After a 3-0 sweep of George Mason in Friday’s match, Penn State’s 11-match winning streak was brought to a screeching halt by the Patriots Saturday.
Despite dropping the first set, the Nittany Lions managed to force a fourth and fifth set before losing 3-2.
But for coach Mark Pavlik and his team, this was a strong weekend of volleyball despite the series split.
“What I’m taking from this weekend is that while we may not have had our best match, we competed, and they did not make it easy,” Pavlik said. “We came away with a split on the road, and that’s something I’ll take.”
With only two more weeks until the first round of the EIVA Tournament, the Nittany Lions are quickly approaching the end of their crusade.
As the blue and white prepares to confront Charleston for its last EIVA series next week, there are a few things Penn State should keep in mind, according to its head coach.
Pavlik sees the blue and white being adept in three areas in particular: player depth, on-court focus and persistent aggression.
Here’s what the Nittany Lions’ head man had to say for each of the aforementioned categories.
One of the blue and white’s calling cards this season has been having players who are both adaptable and versatile, regardless of the position they were asked to play.
Each member of Penn State’s roster is prepared to make split-second decisions to play whatever position is required of him, regardless of where he is on the court.
“Over the past month, this team has shown promise in getting balls in transition and tracking down the balls that go off the block,” Pavlik said. “And I think defensively, that shows great strength in being able to finish the opportunities that we create.”
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Two players who exemplified defensive flexibility in this weekend’s matches were junior outside hitter Brett Wildman and freshman outside hitter Michal Kowal.
In their matches this weekend, Wildman was exactly where he needed to be regardless of what George Mason threw at him. With a combined 19 kills, 15 digs, and 6 blocks from both nights, Wildman was a key piece in this weekend’s five total set wins.
Kowal also had a strong weekend with 15 kills, 10 digs, three blocks and a strong presence in set four in Saturday’s game that resulted in back-to-back service aces.
By training his players to be resourceful, Pavlik is preparing them for anything in next week’s final pair of EIVA matches.
Penn State’s on-court energy has been something to marvel at this year, particularly between junior setter Cole Bogner and junior outside hitter Cal Fisher.
In the Nittany Lions’ Saturday night match, Bogner had 42 of the 49 total assists, while Fisher recorded 21 kills.
With their contributions, Penn State was able to close out many of its points against the Patriots, albeit not enough.
“On the court, you’ve got to be offensively oriented and in a position that requires you to play strong defense,” Pavlik said. “We finished the opportunities we created.”
Despite the fact that Penn State lost its first set by five points to George Mason, the Nittany Lions refused to relent and pushed the Patriots into a fourth and fifth set.
“We just couldn’t put together a final score streak, we chopped away at it again and again — but we just ran out of time,” Pavlik said.
Penn State’s aggression during its matches is something that directly led to the 11-match winning streak that was ended by the Patriots in Saturday’s contest.
While the beginning of the season was a struggle for the Nittany Lions in terms of aggression, it did not take long for the team to acclimate and become a cohesive unit.
“Over the course of the season, it was generally very difficult to maintain a high level, and I think we’ve done it,” Pavlik said. “I also think that the one thing this team has in its DNA is its urge to compete.”
Penn State has been the EIVA’s most consistent squad in 2021, and it is currently seated at No. 1 in the conference and No. 8 in the AVCA Coaches Poll.