According to Greek legend, following another victory in battle, Alexander the Great sat down on a rock and wept because he had no other worlds left to conquer.
Penn State can potentially find itself in a similar situation as the Greek king if it can claim wins over each of its upcoming EIVA opponents Rutgers-Newark and New Jersey Institute of Technology — although it still has a world to conquer later in the season with the EIVA and possibly NCAA tournaments.
After defeating the other five members of the EIVA at least once so far this season, the Nittany Lions have two conference obstacles left to play in the Rutgers-Newark Scarlet Raiders and the NJIT Highlanders.
“You never want to lose to a divisional opponent,” senior Tom Comfort said. “You want to go out and beat every team, but a match against a divisional opponent has something extra to it.”
Beating conference adversaries Rutgers-Newark and NJIT have been relatively easy tasks for the Lions in recent years, as Rutgers-Newark has only beaten the Lions twice since the 2003-2004 season.
Penn State has had even more success against NJIT, defeating the Highlanders in all eight meetings between the two teams since 2001, with Penn State also taking 24 of the 26 total sets in those eight matches.
Even with current history and a three-game conference winning streak on their side, Lions coach Mark Pavlik still expects a “fierce battle” against both opponents.
“I think anytime this year we go on the road we’re really going to have to buckle down and make sure we understand we have to be prepared once we get into that gym,” Pavlik said. “We can’t walk in and say ‘OK, we can give a game here,’ because these other teams will make you pay this year.”
No. 9 Penn State hits the road for each of its weekend matches, but with the luxury of playing both contests in the same city, and on the same street, in Newark, N.J.
The Golden Dome, 1002 seats, and the Estelle & Zoom Fleisher Athletic Center, around 1000 seats, serve as the home arenas for Rutgers-Newark and NJIT, respectively. They are two of the smallest arenas in the conference in terms of seating capacity.
“It’s nice to stay in the same hotel for two nights in a row,” freshman Zack Parik said. “When we went to Harvard a few weekends ago we stayed in the same hotel and it was nice to have some stability while we were on the road.”
Following its victories over George Mason and Princeton last weekend, Penn State pushed its conference record to 6-1 and finds itself in familiar position atop the EIVA conference standings, holding a half-game lead over No. 14 Harvard.
Regardless of which venue Penn State competes in, the players can sense that opposing fans are anxious to watch the EIVA kingpins when they visit for a road match.
But despite the momentary return to the EIVA mountaintop and a road trip ahead of them, the Lions don’t feel as though the target on their backs will amplify in front of the Newark crowd.
“If the crowd can kind of tell in the first game that we’re playing really well, then the fans will start leaving or at least calm down,” Comfort said. “But if their team’s playing well, which has been all the teams we’ve played lately, then fans will be more into it and give their team some energy and motivation.”