They’ve seen it from the sidelines. They know what a championship team looks like.
Now fifth-year seniors Edgardo Goas and Joe Sunder hope to finally see what a championship actually feels like.
The fourth-seeded Penn State men’s volleyball team (23-5, 14-0 in EIVA) will look for captains Goas and Sunder, who redshirted during the team’s 2008 national championship season, to lead the way against top-ranked UC Irvine (24-5, 17-5 in MPSF) in the semifinal round of the Final Four.
The match, taking place Thursday at 9 p.m. in Los Angeles, will be broadcast live via NCAA.com and will also air on WRSC 103 (103.1 FM) in the State College area.
Although Penn State is appearing in its 14th straight Final Four, 2008 is the only year of this run in which the Nittany Lions have won the national championship.
Goas, the setter who is synonymous with the team’s offense, said in a press conference Wednesday he looks forward to using his experience to try to reverse this trend.
Considering Penn State is 0-4 on the West Coast against MPSF teams this year, there is little indication this match will come easily for the Lions.
Sunder said playing on the West Coast should help UC Irvine, but only “in theory”.
“It just comes down to how you prepare for it,” Sunder said. “Sometimes being at home, you get a little too comfortable and might get socked in the mouth a little bit right away. Hopefully that’s something we can do. We’re playing that role.”
The Anteaters are hot off an MPSF conference title, having slayed the dragon that is No. 1 USC. After dropping the first two sets, UC Irvine came back to beat the Trojans, who had won their last 18 straight matches, in five sets.
UC Irvine then defeated Stanford in the exact same comeback fashion in the MPSF championship, 3-2.
Despite the odds being against them, head coach Mark Pavlik said Penn State isn’t so quick to accept the underdog mentality.
“I think we’ve been tested in the last six, eight weeks of our season and a couple of five-game matches and our EIVA final was not an easy one,” Pavlik said. “So I think all four teams have had their moments of doubt and managed to fight through them. I think it’s a coin flip.”
The Lions have lost their last four MPSF matches. However, they did have two marquee victories versus West Coast teams — Stanford and Pacific — earlier in the season and Pavlik said learning from all of these matches is crucial.
“When we get the opportunities to play MIVA and MPSF teams, whether on their home court or ours, these guys use that as a mile marker, as a chance to see where we are during the season,” Pavlik said. “And we walk back into the gym after those weekends saying, ‘here’s where we’ve got to get better.’ ”
For Penn State to win, Sunder, who leads the team with 3.51 kills per set, will most likely have to set the tone offensively.
UC Irvine head coach John Speraw said scouting the outside hitter is easier said than done.
“We talk about it, but when we get on the court and they watch him hit the ball, it will be an eye-opening experience,” Speraw said. “He plays at a higher level than anyone else in our league.”
This isn’t to slight his own top two hitters, Kevin Tillie and Carson Clark, who average 3.73 and 3.68 kills per set, respectively. Defending these two players will be crucial for Penn State’s block and defense.
Although UC Irvine holds a 5-4 advantage over Penn State in the head-to-head series overall, the teams have split the last two Final Four matches between them.
After a five-year span in which Pavlik’s teams have gone 128-25, Goas said he hopes his career will come full circle with a national championship for he and Sunder to call their own.
“ItÊ¼s a great opportunity to come out here and have another shot at a national title,” Goas said.
“We are more experienced now and hopefully we can carry it on to our teammates.”