Coach Mark Pavlik has never been in the batter’s box to face Washington Nationals’ pitcher Stephen Strasburg, but he still understands how difficult the pitcher is to hit.
Strasburg is known for having an overpowering fastball and also the ability to fool hitters with off-speed pitches.
According to Pavlik, his men’s volleyball players have those same skills when serving, an aspect of Penn State’s game that is quickly becoming one of its strengths due to the variability between jump servers and float servers.
“If you have floaters in the middle of two jump servers, it keeps mixing it up,” said Nick Turko, the team leader in service aces this season. “If the passers see the same serve twice in a row, the chances of them passing it well are greater.”
Pavlik, a Pittsburgh Pirates fan, then explained how he has been using his “bullpen” effectively.
“If you see a constant diet of 101 mph fastballs, eventually hitters are going to hit it, so [Strasburg] has to keep you off balance with a slider,” Pavlik said. “Serving is like that too. You don’t want to show the same type of serve time and time again.”
But with most of the Lions featuring the fastball that is the jump serve, the frequency in which they can change up the strategy is low.
Only Taylor Hammond and Zack Parik use the float serve, but both players have used it advantageously.
Hammond cites his floater as the “change-up” in the team’s serving repertoire, while Parik says that painting the corners is necessary when sending the ball over.
“We’re definitely able to hit our targets more effectively,” Parik said. “We can take outside hitters out of a play or pin someone to a sideline and take them out. Our job is to pick on different people.”
Although Penn State’s serving has become a main reason for its success, the Lions have been experiencing the risks of tough serving, as well. The Lions totaled 17 service errors in both of their two matches last weekend, season highs for matches lasting less than five sets.
Both Turko and Aaron Russell said they are mindful of the chances to make mistakes when jump-serving, but rarely do they hold back their aggressiveness, which results in statistics reflecting the high risk, high reward technique.
But for the Lions, their aggressive play remains far beyond the serve.
Penn State’s physicality is directly related to the size that it possesses on the court, as it is often head and shoulders above its opponent. Russell and Matt Seifert both stand 6-foot-9, allowing the Lions to play high above the net.
“Height is something you can’t teach,” Russell said. “There are a lot of big people on the other side blocking, so it comes in handy and goes a long way in today’s game.”
With today’s men’s volleyball game being offense-oriented, Pavlik said the team’s size and aggressiveness is the only equation for success.
“You’re either the aggressor or you’re going to get knocked off the court,” Pavlik said.