Mark Pavlik is taking a page out of Alabama’s national champion football coach Nick Saban’s book after Penn State’s appearance in the NCAA Final Four last season.
“Every year is a new year,” Pavlik said. “You heard [Nick] Saban say it [Monday] night, he’s turning the page tomorrow and that team hasn’t won anything nor has it lost anything. Same way we are.”
Pavlik and the No. 7 Nittany Lions, who lost in the national semifinal to UC Irvinein 2012, will open their season Thursday night in the Hawaii Outrigger Invitational against No. 5 UCLA.
The Lions return six starting members from that team, including All-EIVA first-team players in redshirt sophomore libero Connor Curry and sophomore middle hitter Aaron Russell.
“You look at what we had on the court last year, outside of [Joe] Sunder and [Edgardo] Goas, we had a redshirt freshman being our libero,” Pavlik said. “We had two sophomore outside hitters, three if you count Scotty [Kegerreis] as a redshirt sophomore, our experience, we aren’t losing a bunch of guys. We’ve got some returning experience.”
Along with youthful talent, the Lions have four seniors on the team, meaning that no member from the 2008 national title team is on the roster.
“After you lose in the semis, it’s a terrible feeling,” senior opposite Tom Comfort said. “As a senior I only have one chance left to win a championship. You have to use that experience as fuel for the season. You never want to feel that way again as a player.”
Pavlik said a national title is something the team has on its mind but in ‘an appropriate manner.’
“I don’t think anybody is dwelling on it,” Pavlik said. “Nobody has talked about . Just like nobody has talked about May this year. You worry about today.”
The Lions will take on No. 5 UCLA, Hawaii and No. 10 Ohio State in the Outrigger Invitational and return home Jan. 18. The team will have 10 of 12 matches in Rec Hall after Jan. 18 until the end of February.
But the team will be on the road for the entire month of March, playing eight away matches. The Lions will only have three home matches between Mar. 1 and Apr. 25, the start of the EIVA semifinals.
Last season, Penn State had only one of its eight matches in March at home. The team lost two of those away games, but they were at the beginning of the road trip.
Curry thinks the team will be prepared for the road trip in two months.
“Nobody on our team will complain about the schedule,” Curry said. “We’ll definitely be ready for that road trip.”
Penn State was named the No. 8 team in the country in the preseason poll, but moved up after the first week’s rankings to No. 7.
Aside from opening the season with a tough slate in Hawaii, the Lions will also face No. 1 UC Irvine, and No. 13 Lewis later in the season. A pair of rematches with the Buckeyes also loom.
“Ohio State is always a rivalry for us,” Curry said. “We’ll go into that game like a Final Four game.”
Penn State has historically dominated the EIVA, its conference. The Lions have 28 EIVA post-season titles, and an EIVA title equals an automatic bid into the NCAA Final Four.
George Mason, an EIVA foe, was ranked in the AVCA’s preseason polls. However, the Lions are favored to win the EIVA by the conference’s coaches.
“This year the EIVA might be the toughest competition it has ever seen,” Comfort said. “It gives you fuel to win because you don’t want to be known as the team that didn’t win the conference.”
However, Pavlik doesn’t care if the Lions are picked to win their 29th conference title.
“I really don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Pavlik said.