No. 3 Men’s Volleyball Begins Season With Two-Straight Losses At Outrigger Invitational

The 16-time defending EIVA conference champions and third-ranked men’s volleyball team opened the 2015 season on a sour note, dropping its first two matches of the season to No. 8 UC Irvine and No. 10 Hawaii for a last-place finish at the Outrigger Invitational in Honolulu, Hawaii.

UC Irvine narrowly beat the Nittany Lions in five sets (17-25, 18-25, 25-18, 25-22, 7-15) in the tournament’s opening round, while Hawaii cruised to a three-set win (24-26, 19-25, 18-25) over Penn State in the final match. Due to a scheduling conflict, Penn State did not face the tournament’s fourth team, No. 14 Ohio State.

Previously, Penn State was 20-13 in Outrigger Invitational matches, having captured the title in 2008 and 2009. Last year, Penn State finished with a 1-2 mark, opening competition with a 3-2 loss to UCLA and falling 3-1 to Hawaii. The Nittany Lions earned a straight set win against Ohio State to close out the event.

How it happened

Against UC Irvine, the Nittany Lions played to a competitive 11-11 tie in the opening set, and continued to battle back and forth until the score stood at 16-16. A PSU service error followed by a UCI kill gave the Anteaters an 18-16 lead. After redshirt junior Matt Seifert was able to briefly halt momentum with a kill, UCI answered with a 5-1 run to close out a 25-18 first set win.

In the second set, UC Irvine erased an 8-5 Penn State lead to knot the score at 8-8, and after trading points, the Anteaters used a 4-1 run to pull ahead 15-12. Two Penn State points narrowed the gap, but two attack errors widened the lead to 18-14. UCI followed a Chris Nugent kill with three consecutive kills of their own to move ahead 21-16, and took the second set handily following a 4-2 stretch, 25-18.

Tied up at the midway point of the third set, 14-14, Penn State used 4-1 run to pull ahead by three, 18-15. UC Irvine responded with a triple block to pull within one, but the Nittany Lions ended the frame with a 7-2 streak capped off by back-to-back aces from Andrew Roberts to secure set three, 25-17.

Following an early 10-6 lead in set four, an ace from Seifert sparked a 4-3 stretch that put PSU on top, 14-9. The Anteaters responded with a 4-1 streak to pull within two, but senior Aaron Russell came out of the break with a kill to open up a 4-1 run that brought PSU back up by four, 19-15. UC Irvine came battling back with a 4-2 stretch to trim the gap to two, 21-19. A pair of PSU kills in between one from UCI to built the advantage to three, but a UC Irvine block and a Penn State attack error moved the Anteaters within one, 23-22. However, a kill from Russell and an ace from Nick Goodell locked up a 25-22 win in the fourth frame.

In the fifth and deciding set, UC Irvine jumped out to an 8-3 lead. Penn State rebounded with a 3-1 run featuring a kill and an ace from Russell, but the Anteaters responded with three straight to move ahead by as many as six, 11-5, causing Penn State to use its final timeout. The Nittany Lions couldn’t get muster a comeback out of the break as the Anteaters used a 3-2 advantage to arrive at match point, 14-7. Goodell held off the attempt with a kill, but UC Irvine followed with a kill to take set five, 15-7, and the match, 3-2.

The final match against No. 10 Hawaii would not be nearly as close, but each set remained a tight battle until the end.

In the opening frame, Goodell and Russell sparked a 4-0 run with three consecutive kills to move Penn State ahead, 8-6. The Nittany Lions and Rainbow Warriors continued to trade points, until Hawaii pulled away from a 12-12 tie with three straight to go up 15-12. A PSU kill and a block from Russell knotted the frame at 17-17, but a pair of Nittany Lion errors and two more Hawaii kills extended the Rainbow Warrior lead to three, 21-18, forcing Penn State to call a timeout. Back-to-back kills from Goodell and Russell trimmed the lead back to two, 22-20, and a 3-1 streak powered by two kills and an ace from Russell gave Penn State set point, 24-23. The Rainbow Warriors held off two attempts with a kill and a block to pull ahead, 25-24, and Hawaii put down a kill following the break to take set one, 26-24.

Hawaii built its opening lead of the second set to as many as seven, 13-6. Penn State answered with a 4-0 streak, powered by a kill and back-to-back aces from Russell to trim the deficit to three, 13-10. After exchanging a few small point streaks, Hawaii pulled out an impressive 7-2 run to arrive at set point, 24-17. A kill from Matt Callaway and a triple block by Goodell, Sauter and Seifert held off two attempts, but Hawaii answered with a kill to secure set two, 25-19.

The Rainbow Warriors put together a 4-1 run to take over a 7-4 lead, early in the third set, and following a Goodell kill, Hawaii responded with a 6-1 strike to widen the margin to six, 11-5. Hawaii tallied four more points before two kills from Goodell and a block by Russell and Callaway broke up the rhythm, 15-8, but the Nittany Lions could not muster a comeback as Hawaii earned a tough 25-18 win in the third set to claim the victory.

Player of the Tournament

Aaron Russell. The senior and back-to-back EIVA Player of the Year finished the tournament with 29 kills, five aces, 18 digs, and three blocks. Last season, Russell’s 0.65 aces per set ranked No. 1 nationally.

The strong tournament showing is just the beginning of a special year for the team captain. The First Team AVCA All-American was selected to the U.S. Men’s National Team for the 2014 NORCECA Men’s World Championship Qualification Tournament this summer, becoming one of just four outsides to be selected to the 12-man roster, which also features several Olympians from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Teams.

Quote of the Tournament

“I thought we overcame a 40 plus hour travel period to get out here,” head coach Mark Pavlik said after the five-set loss to UC Irvine. “I thought early on we were just rusty, and UCI kinda punched us in the mouth.”

The 21st-year head coach has amassed 482 career victories, and returns nine letterwinners and five starters from last year’s squad that reached the NCAA Semifinal. That being said, he knows a thing or two about how to cope with an early season roadbump.

“The fact is, nobody remembers in May what you did in January,” Pavlik said, “so we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

Tournament Notes

  • Both UC Irvine and Hawaii own the advantage in the all-time series against the Nittany Lions. Hawaii is up 14-8 including a win in last year’s Outrigger, while the Anteaters are ahead 8-4, with the most recent meeting dating back to April 13, 2013.
  • Penn State’s average .158 hitting percentage  was less than half of their oppenent’s hitting percentage, totaling .337.
  • Though finishing behind both opponents in kills, aces, digs, and assists, Penn State totaled 3.5 more blocks.
  • Both UC Irvine and Hawaii are part of 11 teams on Penn State’s schedule featured in the 2014 AVCA preseason poll, including nine teams ranked within the top 15 and two receiving votes.

What’s next?

Penn State remains on the road next week for another set of non-conference matchups, travelling to Ball State to take on the Cardinals on Friday, Jan. 16 before heading to IPFW to square off against the Mastodons on Saturday, Jan. 17.

Photo: GoPSUSports

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About the Author

CJ Doon

CJ is a senior journalism major from Long Island and Onward State's Sports Editor. He is a third-generation Penn Stater, and his grandfather wrestled for the university back in the 1930s under coach Charlie “Doc” Speidel. Besides writing, one of his favorite activities is making sea puns. You can follow him on Twitter @CJDoon, and send your best puns to [email protected], just for the halibut.

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