Fifth-Ranked Penn State Dominates NJIT in Three Sets
Fifth ranked Penn State (8-1) continued its domination of NJIT (4-5) Saturday night at Rec Hall, extending their series lead against the Highlanders to 29-1 all-time.
NJIT started out the first set matching Penn State point for point until a five point run led mostly by star player Joe Sunder gave the Lions a commanding 19-12 lead and, eventually, the first set win. Sunder's hit percentage was perfect in the first set and he had four kills.
The Nittany Lions would go on to sweep NJIT easily (25-15, 25-15, 25-23). NJIT looked overmatched against the taller and stronger Penn State team. This showed as the Highlanders committed 15 errors in the match, 11 of which were service errors.
NJIT head coach, Ryan McNeil, talked about what it is like to come into Rec Hall and face Penn State.
“Penn State’s always at the top and everyone’s trying to catch them,” McNeil said. “We can’t give them points. We have to let them earn their points.”
The Nittany Lions were able to earn their points, and they earned a lot of them, as they had a .486 hitting percentage as a team and tallied up 42 kills and 6 aces in the 3 sets.
Peter Russell, coming off his EIVA Offensive Player of the Week recognition, showed why he deserved that title. Russell was tied for the team lead in kills with 9 and boasted a .643 hitting percentage in the match.
When asked about his success tonight he immediately gave credit to his teammates, specifically setter Edgardo Goas.
“Gardo’s been getting us the ball a lot,” Russell said. “It’s a team game and when he’s able to get the ball to us, we can hit it over for points.”
Up two sets in the match, Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik decided to go with his reserve players in the third set to get them some valuable experience.
Penn State trailed for a majority of the final set, but the reserves were able to fight back and take their first lead at 20-19. From there they were able to close the set out 25-23 with another NJIT service error fittingly closing out the match.
After the game, Pavlik said he was very pleased to see the way the less experienced players responded and fought back in that third set.
Tom Comfort led the comeback for the Lions, with an ace and 7 of his 9 kills coming in the third and final set.
This is the type of play Penn State is going to need from its reserves going forward, where team depth is the difference between good teams and national championship contenders. As of right now, the Nittany Lions are solidly in the national championship discussion, with some impressive wins and dominating performances on their résumé.
Joe Sunder talked after the game about how Penn State doesn’t take preparing for lesser quality teams like NJIT lightly.
“Our scouts work just as hard for NJIT as they would against Stanford,” Sunder said.
During a weekend in which EIVA conference play began, Penn State was able to beat its first two conference opponents, sweeping both matches at home.
“Got to protect home court,” Pavlik said. “Big first weekend for us to establish were ready to defend our EIVA championship.”
Penn State will look to continue their dominating run against conference opponents as they go on the road to take on Harvard on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m.
Tyler Ainge is a sophomore majoring in Broadcast Journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.