(Ed. - Easy bump, for content and for a great FanPost on a sport that we don't cover as much as we should. JJ)
The last game the Nittany Lions played, before this season, was an uninspiring match against Ohio State. Both teams were vying for the final spot in the National Championship match against UC Santa Barbara. Even though the match was being played at Rec. Hall on the campus of Penn State, the Lions were not up to the challenge. Losing 3-1, the Lions did not look sharp; there was a lack of the double block, good passing, and poor hitting; all around the Lions did not look like the team they had been the entire season. Ohio State would go on to play for and eventually win the National Title. That last loss had to resonate with the team and have clearly been determined, since then, to get back to the National Title game and win it all this year.
The beginning of the 2012 season saw the No. 7 Nittany Lions on a two week road slate against some stiff competition. The schedule would begin with defending National Champ, and No. 8, Ohio State, followed by No. 14 Loyola, No. 9 Lewis, No. 4 Stanford and No 12 Pacific. A daunting schedule by any standards, but the Lions were up to the challenge, starting the season 4-1, with the lone lose to No, 9 Lewis.
The Lions started the season with a convincing 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17) win over rival Ohio State. For the match the Lions hit .236 against the Buckeyes and totaled 41 kills, seven aces, 32 digs and 9.5 total team blocks. Ohio State registered a .152 attack percentage and had 28 kills, one ace, 26 digs and 8.5 team blocks. Led by Penn States’ All-America senior setter Edgardo Goas, who’s 30 assists complemented Junior Tom Comfort’s 12 kills on .409 hitting, and Junior Hick Turko’s 5 blocks. One of the factors that the Lions need to work on, as was the case last year, was the hitting errors throughout the sets. During their opening contest the Lions had 20 hitting errors. If the Lions are to contend for another National Title this is one aspect of the game that needs to be worked on.
After their win over Ohio State, the Lions were set to meet No. 14 Loyola. The now 6th ranked Lions earned a 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 26-24) victory against No. 14 Loyola-Chicago. The Lions hit .346 against the Ramblers and totaled 43 kills, three aces, 25 digs and 8.0 total team blocks. Loyola registered a .224 hitting percentage and had 31 kills, two aces, 18 digs and 12.5 team blocks. Again lead by Goas, who had 38 assists to go along with his 4 blocks complemented Freshmen Aaron Russell’s personal best 10 kills on .625 hitting, and redshirt freshman Connor Curry led the team on defense with seven digs. In all the Nittany Lions had three players finish with double digit kills, and 16 hitting errors, a bit of an improvement over the Ohio State game.
However, their next match against No. 9 Lewis would not go so well for the Lions. Penn State would suffer a 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 19-25, 20-25) lose. The Nittany Lions hit .213 against the Flyers and totaled 42 kills, nine aces, 27 digs and 2.5 total team blocks. Lewis finished the night with a .429 attack percentage along with 50 kills, three aces, 26 digs and 10.0 team blocks. Goas paced the offense with 40 assists, while Freshman Nick Goodell had a team-best three aces. The Lions would have 22 hitting errors throughout the match, which helped Lewis gain the victory, along with their outstanding hitting percentage on the game. The Lions would then face a true test next by taking on No. 4 Stanford.
One of the major criticisms of the Nittany Lions over the years has been that they can dominate their games against easy East Coast teams but when they play the tougher West Coast teams it shows how good they actually are. In fact, under head coach Mark Pavlik, the Lions have compiled a record of 414-120, winning more than 77 percent of their matches. Within the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (EIVA), the Lions have been even more dominating, racking up 183 wins and only suffering five league losses in 17 years (.973). So to prove that the Lions, in 2012, are legit title contenders they needed a big win over West coast power Stanford.
