No more than three touches define a single possession in volleyball.
A team cannot hold or carry the ball, and it cannot interfere with its opponent’s three touches. Therefore, a volleyball team cannot draw up a play using “Xs” and “Os” the same way football and basketball teams do.
Possessions in volleyball are instantaneous, and winning a point requires improvisation based on what is happening at that particular moment of the match.
But many times, a team prepares for a specific match depending on its preconceived notions of its opponent.
Coach Mark Pavlik has previously said volleyball teams often elevate or descend the way they prepare based on its opposition’s previous successes or failures.
“Perceptions can be deadly, because if you perceive they are, or you perceive they aren’t, you’re right,” Pavlik said.
So for the 4-9 Nittany Lions, preparation is a mindset that has to be based on future situations, rather than on past circumstances.
They have beaten every unranked team they have faced this season except Ball State, who has since gained a position in the AVCA polls.
This weekend, Penn State will play two unranked teams, Sacred Heart on Friday and Harvard on Saturday. However, the team is not focusing on its past success against unranked opponents, as it practices for this weekend.
Instead, the Lions try to cover as many unexpected situations as possible. And to do that, they try and control anything on their half of the court.
“[In volleyball] you have to understand what it is that you want to accomplish, and how you want to accomplish it, in the game that you can play on your side of the net,” Pavlik said. “What happens on your side of the net, you totally control.”
Pavlik’s team is coming off two losses this weekend, the most recent coming to No. 1 Loyola-Chicago on Saturday.
Penn State led the fourth set 13-8 and appeared to be making a comeback before the Ramblers adjusted to the new faces on the other side of the net.
The Lions had recently substituted redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose, setter Zack Parik and outside hitter Spencer Sauter.
In what looked like what might have turned into an upset remained in favor of the top-ranked team.
“I told them after the Loyola match that it’d be real easy for me to come in and take out my frustrations on them, screaming, ranting and raving, and telling them that they’ve got to get better,” Pavlik said. “They know [they need to get better].”
But besides the general disappointment felt by Penn State this season, the team, as a whole, has stuck together.
“The challenge that they have in front of them is to get better not only themselves, but to make sure people around them are getting better,” the coach said.