If the Penn State men’s volleyball team started making excuses about its recent struggles, no one would give the Nittany Lions any sympathy.
Penn State is the only team in the country to earn an NCAA tournament berth every year since the turn of the century, which shows how foreign adversity has become to the group. But lately, the Lions have come back down to earth by hitting a rough patch in their schedule.
The Lions have lost three straight matches, their first such streak since 2007, and frustration is starting to set in among the players.
“We’re all pretty upset with ourselves right now,” senior Tom Comfort said. “There’s a lot of tension in the practice gym because we know we’re not playing the way we should be.”
However, instead of throwing around what could be considered reasonable excuses, the Lions are looking in the mirror and realizing that they are just playing bad volleyball right now.
“We’re just not really clicking right now, we’re not finding it,” Comfort said. “There’s no excuses. We have to just play better and win, that’s all there is to it.”
Coach Mark Pavlik said accountability is the key for the team to regain its previous success, and said that each part of the team, from the ground up, is claiming some kind of responsibility for the recent struggles. Though many factors exist that may be causing the skid, Pavlik bluntly said that the team just needs to perform at a higher level.
“We’re in a stretch where we’ve got to play better,” Pavlik said. “But even if we play better, it’s not a guarantee that we’re going to be better than the team across the net.”
Although the players and coaches want to dismiss some of the external things that may be factoring into the recent slide, some of those factors cannot be ignored.
Out of the six losses that the Lions have this year, five have been against nonconference teams. If the Lions are to reclaim a national title, they will have to perform against more nonconference teams in the NCAA tournament, which may be a cause for concern based on the outcomes of recent matches.
Penn State’s nonconference losses include top 10 teams such as UCLA and Ohio State, teams that are no stranger to NCAA tournaments, and would be possible opponents for the Lions in May.
Pavlik, though, had anecdotal evidence that the team’s regular season difficulties with nonconference teams may not be such an issue, citing a 2010 run in which the team was swept by nonconference opponents in a similar stretch before eventually reaching the championship match that year.
The coach said he knows that the team can use these obstacles to ready itself for a late-season run and that the current valley in this roller coaster season is of only minuscule importance.
“The playoffs are a new season,” Pavlik said. “We have plenty of season left, and I don’t think anyone is looking at an NCAA semifinal right now. We’re just looking at [our match against Saint Francis this Saturday].”
Comfort, however, did give a glimpse into how the team would use these lessons to approach a potential NCAA tournament.
“We’re up for the challenge,” Comfort said. “If anything, it would be a motivating factor, a little chip on our shoulder. These guys beat us last time, so we’ll get them when it counts.”