10 Questions With Volleyball Coach Mark Pavlik
Penn State men’s volleyball coach Mark Pavlik has been associated with the University for most of his life. Pavlik, who graduated from Penn State in 1982, played as a setter for the team. After graduating, Pavlik served as an assistant coach at Penn State for five years before taking over the head coaching job. Pavlik earned his 400th victory as head coach earlier this season, and under his guidance, the Nittany Lions won the 2008 National Championship. Onward State got a chance to talk with Pavlik about a variety of subjects, ranging from the state of men’s volleyball to what kind of dinosaur he would like to be.
Onward State: How did you get into coaching volleyball?
Mark Pavlik: I think it was a natural extension of having played. Then, I think I was mentored by a pretty good high school volleyball coach–of course, also having played under Tom Tait here, who is the ultimate teacher of the game–I think those with my natural predisposition for analyzing situations, it just seemed to fit in pretty well. I wanted to go back to school to get my certification in teaching math and science so I could teach high school. As I found myself moving farther and farther up the ladder, I eventually found myself here.
OS: Is it tough to recruit guys to the east coast with volleyball being such a west coast sport?
MP: Now bite your tongue! Pennsylvania has the longest running state-sanctioned boy’s high school tournament in the country. We started in 1933. We’ve got the coaches and every thing there. It’s not difficult recruiting to Penn State, period.
OS: Other than Penn State, most east coast schools that play men’s volleyball are smaller schools. Is it hard to make sure your players are up for every game in the regular season?
MP: The longer I’ve been around, the more I’ve found that its difficult to get players up for every game, especially when you’re playing in a season that runs from January through May, along with training and the reality of student-athlete life. I think we try to be real honest with them. We tell them that they are good enough to win, but let’s make sure that when we go out there we’re getting better no matter who we play. That’s the challenge. We probably will continue to have the circumstances where the team makes a value judgement against who they are gonna play based on the name and size of the school. I think we try to nip that in the bud, but the fact of the matter is we talk about that every time on the court is a time to get better. You control your effort and attitude in these games. Let’s try to get the team to mature to the point that the team is ready to play against anybody. It’s one of the challenges we have, and it’s one that serves us very well if a team matures into that line of thinking that no matter who’s on the court, we’re gonna get better by the end of the year when playing the matches that matter most.
OS: Would you like to see more schools in men’s volleyball in the future, and how do you think there is any way to increase the popularity of the sport?
MP: Yes, I would love to see more collegiate men’s teams, simply because of the experience that, take for example, what our women do during the regular season. Look at the institutions that they get to go to. We go to Ohio State and that’s it. I think that there is something about a Big Ten type of travel schedule where you’re seeing outstanding institutions. It means a little bit more for our guys because they know that their other peers here are competing in these other venues. I don’t think popularity is the right word because I think it is very popular because basically every school that doesn’t have a varsity program has a club program. It’s not a matter of popularity to convincing people to get together to play, but instead what do we do in this day and age to ensure that there is an opportunity for the guys that want to play volleyball to do that. In this day and age, there are so many things that an athletics department has to look at…but I would like to think that we are on the cusp of things happening nationally now with some recognized multi-sport conferences ready to jump on board.
OS: How would you rate your season so far?
MP: Right now, I’d probably put us at maybe a B-. I think we’ve beaten the teams that…we should have beaten. I think we’ve won maybe two or three matches where we would be the underdog. I think, when you look at some of the things that we’ve got to get better at, I think we’ve gotten better at them , but it’s just a matter now of saying that all that experience over the season–is it going to get itself into a nice, neat package for this time of the year? I think it’s been a season of growth for us, but I think we can still get better.
OS: Penn State gets to host the National Championship this year. Are you excited and/or confident that the home crowd will help you out when that time comes?
MP: I’m pretty confident that we’ll have a good crowd here. When you look at the history of us hosting other National Championships, if we manage to get through the EIVA Championship and get the automatic berth, the Nittany Nation will turn out in force for us. More or less, we are the flagship school for collegiate volleyball in Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania volleyball community has always supported us in the championships that we have played here. We are hopefully going to play with a little bit more emotion and passion brought on by the event and crowd support.
OS: There have been several different line-up changes throughout the year. Would you have preferred a set line-up, or will this help toward the future?
MP: I think that any coach will tell you that competition is a very good thing. If you have people pushing each other in your gym, I think overall that is great for a team. When you have young guys making that push and constantly getting better, that bodes well both for the end of the year and the future. In years that we have had competition, people are in and out of the line-up based on how they are performing. Dennis Del Valle has really been the only constant in the line-up. Overall, I don’t really pay attention to my line-ups unless we are fishing for somebody to do something.
OS: What do you think makes Penn State such a coach-friendly environment?
MP: I just think that I have found places to hide at Rec Hall! It really stems from our top down. President Graham Spanier, our athletics director Tim Curley–they understand family. I know it sounds cliche, but I really think that when you are part of Penn State, you truly are involved in the “We are.” That’s something that I think they firmly believe in. It’s all about the students, and we’re here to guide them on a path and help them to achieve excellence.
OS: There seems to be a nice camaraderie between the men’s and women’s team. Do you and women’s coach Russ Rose encourage it, or does it just happen naturally?
MP: I think it just happens. Also, Russ is such a social guy, that having him there and me here has helped it along. I was a sophomore when Russ started coaching here, and I think that when you have that type of historical longevity between the two programs, it’s just a natural thing to happen. There is a mutual respect in all aspects between the teams.
OS: Onward State’s very first sports editor interviewed Russ Rose and asked him this question. So, in the interest of fairness, what kind of dinosaur would you like to be and why?
MP: That’s certainly one of the more unique questions I’ve been posed. I would like to be one of the dinosaurs in the alligator family because they are not extinct. I’ve got a son in third grade and he’d be able to answer this question better. You don’t think about them until you see them. I wouldn’t want anyone to think of me until they see the team play and say, “Wasn’t Pavlik there at some point?”