Despite coming out with a strong first set, Penn State was overmatched by No. 4 BYU 3-1 (25-24, 26-24, 18-25, 18-25).
The Lions came out swinging and were able to manufacture a number of runs in the set despite a slow start by All-American redshirt senior Joe Sunder. Penn State’s blocking and serving also looked smooth in the set with three of each, including two aces by junior Nick Turko.
“We played pretty in game one and they didn’t,” coach Mark Pavlik said. “They made ten service errors in game one so all we really had to do was score 15 points.”
The 21-6 Cougars showed why they have been able to dominate the MIVA this season in the second set. BYU fought back from an early 6-2 deficit to tie it at 7-7. BYU, the best blocking team in the country showed why with three blocks in the set. The set was a slugfest with five lead changes and eight ties but BYU was able to pull it out with a 26-24 win. Taylor Sander, who is arguably the best player in the nation, led the set for the Cougars with six kills.
Going into set three BYU had the momentum, propelled by a roaring home crowd. Early in the set the Cougars went on a 5-1 run to make it 14-9 and never looked back, The Lions trailed the rest of the match never being able to get the margin below three points.
The Lions continued to battle in set four, but BYU was able to manufacture an 8-1 run late in the set that allowed them to cruise to a 25-18 victory.
“I was pleased that we didn’t drop our heads and pout,” Pavlik said. “It was ‘Ok let’s get back doing what we have to do’. Big picture this is just another step in where we’re trying to go.
Sander led the way for BYU with 20 kills on .394 hitting. Sander was able to get a number of momentum shifting kills that led the Cougars to victory.
“He’s everything as advertised, he’s a very dynamic hitter and very good server,” Pavlik said. “He’s young and he’s somebody you got to just keep giving the ball to… They do a real good job of giving him the ball.”
Top performers for the Lions were junior Tom Comfort with 16 kills on .333 hitting along with six digs, also freshmen Aaron Russell with nine kills and three blocks. Comfort started for an injured Nick Goodell who did not make the trip.
“I thought Tommy played well, Tommy did tonight what he always does well,” Pavlik said. “He plays hard, he blocks well, he serves the ball. Tonight offensively I thought he did a pretty good job the first three quarters of the match.
Sunder’s struggles continued the entire match and he only hit eight kills on an uncharacteristic .042 hitting percentage.
“We need Joe to play better,” Pavlik said. “People know that if they can control Joe they have a good shot at making it real challenging for us, especially teams at this level that can match our physicality.
The Lions will try to redeem themselves in a rematch against BYU tonight at