Few teams have expectations nearly as high as the Penn State men’s volleyball team lately.
Over the course of the Nittany Lions’ 28-match schedule in 2013, 14 of those matches are against conference opponents. The Lions are expected to win every single one of them.
In fact, Penn State has won 60 consecutive matches in the EIVA. The team has not seen defeat at the hands of a conference foe since March 7, 2008, when George Mason upset the eventual national champions.
No player currently on its roster has experienced a conference loss during his tenure with the Lions. Winning has become all they know.
The Lions stormed to a 15-0 record against EIVA opponents in 2012, with 10 of the matches being clean sweeps.
“We know that we’re the best team in the EIVA, and that we’re a top contender for the national championship,” junior Peter Russell said. “I think that comes from the legacy that guys have left. They instilled that mentality to the players.”
With the men’s volleyball world assuming that Penn State will take care of business, the Lions’ veterans are blocking out the hype and grounding the team.
“You have to put your blinders on,” senior Tom Comfort said. “Everyone expects us to win, but every team that comes into the gym is a challenge and is going to give it their best.”
Even with the unwavering dominance that Penn State has shown recently, 2013 promises to be a bit more of a rocky road for the Lions.
After a short practice on Monday, head coach Mark Pavlik walked through the corridors of Rec Hall and eventually ran into the women’s head coach, Russ Rose. Rose joked with Pavlik about the team’s recent battle with Harvard.
“So Harvard’s legit now, huh?” Rose said with a laugh.
In reality, much of the EIVA has improved to the point where Pavlik has called it the toughest competition he has ever seen in the conference.
Peter Russell echoed his coach’s feelings and knows the journey will not be quite as easy as it was in his freshman and sophomore years.
“A lot of EIVA teams think that this is their year and that it’s wide open,” Russell said.
With each conference match being of high magnitude, the players acknowledge the importance of taking each one as an individual challenge, but they still know what the season is really about.
“You have to see the end of the year as the main goal,” Comfort said. “Hopefully we can get hot at the right time, which is the conference championship and the final four.”
With Penn State constantly being the frontrunner in the EIVA, winning the conference is a realistic annual goal. But according to Russell, the team is not getting as much credit in the national picture, and this may ultimately lower expectations for the Lions.
“The expectations may not be as high and honestly, I really like that because it gives our guys a bit more freedom,” Russell said of the team’s national expectations.
Only members of the 2010 team have experienced the national championship stage, so the rest of the Nittany Lions are aware that they will have to work hard to claim the top spot at the end of the year.
Comfort, a member of the 2010 team, used the mentality of 2008 Penn State champion and ACVA Player of the Year Matt Anderson to explain the mindset of the team as it tries to keep putting pressure on the conference.
“We have to have our second team push our first team,” Comfort said. “Going back to what Matt Anderson said, we have to think of our second team as the best team in the NCAA.”