Men's Volleyball v. Merrimack 3

Outside Hitter Michael Valenzi (4) spikes the ball against Merrimack in Rec Hall on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022 in University Park, Pa. The Nittany Lions defeated Merrimack 3-0.

After a successful weekend at the First Point Collegiate Challenge in Austin, Texas, Penn State remained at No. 4 in the AVCA Coaches Poll. Its competitors of the weekend, Pepperdine and Stanford, remained in similar positions as they were last week despite losing to the Nittany Lions. The Waves stayed at No. 5 and the Cardinals bumped up to No. 7 after being No. 8.

On Wednesday, the blue and white faced even more difficult competition. With Long Beach State ranked No. 3, this was more of a challenge than what Penn State was faced with last week.

The Beach handed Penn State its first loss of the season in Rec Hall with a score of 3-1.

The Penn State student attendance for this game delivered a lot of energy to the overall atmosphere of the game. Whenever the Beach were going to serve, the stands roared with fans in order to distract that team.

Graduate student outside hitter Brett Wildman noticed the excitement from fans.

“As players, you try to say that it doesn’t matter who’s in the stands or if there’s two people or 10,000, you try to say that it doesn’t make a difference, but it truly does,” Wildman said.

“Whether you’re away and there’s a bunch of fans or you’re home and there’s a bunch of fans, the general energy kind of makes everybody play better I think. It’s great when it’s your home crowd, I think that was some of the loudest moments I’ve heard in five years and it’s only January, so that’s exciting if they keep coming back.”

The crowd’s exhilaration was reflected in the scores of the beginning of the first set. The rallies were long, reflective of their deserving ranks, but the Nittany Lions were able to maintain their lead over Long Beach State throughout the first set by at least one point. After the first timeout, the blue and white gained a five-point-lead against the Beach.

At one memorable point during the set, Wildman had made a break for the ball, which had gone far out of bounds. He was able to reach the ball and bring it back into play, but was out of bounds when they passed it over the net to Long Beach State. While Penn State was unable to secure that point, the determination of the team was unwavering.

At the end of the first set, the Nittany Lions won 25-18 with a kill made by Brett Wildman and an assist from graduate student setter Cole Bogner.

In the second set, the Beach started to bring more strength into their performance. While the scores still remained close, it was now the blue and white that was treading behind.

Penn State was then able to tie the score up by its ninth point and continued racking up points after that. After this, Long Beach State was also able to tie up the score. This set was looking to be heavily fluctuating in terms of lead, which is unlike what happened during the previous one.

By the first timeout of the set, the Nittany Lions had a two-point-advantage.

Towards the back portion of the set, the two teams were neck and neck, with Penn State leading 21-20. The end of this set was going to be a close one, especially with Long Beach State scoring two points back-to-back which brought it closer to winning the set.

Tensions were high as the two teams kept going off of the other and consistently bringing back a tied score. In the end, the Beach took the set with the final score being 25-23.

With the teams tied now, both sides were bringing their best efforts in order to have the advantage in terms of sets won. The Nittany Lions maintained the lead for all of the set at the beginning, only allowing one tie. However, Long Beach State proceeded to take the lead once it hit 14 points.

By the first timeout made by Long Beach State, Penn State regained the lead, but it was clear that both teams were not going down without a fight. These two being closely ranked had been evident throughout the entire match as they continued to trade off the advantage.

Men's Volleyball v. Merrimack 1

Penn State libero Ryan Merk (7) digs a spike in Rec Hall against Merrimack on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022 in University Park, Pa. The Nittany Lions defeated Merrimack 3-0.

The end of the set began to feel like déjà vu from the previous set as the scores were, once again, incredibly close. The set could go to anyone by the end. Two service errors made by the Sharks brought the Nittany Lions to their match point.

However, a kill made by Long Beach State and an attack error from the blue and white brought the Beach closer to winning their second set of the match.

At the beginning of the fourth set, it seemed that Penn State was starting to lose momentum after losing both of the previous sets. They had let Long Beach get a fairly large lead ahead of them, at one point having a four-point-advantage.

While the Nittany Lions had started to lose their energy, the Beach was taking advantage of this set and acting on the decrease of power.

The Beach had been more consistent this set compared to their previous ones, being more consistent in terms of their lead. However, the blue and white would have to put in a lot of effort to get back in the game.

Long Beach State redshirt junior setter Aidan Knipe made note of this consistency.

“We’ve been working as a team to really not ride an emotional rollercoaster, like having really high highs and really low lows, and I think we did a really good job of, even throughout the first set, staying just… level and playing with confidence,” Knipe said. “And that confidence really picked up in the second set, but it’s a credit to our passing and our blocking.”

The distance between the two teams’ scores continued to increase as Penn State called its second timeout, while down by five points. This is something that it had not allowed for the entire match, so its loss of steam was starting to show.

After Long Beach State’s first timeout, the Nittany Lions were able to maintain a 3-0 scoring run, bringing hopes back for the blue and white.

The fourth set was full of challenges made by the Beach. Two out of the five they had made were during this portion of the game, and both times Penn State kept both of its points scored.

By the end, the Nittany Lions were able to tie up the score and eventually gain the lead after trailing behind for the majority of the set.

Penn State coach Mark Pavlik was proud of the turnaround. “But our guys, I told them down 15-10 in game four, when seemingly everything was going against us, we found a great way to turn things around,” Pavlik said. “That’s gonna pay off for us.”

Both teams now had two points to win the set, or for Long Beach State, the match. After a service error made by each team, they now had to play a longer set in order to determine who would win.

In the end, due to a kill by the Beach, they had taken the win. While the final score was 3-1, there was still a valiant effort made by the blue and white as the last three sets were incredibly close.

The next games Penn State will play will be during the first weekend of February where it will participate in the Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge against USC and No. 2-ranked UCLA.

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Shannon Tanczos is a men's volleyball reporter for The Daily Collegian. She is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism with a minor in sports studies.