MVB: Penn State Opens EIVA Play With Dominant Straight Set Victory Over Saint Francis
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – If you ask Penn State men’s volleyball coach Mark Pavlik how important tonight’s EIVA home opener was, he won’t shy away from the truth.
“This year’s EIVA race is going to be all about defending homecourt,” Coach Pavlik said following the Nittany Lions’ home match against Saint Francis. On Friday night, the Nittany Lions did just what he expected.
In front of a Rec Hall crowd of 1,021, the No. 13 Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Saint Francis Red Flash 3-0 in straight sets in both teams’ EIVA opener. Penn State moved to 6-4 with the victory, while Saint Francis dropped to 4-6.
Penn State was coming off last weekend’s home victories over Mount Olive and Coker. Saint Francis split their games last weekend in Columbus, Ohio, defeating Barton College but falling to No. 4 Long Beach State. Last season, Penn State lost their last two matches with the Red Flash after previously going 39-0 against them lifetime.
This match was full of excitement and emotion even before the first serve. Saint Francis was followed by a large away crowd of adults and other fans. They were also accompanied by a sizable and raucous student section that set up shop right next to Penn State’s Wrecking Crew student section. The energy was loud and rocking from the start, primarily thanks to the Red Flash flamboyant student section.
Red Flash outside hitter Stephen Braswell, the older brother of Penn State’s setter Luke, thought the energy that both student sections and crowds brought was fantastic. Saint Francis’ head coach even went a step further.
“I think these high-energy environments are great for volleyball overall,” head coach Mike Rumbaugh said.
After the dust had settled, the first set was underway. Both teams made very little mistakes and errors and gave each opponent little breathing room. Every time the Nittany Lions made a little run, the Red Flash responded to even the score. When the score was tied 14-14, both teams were trading points and playing extremely well. Lee Smith led the way with five kills on 11 tries for Penn State.
Eventually, the Nittany Lions proved to be too much and went on a late run to win the set 25-21. What separated them from Saint Francis was their lack of errors and mistakes, which did not let the Red Flash get back into the set down the stretch. Penn State’s attack came alive too, with a hitting percentage of .400, compared to Saint Francis’ .189.
With the Nittany Lions having all the momentum, they got off to another quick start in the second set and made a run. Like the first set, Saint Francis responded and answered the run to even the score at 15-15.
It was at this point in the match when everything went downhill for the Red Flash. Penn State outside hitter and leader in kills Chris Nugent caught fire and reigned down above the net. He knocked home nine kills and could not be stopped. Not only could Saint Francis not get a single hitter at or above .300 hitting percentage, they committed six attack errors along with two service errors to give the Nittany Lions free points. To make things worse, Penn State was very good at not committing silly errors to bailout the Red Flash and this widened the lead for Penn State. Things fell apart for Saint Francis and Penn state picked up the second set 25-20. The Red Flash needed to get their problems straightened out to get back in this.
Unfortunately for them, it just got worse. It seemed that each set in the match saw Penn State become stronger and gain confidence. On the flipside, it seemed Saint Francis lost confidence and was outworked more and more as each set went by. The third set was marred by even more Red Flash mistakes and errors and free points for the Nittany Lions.
On the other side of the net, Nugent and opposite Calvin Mende got hotter and hotter and continued to put the match away. Nugent finished with 16 kills on 25 attempts for a fabulous .600 hitting percentage. Mende put home 11 kills on 19 attempts for a .474 hitting percentage. In the final set, the Nittany Lions only committed two attack errors and two service errors. Red Flash coach Rumbaugh expressed the importance of Penn State’s lack of mistakes after game.
“It’s tough to beat a team that only had six attack errors,” Rumbaugh said.
It was only fitting that Chris Nugent sealed the win with a service ace to win the set 25-18. The Red Flash student section was sent home with a loss.
Nugent expressed after the game that both teams competed hard to start, but the Nittany Lions found a way to overcome the struggle and take control.
“They had a couple runs here and there, but we were able to level it out,” Nugent said.
Penn State played arguably their best and most dominant match of the season to date. Their significant reduction in errors and mistakes proved to be huge and show how great the team can be when they play as close to perfect as possible.
“We never backed down and were as aggressive as we have been all season,” Pavlik said after the game.
The Nittany Lions successfully avenged their 2016 EIVA Tournament Semifinal loss to Saint Francis from last season and now sit at 40-2 all-time against them. The two will meet again in two weeks on Valentine’s Day.
Penn State will travel to play NJIT next Friday, Feb. 10.
Matthew Harvey is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism and History. To contact him, email him at email@example.com.
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