With possibly the last match of the season only two days away, Penn State needs a quick turnaround.
The team’s hopes for hosting the EIVA tournament were squashed after the Nittany Lions losses to New Jersey Institute of Technology and Princeton this weekend, but the possibility of a postseason run is still alive.
With the team now set to play George Mason on Thursday, the team’s focus is on the major problems the team was confronted with in its two losses to the Patriots during the regular season.
Penn State is 5-8 on the road, and four out of the five wins that the team has away from home are to teams in the lower half of the conference — Harvard, Sacred Heart, NJIT and Charleston. Out of the six matches Penn State played against the conference’s top-four teams, the Nittany Lions’ only two wins came against St. Francis.
Coach Mark Pavlik discussed how the team’s performance against NJIT was something that needed to change going into Princeton match the following day. With a total of nine reception errors and 21 service errors in that match, the team must limit the amount of self-produced mistakes in order to compete with an even greater challenge.
Yet Penn State’s defense can help get the team out of tight situations, specifically in the fourth set as the game went into extra points. For new libero Cal Fisher, his athletic saves in that set were what gave the Nittany Lions the edge and can be used down the road in similar situations.
“I thought we made a couple of digs. We benefited from guys being in pretty good position to dig balls. Everything is magnified at the end of games. I liked what we were doing defensively As the match went on, Fisher got a little bit stronger, and made a couple plays late. We are doing okay with that. Defensively, we had a good effort tonight,” Pavlik said.
However, when the Nittany Lions played the Tigers their defense was struggling against Princeton’s demanding offense. As the upcoming match against the Patriots is less than a week away, the team is trying to focus on the major concepts that could make or break the rest of post-season for this young team.
Pavlik constantly talks about his team’s attitude and personality throughout the season, and one trait the team has that has been a prominent factor in their success is its ability to unite and comeback even when times are rocky. With the fate of the team left unwritten, the traits of this team can be what makes all the difference at the end of the game.
“I do not think things make them different. I think things make them similar to teams that have gone on and had deep runs in the playoffs. Those things are that they stick together as a team and that they understand their physicality from not only on the net, but behind the line,” Pavlik said.
Princeton will host the tournament, with Penn State’s semifinal match starting at 5 p.m. Thursday. If the Nittany Lions beat George Mason, they’ll play the winner of St. Francis and Princeton on Saturday.
“I think teams that are ready to win in the playoffs, they have a great desire to compete and want to win instead of, ‘I hope you do not lose.’ Those are the characteristics that I have found out of teams that have taken me to the playoffs often had been successful with,” Pavlik said. “There is a winner’s confidence about them that no matter storms they needed to weather, they were confident they could weather that.”