EIVA No Longer Penn State’s to Lose
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa – The top-seeded Princeton Tigers won their first EIVA Tournament championship since 1998 in a five-set thriller over No. 3 Penn State and clinched a berth to the NCAA Tournament over the weekend.
Before the 2018 season, Penn State was 39-1 in the all-time series against Princeton, but the Tigers have now won five matches in a row against the Nittany Lions.
Since Mark Pavlik took over the head coaching position at Penn State in 1995, Penn State has won 22 of the last 26 EIVA championships but had never gone two seasons in a row without winning one. Since 2016, a team other than Penn State has now won the EIVA Tournament in three of the last four years.
Penn State has not necessarily gotten worse, but the rest of the EIVA has improved, investing in their men’s volleyball programs and accumulating the resources needed to compete against bigger schools like Penn State. Now the EIVA is seeing a vast increase in competition level to the point where it’s no longer Penn State’s league to lose every year.
One of the reasons behind the league’s increased competition has been the addition of full-time coaches on every team. Up until last year, the EIVA never had all of its teams using full-time coaches, which has led to greater success in recruiting for these schools.
“More resources are being allocated to men’s volleyball – resources in paying and hiring full-time coaches,” Pavlik said. “You have the resources allocated to the recruiting part of it and now you’re seeing coaches at Junior Olympics; you see them at East Coast Championships; you see them at the High-Performance Championships. They’re making a concerted effort to get out there and identify players and student-athletes who are going to thrive in their system.”
The University of Charleston just finished its fourth year in the conference and was the last of the EIVA teams to begin using a full-time head coach with the hiring of Mike Iandolo before the 2018 season. While Charleston has won just six conference matches over the last two seasons, Iandolo has expanded the program’s recruiting base, which can be seen through the six international players currently on his roster.
“Since our athletic department invested in having a full-time staff for our men’s volleyball program, we’ve been able to go out and bring in guys from more places because they more players see that we are committed to building this program up,” Iandolo said. “Even though the results haven’t been there yet, I’m excited about the direction we are headed.”
Among the Charleston international players is Adriel Roberts, a 2019 All-EIVA Second Team selection from Freeport, Trinidad. The roster also includes one player from the Bahamas, two from Australia, one from the Netherlands and from one from Norway.
New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) has also enjoyed great international success on the recruiting trail since it hired Danny Goncalves in 2015. Goncalves played professionally in Portugal for Castelo da Maia before beginning his coaching career. NJIT’s roster also includes six international players, four of which were All-EIVA selections this season.
“I got to know plenty of coaches on the international circuit when I played overseas and that has allowed us to recruit good players from around the world,” Goncalves said. “This past season we had four guys from three different international countries earn an all-conference spot. We’ve expanded our recruiting base, which has helped us compete at a higher level in this league.”
George Mason, which finished second in the EIVA regular season standings, had Luis Velez, a Puerto Rico native, make the EIVA Honorable mention team. Penn State also had Henrik Falck Lauten from Norway make the All-EIVA Second Team.
The other important factor has been the increase in resources allocated towards travel, allowing for each of these teams to schedule more difficult nonconference opponents and scout more players from a variety of places.
Penn State, for example, played 10 ranked teams during its nonconference slate, including four top 10 schools in California. Princeton additionally played nine ranked teams during nonconference play, six of which are located out west.
“When you start getting this all together and then you couple that with the number of good young athletes that are playing and developing at the grassroots level and the relatively small amount of varsity teams out there, good players are going to every school out there and I think the EIVA over the last four years, five years, has really started to pick that up,” Pavlik said. “It’s been really exciting to see this league grow the way it has.”
Scheduling more matches on the West Coast, particularly in California, where a high concentration of elite volleyball talent is, has allowed schools in the EIVA to recruit talented players all over the country. In fact, four out of the eight EIVA teams had at least one player from California make an all-conference team, and Princeton had three by itself.
Also, Princeton’s two First-Team All-EIVA selections, Parker Dixon (Dallas, Texas) and EIVA Player of the Year George Huhmann (St. Louis, Missouri), are from west of the Mississippi River.
“Having the resources to travel across the country and play teams outside of our region has allowed us to play against the highest level of competition and accelerate our team development during the nonconference season over the last few years, and that helps prepare us tremendously for conference play,” said Princeton head coach Sam Shweisky. “We also have been able to identify more players across the country that can help our program.”
In a league that was once Penn State and everyone else, investments in the men’s volleyball programs at the other EIVA schools have made the league as competitive as ever. If the last several years are any indication, the EIVA is no longer just Penn State’s to lose.
Will Desautelle is a junior majoring in journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Senior / Broadcast Journalism and Spanish