Mark Pavlik’s office on the mezzanine floor of Rec Hall is a menagerie of his life.
Every memento commemorates the Penn State men’s volleyball team’s storied strength at home. The Nittany Lions have won 150 matches at home since the 2002 season. But No. 6 Penn State has lost a mere six games at home in that same amount of time.
Inside his office, Pavlik, a Derry, Pa. native, has Pittsburgh Pirates and Penguins bobbleheads, pictures of his family and little tokens of his years as Penn State’s coach.
The coach also has several volleyballs signed by his teams, posters of former players like Matt Anderson, a U.S. Olympian, and three chairs from national title appearances. All of these remind him of the Lions’ successes.
Right next to a window, opposite of his desk, is a petite table with two figurines of Rec Hall that overlook the Nittany Lion shrine. Those two trinkets are also a symbol of Penn State’s dominance in the east, especially at home.
The Lions will look to continue the dominance when they open up their home schedule tonight at 7 p.m. against No. 12 Lewis in Rec Hall.
“I think, the bottom line is, we’ve got a good team,” Pavlik said. “I think that’s first and foremost of any team that has good home records. They are a good team.
“When you take a good team, let them stay to their routine, sleep in their own beds, eat at the places they normally eat, be surrounded by the people they are normally surrounded with and go through their day-to-day routine, there is nothing out of the ordinary. I think the more you can keep a routine, the better off you are.”
The Lions have a .961 winning percentage at home since 2002, including a 12-0 home record in 2012. Last season, they swept nine of their home matches, six of those consecutively.
“I think we are just comfortable in our surroundings,” redshirt sophomore libero Connor Curry said. “It’s easy to play here. This is our home court, and we are comfortable. I mean we aren’t taking 11-hour trip to Hawaii to play. It’s just easy for us.”
Since the 2002 season, Penn State has swept 106 matches at home. The team has also had six undefeated seasons at home in that time frame.
From 2007 to 2010, Penn State won 49 straight matches at home.
Sophomore middle hitter Aaron Russell said another reason why the team is so comfortable at home is the gym’s unique design. Russell said the ceiling is higher than many other gyms.
“The air is a lot dryer so the ball moves around a little bit differently when it is served and hit,” Russell said. “Plus, I think we are used to it. It’s tough to travel, but for us at home, we are kind of used to the gym.”
Rec Hall, finished in 1928, is home to men’s and women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s gymnastics and wrestling.
No other EIVA gymnasium has a larger capacity than Rec Hall, which seats 6,846 people.
“When you talk about teams that don’t enjoy the fans’ support we enjoy, now it’s something different they have to play in,” Pavlik said.
Pavlik also said he feels that the amenities of home provide a slight intimidation factor.
Pavlik said the various gyms around the EIVA aren’t like Rec Hall. Harvard’s gym is on the second floor, George Mason’s is new but small, and Sacred Heart doesn’t have a large attendance. Princeton has one of the older gyms, but it is quartered off. Pavlik said there is badminton on the other courts.
“When you’re used to playing in something like that and you go to something completely different, more noise, more distractions, if you will, video boards, I can see where, ‘Boy, this isn’t Kansas anymore,’ ” Pavlik said.
One of the unique aspects to Rec Hall is fans are seated all around the floor, not just on the side. Also, many of the players attribute fan supports to one of the reasons for such home success.
“The crowd is close to the court,” Russell said. “Also most of the gyms we play in in the EIVA, the fans aren’t behind the servers. They are also not in front of them, so that distracts them that way.”
“That kind of fuels us up,” senior outside hitter Kyle Mars said of the fan support.
Penn State also has hosted several national championships and EIVA tournaments. Some of these moments are the most special for the Lions.
“The ‘82 semifinal was pretty intense with us beating USC, the first time an eastern team had made it to the final,” Pavlik said. “[In] 2006 when Max Holt served an ace on match point after the lights went out for about 14 minutes in the national semifinal match. Those two are probably the top two in my book.”
Curry also added that EIVA championships, which are hosted by the regular season champions, were special.
For the Russell brothers, the pair gets a chance to play on the same floor that their father, Stew, did.
“Personally, it’s kind of cool,” junior outside hitter Peter Russell said. “I guess my dad actually played here back in the 80s so it is pretty cool being able to play on the same gym that he played in.”
Whether it is the crowd or the teams that have played in Rec Hall, something is causing Penn State’s dominance at home.
For the time being, Pavlik’s office will remain unchanged — as unique as Penn State’s home stronghold.
“There is a lot of history in this Old Lady here,” Pavlik said of Rec Hall. “It’s fun to be part of it.”