On Jan 27th the No. 8th ranked Nittany Lions upset No. 4 Stanford (4-2) 3-1 (26-24, 16-25, 25-17, 25-17) in the opening match of the Ken and Dave Dunlap Invitational hosted by Ohio State. Penn State is now 6-3 all-time versus the Cardinal. Penn State hit .361 against the Cardinal and posted 54 kills, five aces, 24 digs and 9.0 total team blocks. Stanford hit .309 and had 48 kills, two aces, 27 digs and 7.5 team blocks. Redshirt senior Joe Sunder posted a match-high 17 kills with only one error in 25 attempts for a .640 hitting percentage, Sophomore Peter Russell was third on the team with eight kills on .462 hitting. While Goas dished out 49 assists, while Sunder posted a team-best seven digs. Freshman Aaron Russell was a wall at the net with six total blocks. Along with a good hitting night, the Lions only had 15 hitting errors, a major improvement over their last outing against Lewis.
The final match the Nittany Lions would play away from home, before being able to return home for a much needed home slate, was against No. 12 Pacific. The Lions would take a 3-1 (23-25, 25-17, 25-23, 25-17) victory in the last match of the Ken and Dave Dunlap Invitational. The Nittany Lions hit .391 against the Tigers and posted 64 kills, seven aces, 41 digs and 9.5 total team blocks. Pacific hit .305 and had 52 kills, four aces, 39 digs and 5.5 team blocks. Nick Goodell posted a match-high 17 kills on .382 hitting, while sophomore Peter Russell had a career-high 15 on .393 hitting. Goas paced the offense with 59 assists and redshirt freshman Connor Curry recorded a personal-best nine digs. The Lions would end on the match with 14 hitting errors, their best of the season to date.
After a tough road slate that saw a 4-1 record against 5 ranked opponents, the Nittany Lions were ready to hit the conference schedule running on all cylinders. After a 4 game home slate, which included 2 EVIC opponents (Rutgers-Newark and NJIT) the Lions are now on a 6 game win streak. During this win streak the Lions have won all matches 3-0, with some pretty impressive victories. In a Feb 3rd match against Mount Olive the Nittany Lions earned a convincing 3-0 (25-20, 25-6, 25-12) victory. The Nittany Lions totaled 41 kills, seven aces, 21 digs and 11.5 total team blocks. Mount Olive (2-5) finished the night hitting .016 with 20 kills, 12 digs and 3.0 blocks. Also more important was that the Lions only had 7 hitting errors on the night.
The Lions continue their schedule Friday Feb 24th at home against Princeton, followed by a Saturday match also at home against George Mason. Looking ahead the schedule for the Nittany Lions includes some daunting opponents, including a home match against Ohio State on March 3rd, followed by true away matches against No. 9 Pepperdine and No. 6 USC. Of note, towards the end of the regular season the Nittany Lions will travel to Provo, Utah for back to back matches against No. 3 BYU.
The Nittany Lions should easily win their next 2 matches, and can see them beating Ohio State once again. The big challenge will be their road games on the West Coast. If the Lions can walk away with at least a 1-1 record (but can see them going 2-0 and to a lesser extent but not likely 0-2), should set them up for the rest of the season, and going into the conference tourney and then national tourney. With a few big wins under their belt against West Coast teams, whom they should see in the National Tourney, will build their confidence to compete and hopefully win another National Title.
Looking at the national landscape for Men’s College Volleyball, shows the dominance of West Coast teams, as well as the bias towards them. Currently the top five ranked teams in the AVCA Division I-II coaches poll are No. 1 Stanford (11-2), followed by UCLA (14-2), BYU (10-3), UC Irvine (10-3), and PSU (10-1); with OSU coming in at No 8 (11-4). The Nittany Lions did receive one first place vote in the latest polls, most likely a vote from Pavlik. Even though there are no games scheduled to be played on TV, not even re-run on BTN, it is hard to fully evaluate the play of the Lions this year. One game that is set up nicely to look at their strength is the senior night match against St. Francis, not because it will be a tough game, but it is the night before the Blue/White game, which I will be going to.
2012 looks have a potential to be a big year for our Men’s Volleyball team. They will win the conference title once again, as they have the last 12 years running, and 25 times since 1981. But hopefully will be able to finish the season much better than they did last year.
For the Glory.