Men’s Volleyball Outlasts Harvard In 5-Set Thriller

Story posted January 26, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

Head coach Mark Pavlik and the Penn State men’s volleyball team (9-1, 2-0 EVIA) saw this afternoon why the emerging EVIA is going to be one of the toughest conferences in men’s volleyball this season. In a thrilling five set match in the South Gym at Rec Hall, the 6th-ranked Nittany Lions prevailed 3-2 (25-23, 20-25, 25-14, 16-25, 15-6) over the Harvard Crimson (3-1, 1-1 EVIA)

Similar to last night’s win over Sacred Heart, Penn State once again found vital production from their bench and role players. Senior outside hitter Kyle Mars came off the bench to ignite the Nittany Lions in the third set and was named the Player of the Game, recording seven kills and four blocks.

“It’s basically something I’ve been doing for the past three seasons,” Mars said of understanding his role coming off the bench. “I don’t try to do much and just help the team anyway I can.”

Harvard jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead in the first set behind the serving of freshman outside hitter Branden Clemens. After a service error by the Crimson, Penn State reeled off four straight points to tie the set at five.

Penn State took their first lead of the set at 8-7 when senior Nick Turko blocked a Kyle Rehkemper spike attempt. The two teams continued to trade off points until back-to-back Peter Russell kills gave the Nittany Lions a 15-13 advantage, forcing a Harvard timeout.

The Nittany Lions took the next two points out of the timeout thanks to consecutive hitting errors by the Crimson’s Caleb Zimmick, which extended their lead to 17-13. A questionable net interference call against Penn State allowed Harvard to claw within two at 20-18, and Nick Madden’s block on Russell brought the set to 23-22.

A kill by redshirt freshman Matt Seifert gave Penn State set point at 24-22 before Harvard head coach Brian Baise used his second timeout of the set. Harvard would win the next point cutting the lead to 24-23, but Zimmick’s spike attempt landed in the net giving the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead.

Madden recorded two quick aces to start the second set, once again giving Harvard an early 4-1 lead. Russell’s seventh kill of the match sparked a four-point Penn State streak that tied the set at seven. Harvard then responded with a three-point run of their own to regain a 10-7 lead.

Harvard controlled their largest lead of the match following a Penn State double-hit violation that brought the score to 20-16. A quick ace from Clemens and three straight blocks put Harvard at set point following the Penn State timeout. Penn State made it interesting stringing together four consecutive points, but Harvard would ultimately take the second set 25-20 to tie the match 1-1 heading into intermission.

An entirely different Penn State squad stepped back onto the court following intermission. Behind the serving of Mars, the Nittany Lions jumped out to a 9-5 lead to open the third set. The fire and emotion that appeared to be lacking from Pavlik’s team in the first two sets picked up as they coasted to a 25-14 third set victory.

“I really think our serving improved,” Pavlik said. “Harvard is a really good team and I think our serving down the stretch was what made the difference.”

But the Crimson certainly weren’t planning on leaving State College without a fight. After a Rehkemper kill, Harvard took a 7-3 fourth set advantage leading to a Penn State timeout. The Nittany Lions rallied to get within one at 10-9, but hitting errors by the younger Russell brother, Aaron, and Mars found Penn State in a 16-10 hole.

Zimmick, who was the most dominant player on the court during the fourth set, finished the set with a kill to give Harvard a 25-16 win and send the match to a definitive fifth set.

A huge kill by senior Ian Hendries on the first play of the fifth set ignited the Nittany Lions and sparked a quick 4-0 start. Penn State would stretch their lead to nine at 12-3 before a three-point streak for Harvard forced Pavlik into his first timeout of the fifth set.

Madden’s serve out of the timeout went long, and following a Zack Parik ace for Penn State, Zimmick’s mishit on the match’s final play gave Penn State the win. The win gives the Nittany Lions a 3-1 record in five set matches.

The win caps off a 3-0 week for the Nittany Lions and puts them at the top of the EVIA. Pavlik said he was proud of his team and the effort he has gotten the past two nights from his bench guys.

“As far as a team goes, this might be the best team I have coached,” said Pavlik.

The eight-game home streak for Penn State continues Feb. 1 when they host Pfeiffer at Rec Hall at 7 p.m.

Matt Lawrence is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and economics. To contact him, e-mail