When a team’s schedule is released prior to its season, the players often examine the matches and circle a few that pique their interest.
For the men’s volleyball team, the players have been eyeing this weekend all year.
The No. 7 Nittany Lions will face conference foe Saint Francis on Friday. Then the team welcomes No. 9 Ohio State on Saturday, a matchup that is immediately recognizable by the Penn State community, and a match that the team is looking forward to.
“Any time you can play against teams that your peers in women’s volleyball and football play, you get the sense of Big Ten competition,” coach Mark Pavlik said. “I think that’s what both teams get excited about.”
Saturday’s match marks the only home match Penn State has with a currently ranked team, giving the team its first opportunity since the opening weekend to compare itself to the nation’s elite.
“It gives you a chance to really sit back and say ‘OK, how do we compare?’ ” Pavlik said. “I would consider this [match] a milepost. We’ll gather the information, analyze it, come back and see where we are and where we need to be.”
This is not the team’s first encounter with the Buckeyes this season. The Nittany Lions swept themin Hawaii in early January.
Pavlik said this weekend’s match offers further analysis for the team’s progress thus far.
“You play them again and acknowledge the fact that they’re better and you hope you’re better,” Pavlik said.
But with all the hype surrounding Ohio State, Friday’s match is nearly being obscured. The Lions cannot afford to overlook the Red Flash, a team on the rise in the EIVA.
“They’ve been playing well for the past couple weekends,” Pavlik said. “They’d like nothing more than to come in here and take one on our court.”
The match with the Red Flash does not quite build up as much excitement, but it may be considerably more important than the Saturday match.
The match with the Buckeyes is a non-conference match, so according to Pavlik, the only true impact it would provide would be seeding if the team reaches the NCAA tournament.
With Friday’s opponent squaring off against the Lions for a league match, the outcome will have a more immediate effect on Penn State.
Middle hitter Aaron Russell said that makes it imperative that the Nittany Lions stay focused on what is directly in front of them.
“We treat it one match at a time,” Russell said. “We know that [Saint Francis] is a threat and it’s in-conference. Ohio State is good but is out-of-conference so we’re trying to stay focused more on Saint Francis.”
Despite how easy it may be for some to overlook Saint Francis, Pavlik says his team knows what the big picture is.
“This group knows the path that we have to follow,” Pavlik said. “We have to win the EIVA, so every EIVA match is important. From what I hear and what I see, these guys know that.”