All-Americans are typically recognized for the impact they make on the floor.
In the case of Penn State’s Aaron Russell, his impact was felt the moment he left the floor.
The sophomore standout’s hot streak fizzled during Saturday’s match against Harvard, as he hit -.231 in the first two games of the match, atypical of his usual role as a main cog in the offense. His struggles prompted coach Mark Pavlik to make a change in court personnel.
Senior Kyle Mars was the next man up, and he quickly re-energized a team that was desperate for revival.
Mars picked up seven kills and a handful of crucial blocks as the Lions narrowly escaped with their 60th consecutive conference win.
Harvard coach Brian Baise thought his team was in a good situation when Russell took to the bench, but they soon found that they had no answer for Mars.
“We were keen on Aaron Russell coming in and any time you can get him out of the game, you feel like you’re doing a few things right,” Baise said. “But Kyle came in and was steady and had some key points for them.”
Mars’ coach had equally positive praise for the veteran, along with the rest of second shift, which provided more aid to balance the struggles from Penn State’s other top hitter, Tom Comfort.
“I can’t say enough about the energy that Kyle brought out there,” Pavlik said. “It’s huge for the team confidence when you know you can get Kyle, [Nick] Goodell and Ian [Hendries] off the bench.”
Penn State is fortunate to have experience on its bench, and in terms of scouting, the only people with a concrete idea on these players may be their own teammates.
Sophomore Connor Curry was relieved that these players were finally on his side of the net again, and said it was the other team’s problem to try to deal with them.
“I play with all the guys in practice and I have confidence in every single person off the bench,” Curry said. “[Mars] is one of the hungrier guys and is ready to take some swings.”
But the contributions from the bench were not the only things noticed by Pavlik.
Early in the year, Pavlik stressed the importance of attitude, as it is one of the few things in a match that can always be controlled by the player. Saturday’s match provided assurance that the team was on board with him.
“The guys that we took off the court did what we wanted them to do when we asked them to come back,” Pavlik said. “We don’t have anybody hanging their heads, and they know these guys can contribute to the success of the team. That’s what this team is all about.”
Curry was adamant about the team staying steady through the highs and the lows, but Mars wanted to use the big plays and momentum swings to the team’s advantage.
“Most of our game is just feeding off one another,” Mars said. “That’s how we play well. You can look at some of the games that we lost, we just fell off and people were putting their heads down.”
As long as the team handles its attitude well, Pavlik believes this team can be memorable.
“This is as good a team as I think I’ve ever had here,” Pavlik said. “They’re all pulling in one direction.”