It’s the last weekend in February, and it’s the last time No. 9 Penn State will take the center court of Rec Hall until April.
Before the Nittany Lions (10-3, 4-1 EIVA) spend the entire month of March away from home, they will have two shots at EIVA opponents, taking on George Mason (5-5, 3-0 EIVA) tonight at 7 and Princeton (4-2, 2-1 EIVA) the following night at the same time.
Penn State is currently second in the conference, trailing George Mason. If the Lions want to host the EIVA tournament at the end of the season, conference wins are more crucial now after the team’s three-set loss to Harvard last weekend.
“I think arguably it’s the most important weekend of the year,” said junior Peter Russell . “Going out to Harvard and dropping that match is definitely huge. [George] Mason and Princeton are two very good teams, and we know that they are going to be fired up to play us.”
Penn State enters the weekend 2-2 in its last four matches after being swept by Ohio State and Harvard in the last two weekends.
The Patriots enter Rec Hall on a three-match winning streak, all of which were EIVA matches. Princeton has also won three straight matches entering this weekend. The Tigers play St. Francis on Friday.
Lions coach Mark Pavlik has emphasized several times this season how he believes the EIVA is the best it has been ever.
“You don’t want to go down,” Pavlik said. “If we come out of this weekend, and we have three league losses, we are going to be scrambling a little bit. We want to make sure we are in the hunt for hosting, not just making the EIVA final four.”
Entering this weekend, the Lions are 7-1 at home, including five sweeps. Penn State won all seven home matches consecutively before falling to rival Ohio State two weekends ago.
The Lions have 15 remaining matches in the 2013 campaign, butthis weekend’s matches are two of the final five that the Lions have at home.
“I’m interested to see [how the team will bounce back],” Pavlik said about his squad’s recent losses. “[George Mason] is playing some pretty good volleyball right now. The fact that we are at home, I like. We will see how these guys respond.”
Penn State was 2-0 against both schools last year. Penn State also defeated both teams in the 2012 EIVA tournament.
If Penn State wants to host the EIVA tournament like it did last year, the team will have to have the best conference record.
“The EIVA [tournament], we really want to have it at our place,” senior middle hitter Nick Turko said. “It’s really important. Like, we need to win these two to make sure we get the first seed.”