In its first home match in exactly one month, No. 2 Penn State made quick work of Saint Francis on Saturday night at Rec Hall.
The blue and white came into Saturday’s match on a 11-match win streak against Saint Francis. Despite this, the Red Flash traveled to Happy Valley on a three-match win streak, including a 3-1 win over NJIT in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Thursday.
The blue and white took care of business in three sets.
Set 1 included a big Penn State comeback. Early on, there were errors from both sides and some strong blocking from Saint Francis; eight of the first nine points were scored from either an attacking or serving error.
“I think you saw two teams that are trying to get rid of the residue of spring break trips,” Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said.
The Red Flash took a 7-3 lead on a kill from sophomore Andrew Deardorff, which led to a Penn State timeout.
“It’s a really cool experience to come to Rec Hall and play,” Deardorff said.
The Nittany Lions started to fight back, but didn’t find much success, as Saint Francis went on a 3-0 run to take a six-point lead.
The Nittany Lions eventually found themselves within two points thanks to a kill from opposite hitter Cal Fisher and a solo block from outside hitter Brett Wildman, which brought the set to 17-15 in favor of Saint Francis.
That two-point lead continued through the next few minutes, but Fisher’s serving came up huge to spark the Penn State comeback. Back-to-back aces from the lefty knotted the set at 22.
Saint Francis went on a small run in response, and had three opportunities to win the set but couldn’t quite close the door on Penn State.
A kill from Fisher and consecutive aces from the gentle serving of junior Toby Ezeonu completed a Nittany Lion comeback to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
“A lot of it has to do with our experience on the court and not really getting flustered in any situation,” Wildman said of the Set 1 comeback.
In the second set, the two teams looked evenly matched. Back-and-forth action had the set tied up five different times, as neither squad could find momentum.
A reversed call went in the Red Flash’s way, tying the set at 11. Eventually, Penn State put together a small run to break the consistent ties and reached a 16-14 lead on a Saint Francis serving error.
The blue and white reached 20 points first in Set 2 on a kill from Wildman, before rolling to a set-point on junior Michal Kowal’s sixth kill of the match.
Consecutive aces from Red Flash setter Ryan Parker gave Penn State a late scare, but Parker served into the net to close out the second set with a 25-22 Nittany Lion win.
Saint Francis showed no quit in Set 3, getting out to a 7-5 lead, but a 4-0 Nittany Lion run erased that lead immediately.
Wildman and Fisher once again put the team on their backs, combining for five kills to give Penn State a 14-9 lead in the third set.
The Nittany Lions took advantage of three Red Flash serving errors to get out to a commanding 21-12 lead. A solo block from middle blocker Sam Marsh put Penn State within striking range of the victory, and a Red Flash serving error secured the sweep.
With the loss, Saint Francis moved to 7-11 on the season, while Penn State is now 18-2 with just seven matches left in the regular season.
“We played a team that might be No. 1 in the country on Monday,” Saint Francis coach Mike Rumbaugh said.
After seven consecutive road matches, Wildman said it was an adjustment to return to Rec Hall.
“You’re supposed to feel comfortable at home. Maybe a little weird on the road,” Wildman said. “Today it was like, alright, this is weird.”
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