Penn State is getting ready for its regular season finale with one word on its mind — humility.
Coach Mark Pavlik and his team will face Charleston in two road tilts in their final series of the regular season ahead of the EIVA Tournament.
The blue and white’s latest weekend series against George Mason resulted in a split win for the squad with a 3-0 win on Friday and a 3-2 loss on Saturday.
Although the loss ended an 11-match win streak, Penn State was grateful for the opportunity to play and took home more than just a win and a loss.
The split was humbling for Pavlik’s club and reminded the players of why they play the game they love — something they are keeping in mind while preparing for Charleston.
While the Nittany Lions have had little to no trouble against the school in the past, Pavlik and his team are refusing to get ahead of themselves in this week’s preparation.
“They have one of the best middle hitters in the conference, as well as one of the best setters in the conference,” Pavlik said. “This isn’t just an, ‘Oh well, let’s just show up and play,’ game — this is a challenge.”
The blue and white is sticking to what it knows in this week’s match — planning and honing in on its finer levels of performance.
Instead of focusing on what Charleston is bringing to the court this weekend, Pavlik is choosing to cleanse his team of the less-than-perfect aspects of its game.
“It’s a continuation of improvement — making sure we play the game and come out with the energy and making sure we’re worried about what happens on our side of the net,” Pavlik said. “Can we be a little bit better in servicing? Can we be a little bit better in blocking? That little bit isn’t anything measurable, but it leads to efficiency.”
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Despite a strong first half against Johns Hopkins, it was all for naught for Penn State.
Humility is a common buzzword in sports, and for two Nittany Lions in particular, it goes beyond refining the smaller aspects of their game.
Junior libero Will Bantle and junior opposite hitter Cal Fisher are two players on Penn State’s roster that have consistently set themselves apart as two of the top players in the Big Ten.
After last week’s battle against George Mason, Bantle won EIVA Defensive Player of the Week, while Fisher won Off the Block National Opposite of the Week after a five-set long fight put up by the blue and white.
Taking the loss in stride, Bantle and Fisher are focusing on their next matches rather than their first loss in weeks.
“[Fisher] is the kind of player [who] doesn’t make errors,” Pavlik said. “He creates opportunities for us to score through his serving, his defense, his blocking. There’s never any doubt that he’s focused.”
Fisher currently sits atop the EIVA in hitting percentage (.333), service aces (43) and points (263.5) — something that makes him a dangerous component of Penn State’s roster.
Despite the talent he exudes on court, Fisher is one of the members of Penn State’s team who rallies his teammates and keeps them focused on their goals.
“He has such a great competitive personality that you know there’s never any doubt that he’s focused in,” Pavlik said. “He knows what he needs to do.”
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Bantle's role on the court is different from Fisher’s, but it is no less important.
As a libero, Bantle can only make first and second contact with the ball, but he makes a difference by staying focused and keeping the ball alive no matter the cost.
“By the way [Bantle] competes, his competitive personality and the way he handles our servicing patterns, as well as how he moves people around him on the court, there’s no doubt that he understands the pulse of the team,” Pavlik said.
Bantle and Fisher do not let their many accomplishments and accolades get in the way of their playing — something practiced by all of the players on Pavlik’s roster.
As they ready for a team they swept in straight-set victories only weeks earlier, this humility may be what brings them their last two wins of the season.
“This weekend’s matches will be something we have to make sure we raise our level for,” Pavlik said. “If [Charleston] can stay with us, it’s going to be a great match.”