The lineup is ever changing, and no one’s spot is safe.
And as the tide rises, so do all of the boats.
Since the season began, the Penn State men’s volleyball has seen more than half a dozen different starting lineups, with many different combinations of outside hitters.
The outside hitters and opposites have a competitive cooperation, which has made them push each other all season, both during practice and in matches.
Each outside fighting for time has had their own successes as well as struggles in the Lions’ first half of the season, evident in the often-altered rotation.
Assistant coach Jay Hosack said it’s a coach’s dream to have so many guys battling for limited spots.
“They’re walking away [from practice] bruised and sore and sweaty, and that’s exactly what we want,” Hosack said. “When we go into the matches, they’re facing big guys but it’s nothing new to them.”
Freshman Jace Olsen has started each match but two this season, but had a stretch in mid-February where he hit at just .128 in five matches, playing only nine sets in that time.
Olsen is third on the team in kills, behind only Joe Sunder and Tom Comfort, who have been getting the majority of the sets over the past few weeks and have been the most consistent outsides as of late.
Redshirt freshman Scott Kegerreis had two breakout matches against Loyola Chicago on Jan. 28 and Cal State Northridge on Feb. 5, but has just three swings in the team’s last five matches.
Head coach Mark Pavlik said Kegerreis has been used in more situations than just offensive ones, and has been effective anywhere he has played.
Pavlik referenced a play in Saturday’s win over George Mason in which Kegerreis was put into the match to force the Patriots’ best outside hitter to hit down the line, and succeeded in doing so.
“Scotty doesn’t get any credit for blocking that,” Pavlik said. “But it was his block that forced that error [off the antenna].”
Then there is Ryan Wolf, a junior who was fourth on the Lions in kills in 2010 appearing in all but three matches.
With so many players fighting for time at the outside positions, Wolf said it’s a positive in practice and in matches.
“Right now it’s a tight race for the outsides and it’s competitive,” Wolf said. “But it’s great for the team because we’d rather have four outsides that can go in and play than just one dominant one.”
Throw freshman Peter Russell into the mix, and there is a player who seems to have done everything to stay on the court, but has appeared in just seven matches this year. He has hit at .446, the best of all the outsides.
Pavlik said the way each player is pushing each other, all while having fun and getting along, makes for a looser and better team.
“It’s a very intense cooperative competition,” Pavlik said. “But they’re also making sure when somebody is doing something that is good, they’re letting them know. They’re all holding each other to a certain standard.”
Russell may have the best range according to Pavlik, and Kegerreis is versatile. Wolf is a leader with a knack for settling his team down, and Olsen brings strength, enthusiasm and energy to the court.
Each one has their own specialty, but continue to push each other to be better, something that should help them come May and in the years to come.