As Penn State reached match point, the crowd was electrified and rose in a standing ovation. The odd thing about it was, this was not a Rec Hall crowd.
On Saturday night, the Nittany Lions traveled an hour away to St. Francis to battle the Red Flash. The fact that the majority of the stands were filled by Penn State fans may have appeared peculiar to the average bystander, but those who follow the team know that the Lions attract followers around the country.
“Support has been pretty steady with all the Penn State alumni groups out there and certainly volleyball alumni spread out [across the country],” head coach Mark Pavlik said. “It really has been a great feeling to turn around and hear the ‘We Are’ chants and see blue and white in the sea of what ever color we’re in.”
Along with loyal alumni support, family and friends have cheered on the Lions from East to West Coast. Penn State’s roster includes players representing six different states, as well as Puerto Rico.
Though the No. 8 Lions have shown that they can perform at a high level while on the road in hostile arenas with a 7-3 record away from home, the support on the road has been enjoyed by coaches and players alike.
“It is amazing. I really enjoy when we have fans following us around the country, it’s a lot of fun actually,” redshirt senior Edgardo Goas said. “It energizes you, just knowing that you have support all over the country is something big.”
Redshirt senior Joe Sunder experienced this type of support first hand at the match against St. Francis. Sunder, who hails from Greensburg, just an hour away from St. Francis, was rooted on with chants of “Thunder Sunder” as he went on a three-ace serving run late in the third set.
“A lot of my family was here and a lot of friends, so it’s definitely a good change, just a little bit difference,” Sunder said after Saturday’s match. “I ripped a couple aces, so I think the chants helped me.”
Earlier this season, the Lions traveled to the West Coast to face Pepperdine and USC. Sophomore Jace Olsen is from Manhattan Beach, Calif., and just minutes away from both of those schools. The Penn State players got to enjoy a home cooked meal at Olsen’s aunt’s house and experienced a fan base on the opposite side of the country.
“It was exciting, especially because we don’t get many trips home,” Olsen said. “They love seeing us play… and when you hear a ‘We Are Penn State’ in a different gym it always brings you up.”
On their remaining schedule, the Lions have six more away matches, including four against EIVA opponents. When the Lions face conference opponents, attendance skyrockets in these arenas.
EIVA opponent Sacred Heart has played four home matches against conference competition this season. Its most recent home EIVA match was played against Penn State. None of their early matches reached an attendance of more than 200 people, but when the Lions came to play at Sacred Heart, a crowd of 1,078 attended the match, many rooting for the away team.
“In the EIVA, the crowd numbers for the teams that we play far exceed their seasonal average,” Pavlik said. “We have a lot of people cheering for us and that’s normally what happens, the crowd swells at EIVA places with Penn State fans, so there’s a little bit of Rec Hall there.”
The Lions look to feed off this road support this upcoming weekend with EIVA matches at NJIT and Rutgers-Newark.