Penn State Sweeps NJIT, Wins Ninth Straight

Story posted February 15, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Uriah Tagle

The NJIT Highlanders (4-3, 0-2 EIVA) did not feel any sort of Valentine’s Day love from the no. 12 Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2, 2-0 EIVA) on Friday night at Rec Hall, falling in straight sets (25-15, 25-12, 25-13). The win was the ninth straight for the streaking Nittany Lions, who have not lost a set in their last three matches.

Both squads were neck and neck to begin the first set, with Penn State slightly edging the Highlanders heading into the first NJIT timeout, 15-10. The Nittany Lions were paced out of the gates offensively by senior outside hitter Peter Russell and reigning EIVA Offensive Player of the Week Nick Goodell, with the pair recording three and two kills respectively. Out of the timeout, Penn State continued their roll with a 7-2 run, fueled by a relentless attack from their hitters, taking a 22-12 lead into the timeout. On the set point, junior outside hitter Aaron Russell delivered the kill with a ferocious spike through the NJIT defense, giving the Nittany Lions a 25-15 first stanza win.

Penn State benefitted from strong defense in the first set, holding the Highlanders to a .100 hitting percentage on 30 attempted attacks. Redshirt junior Connor Curry paced the squad defensively, leading the Nittany Lions with six digs, and contributing two assists on the offensive end. Penn State was also very effective in the service game, registering three aces in the first stanza, one of them coming from redshirt sophomore setter, Taylor Hammond, on a serve that gently floated over the net.

“I tried to put [the outside hitter] short and take him out of his approach, and he just missed it,” Hammond said when asked about the ace.

NJIT began the second set well, opening up a quick 2-0 lead on a kill from junior outside hitter Chris Kaepernick and a rare attack error from Penn State’s Aaron Russell. The Nittany Lions quickly regained their footing however, storming ahead to take a 12-8 lead into a Highlander timeout. NJIT scored on the first point out of the timeout, but after that it was all Penn State, with the Nittany Lions closing the period on a 13-3 run. It was the redshirt sophomore middle hitter Matt Seifert who ended the set, with an impressive block to give Penn State a 25-12 win.

The Nittany Lions stifling defensive play continued in the second period, as the squad held the Highlanders to just six kills and a -.045 hitting percentage. Redshirt freshman blocker Matt Callaway led the way offensively, registering three kills on five attempts. The Wheaton, Illinois, native also registered two blocks in the set, bringing his point total to six for the stanza.

Penn State opened the third set determined to end the match in a sweep. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 7-2 lead, forcing NJIT head coach Ryan McNeil to call a quick timeout and attempt to motivate his squad. Although the Highlanders played well out of timeouts all night, any adjustments made were not enough to stop the Nittany Lions, who produced a 14-7 run to force a second NJIT

timeout. Penn State closed the match with a vicious kill from true freshman outside hitter Chris Nugent, his only kill of the night.

Penn State’s offensive attack was fierce in the third set, as the Nittany Lions hit .632, with fourteen kills. Penn State head coach Mark Pavlik allowed some younger players to see the floor in the final period, most notably redshirt freshman Spencer Sauter, who had six kills on nine attempts in the stanza.

Matt Callaway earned Player of the Match honors for the Nittany Lions, after hitting .462, and leading the team with eight kills and three blocks. The eight kills ties Callaway’s career-high, a mark which was set during the loss to Hawaii in the Outrigger Invitational.

“When you get off to a fast start like that, like we did in game 3, as long as you keep playing well throughout the match, you can try some new things, and get some new guys in there,” said Callaway in the post-match press conference. “It’s a lot of fun for everybody.”

After the match, head coach Mark Pavlik commented on the mental toughness that his squad showed during the match. “Mentally, we played a match that was pretty solid for us,” Pavlik said. “I thought we focused pretty well on what we could control, followed the gameplan, and stayed physical with the ball.”

The Nittany Lions will look to continue their winning ways on Saturday evening when they host the Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders (3-2, 0-1 EIVA) at Rec Hall. ComRadio will have the call at 4:00 p.m.

Uriah Tagle is a junior majoring in communication arts and sciences, and economics. To contact him, email uriahtagle@gmail.com.