Competition Intensifies Ahead of EIVA Tournament

Story posted April 16, 2021 in Sports, CommRadio by Emma Holtz

If you are unaware of the EIVA Conference for men’s volleyball, now is the time to start following the action. The 2021 EIVA Conference Championship Tournament resumes Friday after a hiatus one year ago due to COVID-19.

The action heats up this weekend, as No. 4 Saint Francis University faces off against No. 5 Charleston at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 17. The winner of the matchup will trek to Happy Valley to take on head coach Mark Pavlik and his No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions, who are heavily favored to be crowned tournament champions.

With a stellar 19-3 overall record and a 16-2 mark in EIVA play, the Nittany Lions are dominant in almost all aspects of the court, making them a notable threat. The conference opponent closest to their record is No. 2 seed NJIT at 13-3.

Men’s volleyball is one of only two sports at Penn State not officially sponsored by the Big Ten Conference. Despite that, the blue and white have been making noise throughout the season; six players received All-EIVA honors with junior Cole Bogner at the helm as the Ulvado Acosta Memorial EIVA Player of the Year.

Penn State’s freshman class only enriched the already experienced squad. Freshman outside hitter Michael Valenzi received EIVA Freshman of the Year. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches, Valenzi acquired a total of 112 total kills, 62 digs and an impressive 124.5 points. His .294 hitting percentage earns him third best on the Penn State roster and plenty of potential left to explore, being that he’s only a freshman.

Other names to keep on the watch list are junior outside hitter Cal Fisher and redshirt junior libero Will Bantle. A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania native, Fisher acquired a massive 21 kills against George Mason on April 3—a new season record.

On the opposite side of the ball, Bantle also reached a season high of 19 digs during the same game against George Mason. He ranks second in the EIVA standings behind Sacred Heart’s Timothy McIntosh with the most digs on the season. Most recently, McIntosh received the final Defensive Player of the Week Award of the 2021 season.

However, Penn State’s fight to the championship will not be smooth sailing if No. 2 NJIT has anything to say about it.

Recently named the Bob Sweeney Memorial EIVA Coach of the Year, head coach Danny Goncalves looks to lead the Highlanders through the first-week bye and straight through the semifinals after a strong season drive.

Outside hitter Alvaro Gimeno has proven his skills with ball-handling. Originally from Salou, Spain, Gimeno amassed 206 kills—approximately 3.37 kills per set for the Highlanders. A key player in getting the ball straight down to the hardwood, Gimeno could spell serious trouble for all of NJIT’s opponents.

Sophomore libero Joe Kennedy’s prowess at defense with 102 digs also keeps the ball in NJIT’s court longer, allowing for greater time to set up and read any opponent’s defense.

As for the competition in the semifinal round: George Mason’s leading middle blocker Brad Creamer, a redshirt senior, leads the roster with 52 total blocks. The No. 3 seed Patriots advanced to the EIVA semifinals after their Friday evening match with No. 6-seeded Sacred Heart was called off for a positive COVID-19 test within the Pioneers’ program.

The EIVA’s elite reputation in the volleyball realm will be on full display as the quest for the crown begins on April 17 with the finals played the following weekend on Saturday, April 24.

 

Emma Holtz is a freshman majoring in public relations. To contact her, email exh5337@psu.edu.