No. 10 Men’s Volleyball Loses Fourth-Straight to No. 13 IPFW

Entering the season with a No. 3 ranking and one of the nation’s best players in senior Aaron Russell, it appeared Penn State men’s volleyball would build off a strong 2014 campaign that ended with a loss to eventual national champions Loyola in the NCAA semifinals.

But Mark Pavlik’s squad resembles a shell of its former self early this season. Four games into 2015, Penn State has yet to win a match, dropping to 0-4 on Saturday night with a four-set loss (26-24, 20-25, 21-25, 19-25) to Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne on the road.

How It Happened

The Nittany Lions opened the match on a 5-3 run before building another 5-0 run after a Mastodon kill, capped off by back-to-back aces from Matt Seifert to pull ahead 10-4. IPWF responded with a 5-2 stretch to narrow the margin to three, but a kill from Chris Nugent and a block by Nick Goodell and Seifert build the lead back to five, 14-9. The teams traded points for the next six tallies to maintain the lead, but IPFW used a 5-1 run to tie the set, 21-21. A kill from Russell after a pair of service errors from both teams gave Penn State a 23-22 lead. Two Mastodon service errors and another kill from Russell would prove to be the difference, as Penn State took set one, 26-24.

Continuing an alarming trend that began with the Lions collapse against Ball State the previous night, Penn State would drop three straight sets to lose the match after taking an early lead.

Following a 3-0 run that featured two consecutive aces from Goodell to give Penn State an early 6-4 advantage in set two, the Mastodons answered with a 4-1 run to regain the lead, 8-7. Answering an IPFW streak with one of its own, Penn State used a 4-2 stretch to knot the score at 12-12 before a block from Seifert and a kill from Goodell put the Lions on top, 14-12. IPFW would answer with back-to-back kills to keep the score tied, 14-14, and used a 3-1 run to take over a two-point lead, 17-15. An IPFW 5-3 stretch extended the lead to four, 22-18, and despite back-to-back kills from Russell, a pair of IPFW kills handed the ‘Dons a 25-20 win in the second set to tie the match, 1-1.

In the third set, IPFW used a 4-1 run to stretch a one-point lead to four, 9-5, prompting a Penn State timeout. An IPFW 5-3 run built the lead to six, 14-8, but Penn State quickly responded with four unanswered points to shave the deficit to two, 14-12. The teams traded kills before Russell put down another two straight, and PSU managed to tie the stanza, 18-18 off of a kill from redshirt freshman Jalen Penrose and an IPFW attack error. Back-to-back Mastodon kills set Penn State back, 20-18, but Russell and Seifert answered with a pair of kills to bring Penn State back within one, 21-20. However, the late comeback attempt fell short, as a 4-1 IPFW run gave the Mastodons a 25-21 win in the third set.

An early 3-2 PSU advantage in the fourth and final set was short lived, as IPFW used a 4-0 stretch to take over a three-point lead, 6-3. Penn State repsonded with a 4-1 run to knot the frame, 7-7. Following two more Mastodon points, Penn State answered back with a trio of kills to regain the lead, 10-9. A Mastodon service error and a kill from Nugent lifted PSU ahead by two, but IPFW responded to win the next four points to climb back on top, 17-15. Try as they might, Penn State couldn’t find a way to force a fifth and deciding set, as IPFW used an 8-4 run to capture a 25-19 win in the fourth set and win 3-1.

Player of the Match

Aaron Rusell. We’re probably going to sound like a broken record at the end of the season with all the accolades for the All-American senior, but Rusell has been as good as advertised so far this season. Following a career-high 32 kills on Friday, Russell posted 20 kills on .531 hitting, adding two aces and three digs.

Tweet of the Match

A sizable crowd was on hand in Fort Wayne, Indiana to see a matchup between two top-ranked programs, with 1,316 in attendance. The win marked the Mastodons’ 11th all-time victory over the Nittany Lions. Last year, Penn State earned a 3-0 sweep over the ‘Dons in University Park.

Match Notes

  • For the match, the Mastodons outscored the Nittany Lions 51-46, while earning an 8-6 edge in aces.
  • IPFW dominated the net with 28 total blocks, while Penn State could only manage nine.
  • Following a stellar 75 percent hitting rate in the first set, Penn State posted percentages of 56, 66, and a season-low 43 percent in the fourth set for an average of 60 percent. The Mastodons were a good ten points higher, finishing 61-of-87 on kill attempts.
  • Despite the fourth-straight loss, Penn State remains only one game out of first place in the EIVA conference. Sacred Heart is in first with a 1-0 record, while the remaining six all have losing records. Including Penn State, five teams are winless.
  • It should also be said that Penn State, a team with All-EIVA second team honoree Peter Russell as the only departure, dropped its first two games last season before reeling off 12 wins in a row.

What’s Next?

After a rough start, the upcoming schedule is quite the bear for a team trying to snap a losing streak. Following a long road trip to begin the season, Penn State returns home next week to take on defending national champion No. 1 Loyola on Friday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. before hosting No. 5 Lewis Saturday, Jan. 24 at 7 p.m.

Photo: Mark Selders

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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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