“Small moments, small plays eventually make the biggest difference when we get into playoff volleyball,” outside hitter Brett Wildman said. “And playing in matches like that help you execute those small touches more.”
Penn State is back in action Feb. 3-4, when the Nittany Lions host USC and UCLA in the Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge.
Kasey Kreider is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.