No matter how much the Penn State men’s volleyball team stressed that blocking was the team’s biggest weakness, a considerable improvement hadn’t occurred.
But Friday night, that changed.
Setting a season-high with 15.5 blocks, No. 7 Penn State (19-3 12-0 in EIVA) swept Sacred Heart, 3-0 (25-19, 25-22, 25-15). The Nittany Lions remained undefeated at home, winning their ninth straight match within the confines of Rec Hall.
Freshman middle hitter Aaron Russell, who has been the team’s best blocker statistically this year, led the way defensively with eight block assists.
“I think you saw tonight our best blocking defensive effort of the season,” head coach Mark Pavlik said after the match.
However, redshirt freshman Nick Goodell was close behind with six block assists, a considerable feat when Pavlik considers how far he has come in this aspect of his game.
“Especially Goodell, who, at one point in the fall, we were wondering if he could block an intersection with a car. And it seemed like everything he touched, except for that last swing tonight, went back into their court.”
Penn State was able to hold Sacred Heart to a .085 hitting percentage, holding the team’s three main contributors to a combined hitting percentage of exactly 0 percent.
Offensively, fifth-year senior Joe Sunder led the team with 13 kills on a .409 hitting percentage.
After a poor offensive showing last week, Sunder said it felt good to have a match with no hiccups.
“It felt good, it felt like something I hadn’t really done in a while…. Tonight was the first night in a while that I felt confident coming out strong and ending strong.”
The team as a whole hit .380 in the match, with Goodell (.474) and Russell (.400) posting solid hitting percentages.
Despite a brief Sacred Heart run in the second set when the score was tied 19-19 at one point, Penn State depended on its defensive outbreak and offensive efficiency to stay in control throughout the match.