Penn State is known for coining the phrase, “We Are.” For the men’s volleyball players, it took three days in Honolulu to discover who they are.
Some teams struggle with an identity crisis for a whole season before finally putting all of the championship pieces together.
Penn State appeared to be headed in that same direction after mixed results in its first two matches, which featured a grueling 3-2 loss to No. 5 UCLA and a marginal 3-2 win against lowly Hawaii.
Coach Mark Pavlik’s attempt to get the team back in a rhythm on offense included several lineup changes and a day off from practice to clear their heads.
“People will get sucked in by the myth that coaches can press these magical buttons and it gives us all the answers,” Pavlik said.
After the loss to UCLA and the come-from-behind win against Hawaii, the team finally put it all together in a sweep over No. 10 Ohio State, making an important discovery in the process.
“Throughout the tournament, our coaches were always preaching defensive intensity and I think we were able to frustrate teams with our blocking,” said sophomore Aaron Russell, who led the team in kills during all three contests. “We’ll never get outworked by anyone. I think we really found our identity as a team.”
As the leader of the offense, Russell’s role on the team is well-defined. The native of Ellicott City, Md., was named the EIVA Offensive Player of the Week after leading Penn State with 42 kills and 45 points during the Outrigger Invitational.
The Nittany Lions’ commitment to their defensive and scrappy style was also highlighted this past week, with sophomore Connor Curry claiming EIVA Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Still, there are probably skeptics out there who will focus on Penn State’s erratic play. Pavlik isn’t worried just yet.
“We’re at the beginning of the season and we know everything’s going to get better. We just need more reps,” Pavlik said. “Right now, the servers are ahead of the passers, just like pitchers are ahead of the hitters in early-season baseball.”
While Penn State can look in the mirror and recognize the team staring back at it, its upcoming opponent on Jan. 18 still hasn’t found its stride.
Despite its No. 12 ranking by the AVCA, Lewis University limps into Friday’s match with only one victory in five tries.
“We view them highly as an opponent and they love b