Men’s Volleyball Downs Princeton

Story posted February 24, 2013 in CommRadio, Sports by Bradford Conners

The No. 9 Penn State Nittany Lions (12-3, 6-1 EIVA) finished off a perfect weekend at home by taking care of the Princeton Tigers (5-3, 3-2 EIVA) in four sets on Saturday night.

The match got underway with a tightly contested first set. The Nittany Lions took an early 9-5 advantage, but their lead quickly evaporated as the Tigers crawled back to take a 15-14 lead.

The teams began exchanging blows, with neither side pulling ahead by more than a point, until Nick Turko and Peter Russell teamed up for a block that gave Penn State a 24-22 advantage. Princeton staved off one set point, but Turko and Russell would respond by delivering another emphatic block to give the Nittany Lions a 25-23 first-set victory.

Aaron Russell recorded five first-set kills for Penn State and Pat Schwagler led Princeton with four, but neither team really had its offense flowing in the first frame. The Nittany Lions hit .138 and committed four service errors, and the Tigers hit .129 while misfiring on six serves.

In the second set, Penn State jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but it was all Princeton the rest of the way. With the Nittany Lions leading 8-7, back-to-back kills from Will Siroky and Devin Stearns gave the Tigers a 9-8 lead that they would never relinquish. Princeton cruised to take the second set, 25-19.

Stearns led Princeton with six kills at the half, and Schwagler and Cody Kessel were right behind him with five each. Penn State’s Aaron Russell paced all attackers with nine kills, but redshirt freshman Matt Seifert was the most efficient with five kills on just six swings.

Penn State has faced quite a few tough challenges from EIVA foes of late, and with Princeton’s dominant second set, the Tigers showed that they would not be making things easy on the Nittany Lions either. However, Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik is happy to see the rest of the conference closing the gap on the Nittany Lions.

“That’s the type of match you can expect to see in an NCAA semifinal. That was big boys playing big boy volleyball,” Pavlik said. “For years, we’ve been wanting the EIVA to develop that kind of identity.”

The pivotal third set was evenly-matched at the start, as neither team managed to build a lead larger than two by the time the score was locked at 15 apiece. Finally, though, the ninth-ranked team in the land became the first to put together a run. A 3-0 push, capped by another Aaron Russell kill, gave the Nittany Lions an 18-15 advantage, and they went on to take the third set, 25-22.

Schwagler tallied six kills in the third set for Princeton, and Aaron Russell added another five to his total for Penn State. The Nittany Lions posted a match-high .370 hitting percentage in the third stanza, and the Tigers hit .320, which was their best effort of the night as well.

In fourth set, Penn State pulled out to an early 5-2 advantage and maintained its lead throughout nearly the entire game. However, Princeton hung around and finally clawed its way back to even the score at 22.

After the Tigers fought off Penn State’s first two match points, the third time was the charm for the Nittany Lions. A Tom Comfort spike went off of a Princeton block attempt and fell out-of-bounds, sending the Rec Hall South Gym crowd home happy with a 27-25 fourth-set win for Penn State and a three-sets-to-one victory overall.

Aaron Russell led the Nittany Lions with a career-high 22 kills on the night, and Comfort added 14 of his own. Schwagler, who came into the match with the second-best hitting percentage in the EIVA, topped the Tigers with 15 kills but did so with just a .116 hitting percentage.

The final team stats ended up looking very similar on both sides. Princeton narrowly outhit Penn State .234 to .219, and the Tigers outblocked the Nittany Lions 17.5 to 13.5. Both teams struggled at the service line, with Princeton committing 15 errors and two aces and Penn State recording 17 errors to just one ace.

The Tigers gave the Nittany Lions all they could handle on Saturday night, and Aaron Russell is expecting to see Penn State’s opposition at its best all season long.

“Teams step up their game a lot for us,” Russell said after the match. “We know it’s going to be a dogfight, and we have to bring our A-game everytime.”

Penn State will travel to Rutgers-Newark on Friday to begin an eight-match road trip. The Nittany Lions won’t return home until April 5th when they square off with Lees-McRae.

Bradford Conners is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email