The all-important fifth set kept Penn State’s season alive Thursday as the team began its 2019 postseason with a victory over George Mason in the EIVA Tournament semifinals.
The semifinal match up against the Patriots was all about trust and translation for the Nittany Lions.
All season long the team has been focused on getting what they practice in practice to pay off in games and that happened.
“I don’t think any of us were thinking it was the most important set of the season but we just have been playing 15 point games every practice,” Brett Wildman said. “We were about to head into the fifth set and our assistant coach looked at us and said ‘ It is just another 15 point game like in practice,’ and that is all we had to hear.”
Penn State was on its game on offense and defense, as it took the first set and maintained several leads over the Patriots throughout the match.
Wildman had one of his best games of the season, completing a career-high of 22 kills and a hitting percentage of .556 as one of Penn State’s most electric players this year.
“I was feeling really good, we were in a really good position from our staff trainers and weight lifting coach who prepared us for the week before we came here,” Wildman said. “Anytime we play five sets its pretty tough, but that's what we work for all year round with training and conditioning.”
Trust amongst the team tonight was valuable to the win. Coach Mark Pavlik knows this has been built over the course of the year and even in a big match against George Mason trust in his players can make all the difference in the outcome.
“These guys have taken a real good step forward in not worrying about what’s going to happen this weekend but instead they worry about where their feet are now,” Pavlik said. “When you have a team like that it’s real easy to trust them because you know they are right there with you with seeing and feeling what you are on the bench.”
In set one, Penn State set the tone early, leading by as much as seven at on point.
From there, the Nittany Lions would close the set strong and take the early 1-0 lead, despite a late rally from the Patriots.
It looked like Penn State was on its way to a two-set lead, but George Mason scored seven of the last 12 points to tie the score after two sets.
A strong set from Henrick Fault Lauten was key in giving Penn State a 2-1 lead and the Nittany Lions were one set away from advancing to the EIVA championship.
Pavlik was especially pleased with how the Nittany Lions served in this match.
“Our transition confidence just grew as the game went on,” Pavlik said. On top of that, I thought our serving pressure was pretty good. “We kept Mason under some heavy service pressure the entire game and the passers really rose to the challenge to fight off some great serves.”
After George Mason won the fourth set, Penn State rebounded to win the fifth set and beat the Patriots for the first time this season.
Wildman had six of his 22 kills in the final set and finished strong with the final two kills of the match, sending Penn State to the championship game.
“I think it shows we don’t back down and we have always wanted to win,” Wildman said. “Coach has been telling me to trust my arm all year and I think I did that tonight.”