The box scores from Penn State's last three matches have exposed a trend.
The No. 14 Nittany Lions were outblocked in each of the three most recent contests against Ohio State, Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State. The three squads combined for more than 30 blocks, while Penn State managed only nine.
But the low blocking numbers are not just a blip on the radar. In fact, the trend is one that has been consistent all season. Through 19 matches, Penn State's opponents have put up 165 blocks to the Lions' 133 .5.
The Lions managed only one block against No. 2 Long Beach State, while the 49ers totaled 12.
The average spectator would look at that number and identify a weak spot in Penn State’s game. However, coach Mark Pavlik said he was pleased with his team’s blocking performance against one of the top ranked teams in the nation.
“I thought we blocked well against Long Beach,” Pavlik said. “We had hands in their faces…We’re doing some good things with our block, but it doesn’t reflect [in the box score].”
Pavlik recalled at least three or four different instances where a block was fortuitously dug out by a Long Beach State player off a diving save or even a foot. He said the thing his blockers do well is set themselves up in the right positions.
Redshirt sophomore Matt Seifert and redshirt freshman Matt Callaway are the players who have most consistently been in the right positions for the Lions this season.
The duo leads the team in blocking, combining for 105 total blocks, and account for more than 45 percent of the team’s total blocks . The two were named to the Active Ankle Challenge all-tournament team for their performances against Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State.
Seifert said it was a “pretty sweet” honor to be recognized for his contributions to the team. The 6-foot-9 middle hitter echoed his coach’s thoughts on the team’s blocking.
“Against Long Beach, the numbers didn’t show, but we had two blockers in front of their hitters all the time,” Seifert said. “It might not have shown but it was definitely there.”
Blocking has been an area in which Callaway has particularly excelled this season. He not only leads the team in total blocks with 60, but he has also registered 16 solo blocks so far this season, good for first in the EIVA .
Pavlik said he has seen a significant improvement in Callaway’s contributions this season, and expects him to continue to improve, specifically in terms of offensive production and recognition of the game around him.
Callaway is the youngest starter for Penn State as a redshirt freshman. With Peter Russell as the only senior on the team , Pavlik said its youth can be a definite advantage.
The team is made up of one senior, four juniors, and 11 underclassmen . These numbers are similar to a team the Lions saw in Long Beach.
Cal State Northridge boasts a roster that is comprised of one senior, three juniors, and 17 underclassmen . The difference between the two teams, Pavlik said, lies in Penn State's "youthful experience."
The Lions' underclassmen have seen more live match action than those of Cal State. Pavlik can rely on these younger players to fill leadership roles and deliver when they are faced with difficult matches.
Pavlik specifically noted Callaway as a player who has stepped up in some of Penn State’s bigger matches.
“He competes,” Pavlik said. “I like the fact that some of our biggest matches have been some of Matt’s best matches.”
Garrett Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 865-1828. Follow him on Twitter at @garrett_ross.