Hawaii has a reputation for being a relaxing getaway for vacationers, but taking it easy there is not on Penn State’s agenda this weekend.
The Nittany Lions, who have been off the court since October, resume play Thursday night in their regular season opener in Honolulu against No. 5 UCLA. They’ll go on to challenge the home Warriors on Friday and wrap up the trip against No. 10 Ohio State on Saturday.
The Lions enter the Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Volleyball Invitational with the No. 7 national ranking, but at this point in the year, it is nearly irrelevant to the team.
“You take it for what it’s worth and the here and now,” head coach Mark Pavlik said. “You say, ‘OK, here’s where we are as of January.’ Nobody ever wins or loses a national championship the first week in January.”
Penn State and its Thursday opponent UCLA shared similar fates last season, both reaching the Final Four before their seasons ended in disappointment at the hands of the eventual champions from UC Irvine.
But after Irvine’s championship run, its third in six years, its head coach, John Speraw, bolted for UCLA.
“It would be nice to beat UCLA because we haven’t beaten its coach in a while,” sophomore Connor Curry said, accepting the challenge of facing the coach responsible for Penn State’s exit in the 2012 semifinals.
The Nittany Lions recognize another challenge, as they will be facing teams from the West, which gives them some spice in a schedule almost exclusively packed with matches in the eastern half of the country.
“The West Coast always has the best teams and the best conferences,” senior Tom Comfort said. “[The Hawaii tournament] gives us a chance to see other hands on the other side of the net.”
After the team’s Thursday night meeting with the 2012 national runner-up, Penn State will face Hawaii on the Warriors’ home floor.
Hawaii received a handful of votes for the NCAA’s national rankings, but Pavlik believes that the toughest test will result from the home-court advantage.
“Their crowd is probably the most sophisticated volleyball crowd we ever play in front of,” Pavlik said. “Although the crowd is far from hostile, they’re going to be giving their team the home-court advantage.”
Ohio State is a team that the Nittany Lions defeated in October and will face two more times after this match.
Matches against the Buckeyes are not conference battles in men’s volleyball , but the players still see it as a rivalry that piques their excitement.
“Ohio State is always a rivalry for us,” Curry said. “We’ll go into that game like a Final Four game.”
Penn State is eager to get off to a good start after dropping out of the Final Four early last year.
“You always want to start off on the right foot,” Comfort, an opposite hitter, said. “Hawaii will give us a chance to see where we are at as a team.”